How does something mired in so much behind-the-scenes drama turn out to be such a good movie? This is how to do an anthology film – plenty of lore connections, new characters, and a heist that twists and turns throughout. Forget what you’ve heard about director changes and reshoots, this movie is easy to love.
Solo’s creation is a rocky one. The original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, were let go from the project and replaced by Ron Howard. From there, the film went back to basics, stripping back the improv comedy sections shot by the originally directors and went for a more straightforward story – Han’s late-teen years leading into his early twenties as he learns to fend for himself across the galaxy. And don’t get me started on how this film was labeled as a cash-grab by Disney when the film was in its early stages before the buyout (and most films are shot with the intention of selling tickets and making some money, but what do I know?)
The movie starts with young Han on the streets of Corellia, a planet that builds mostly spaceships and is also his Legends homeworld. He’s stolen something valuable enough to get himself and his first love Qi’ra off of Corellia and away from the Empire and the planet’s local street gangs. Han returns to his home, a place shared by a gang of young criminals and scam artists such as himself, and they all answer to Lady Proxima. This was when I knew I was going to love this movie, because Proxima isn’t a lady in the traditional sense – she’s a strange worm-like alien who rests underground beneath a pool of water. And she’s got dozens of orphans running scams in the streets, a place she can’t go because the sunlight burns her. And what does a Star Wars movie do? It pretends that that’s normal – because of course the characters understand that it is – and just moves along with it.
Han’s early years are emotional without seeming like they’re intentionally tugging at your heartstrings. After wanting to leave Corellia for so long, he gets away, but Qi’ra is left behind. Promising to return one day, he enlists with the Empire (really his only option seeing as he needs money and a way to get around without being such an easy target for the street gangs if he makes it back) The years Han spends under the flag of the Empire don’t treat him well, nor do they give Han the freedom he was hoping for. And as expected, he doesn’t follow orders well at all. In battle on the swampy planet Mimban, he questions his orders and sees himself and the Imperial troops as the aggressors against the natives. Han doesn’t seem to know that deep down, he really is a good person. He just can’t help himself but get involved with the wrong crowd and he can’t help that he’s good at being bad. And bad is the key word there, as he’s bad, not evil or any kind of villain.
Getting into much more would lead to spoilers, so I’ll go ahead and wrap-up what I thought without major spoilers. Solo has a similar pace to Rogue One, with some time jumps early on that can be slightly jarring but does ultimately balance story and delivery of information without ever getting bogged down. Many moments fans were looking for are here, and the film doesn’t beat you over the head with them in my opinion. We all know Han meets Chewbacca, meets Lando and wins the Falcon in a card game. Did the story play out in the order I expected after seeing the trailer? Not at all, and that bit of misdirection actually helped the film. (Frankly I get frustrated when TV spots give away the entire plot)
So the short version – I enjoyed this movie a lot and had a big stupid grin on my face the entire time. Let’s dive in and I’ll tell you why.
******SPOILERS AHEAD – I KIND OF LACK THE SUBTLETY TO TALK ABOUT MOVIES WITHOUT GOING INTO SPOILERS. STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN SOLO YET******
I will admit that when this film was first announced, I wasn’t that excited. I wanted to see it just for the sake of seeing a movie that wasn’t crucial to the saga, sort of a background story that wouldn’t involve Force-users and focus on characters from the underworld of Star Wars. It sounded good but not all that interesting. It was just going to be some ‘stuff.’
And for some reason, the fact that this movie is just ‘stuff’ is why I love it.
As I said, Han grows up in a weird space orphanage where scams and theft are traded for favor in the eyes of Lady Proxima. We never learn of Han’s parents, with the exception of one mention of Han’s dad late in the film, and growing up around other petty criminals has made young Han cocky and confident. When harassed one too many times by one of Proxima’s thugs, Han decides to fight back and escape Corellia sooner than later. Taking Qi’ra with him, he breaks for a stolen landspeeder and heads for the spaceport. His latest find, a tube of refined coaxium (aka very valuable hyperfuel for starships), is all that gives him hope in that moment – and his hope is that it’s enough to bribe the customs officials into looking the other way while he and Qi’ra board a transport. Han and Qi’ra are separated as Proxima’s thugs barge in, causing a security lockdown that forcibly keeps them apart for the next few years. Han gains a last name from an Imperial recruitment officer, and he’s off to join the Imperial Navy.
Cut to three years later, Han is slogging it out as a swamp trooper (known colloquially as a mud trooper) on the planet Mimban. And if that name sounds familiar, it’s just the beginning of the Easter eggs hidden throughout this movie. Mimban was previously assisted by Republic during the Clone Wars, and that campaign was offhandedly mentioned by a holovid DJ droid in the episode “Rookies.” There are deep cuts all over this movie, which when combined with the lived-in aesthetic of the Star Wars universe makes for a deeply-immersing experience. Han’s penchant for questioning or blatantly not following orders got him kicked out of the Imperial Navy, and his mouth still gets him into trouble with his superiors on Mimban. He questions why they are there fighting, and when the answer isn’t good enough, he continues to ask questions. He’s really looking for truth, probably with himself, but trying to find something relatable in the galaxy around him – he doesn’t fit in with the Empire, didn’t fit in with the kids on Mimban, and he still doesn’t know where he’s supposed to be going, aside from going back to Corellia to rescue Qi’ra.
While on Mimban, Han comes across a curious group of soldiers he hasn’t met before. One, a supposed captain, wears a chest plate that’s been shot to hell by blaster fire. This tips Han off that these uniforms are stolen and he isn’t dealing with real Imperials. But that’s fine to him, because he also learns that their reasoning behind being there is to steal a specific type of Imperial ship for a job. They intend to steal from the Empire using this stolen ship, but all Han really cares about is getting a ride off Mimban. Thinking himself to be a better scoundrel than he actually is (that’s classic Han Solo, isn’t it?) Han threatens these imposters – Tobias Beckett, Rio Duran, and Val (no last name given) – with blackmail. He’s soon outplayed, labelled a deserter, and is thrown into a pit to fend off someone or something known only as “the beast.”
Han’s ankle is bound to a chain, and something begins to drag him across the mud from the other side of the hole. None other than Chewbacca emerges. He’s dirty, sad, angry, and hungry. And Han is the first chance at food that Chewbacca has been given in quite some time. Swinging furiously and dragging Han around by the chain that binds them together, Chewbacca gives Han quite the beating before it’s revealed that Han can speak “a little” Shyriiwook. He’s able to calm Chewie down a bit, at which point they have a hilarious moment of fake fighting to cover up the fact that they are breaking down a support beam which holds the heavy metal grate above them. Once it’s down and some spectating troopers are taken down with it, Chewie hurls Han out of the pit and hoists himself up.
The pair have differing opinions on where to go next – still chained together, they start running off in opposite directions. Han again has to explain to Chewie that he’s come up with a plan, and despite what they’ve done to him, getting back to Beckett before they take off is their best chance at survival. Earning some favor with Beckett as well as Rio, Han and Chewie are able to accompany the crew aboard the stolen AT-hauler.
Han Solo takes a shower aboard the AT-hauler, and Chewbacca joins him seemingly thinking nothing of it. And I don’t know whether to laugh at just how funny the moment is or laugh at the fact that I was racking my brain for other references to showers in Star Wars. I couldn’t come up with any, which just goes to show how a little ‘normalcy’ in an otherwise weird experience goes a long way in comedy.
Heard About a Job. . .
Beckett’s crew is prepping for a job (queue the big shot gangster putting together a crew memes!) that involves using the stolen AT-hauler to steal something else – a train car filled with refined coaxium. The train is a dangerous target. The convoyex rides high along the craggy mountains of the planet Vandor. It snakes along the mountains – literally – turning side to side along the track to avoid obstacles along the mountainsides. Not only is the train highly-mobile, it’s also protected by range troopers, whose boots allow them to magnetically attach their feet to the surface of the rain. And to top it all off, the bridge that needs to be taken out to stop the train is protected by heavily-armed viper probe droids.
As predicted from trailers, the train heist is a battle between three factions. Beckett’s crew has a tough enough time dealing with the droids and Imperial troops, but must also contend with a rival marauder gang lead by the mysterious Enfys Nest. Nest’s Cloud Rider gang use modified swoop bikes to fly and launch grapple cables to board the train pirate-style. Unable to fend off the entirety of the onslaught, Rio and Val are both killed in action, and Han must pilot the hauler out of harms way. I wish we could’ve seen some more of those characters, but the moments we get are good. Rio is a funny alien who uses both feet and all four of his arms to pilot the hauler (this puts emphasis on why many ships need a copilot.) He also wields two blaster pistols against an attacker from Nest’s gang. Val sacrifices herself against her lover Beckett’s wishes, detonating a bomb that takes out the bridge as well as pursuing viper probes. Val also has my favorite line of dialog in the movie, lamenting that instead of getting Han and Chewie, they could’ve hired another pair of bounty hunters, or Bossk.
Beckett is cross with Han after costing him not only his crew, but also the coaxium. Fearing a collision and imminent explosion, Han sacrificed the cargo to get away, and Becket now owes a hefty sum to a different big shot gangster than the one he’s talking about in the trailer (more on that later)
Han accepts Beckett’s offer to meet with the gangster, Dryden Vos, and cements his life as that of a scoundrel. Seeing him take these options as a young man hammers home the choices he makes in the books set after Return of the Jedi. Sure, he’s a good man, but he only really knows how to con people, fly fast ships, and try to talk his way out when things go south (until he has to reach for a blaster as a last resort.) Han reunites with Qi’ra aboard the luxury ship belonging to Vos, and she is now a lieutenant in his organization, Crimson Dawn. Their reunion is cut short, as the new crew is beckoned by Vos to learn what happened to his shipment of coaxium. Vos is a threatening, somewhat unstable crime lord with a hot temper that manifests in his race’s unique facial patterns – imagine a mood ring but when you get angry, your face develops weird red stripes. After helping to talk their way out of it with an improvised plan, Han reassures Vos that they’ll steal another shipment to make good on Beckett’s deal.
The Kessel Run:
The only other way to procure a shipment that fits the size Vos demands is by way of Kessel, which means navigating a cluster of black holes and then stealing it from a vault beneath the planet’s surface. Since they don’t have a ship with that kind of maneuvering power, they need another one, and that’s where Lando Calrissian comes in. Lando is introduced as an acquaintance to Val and Beckett, which makes great sense since the underworld is full of well-connected criminals who base everything on money and reputation. Another bounty hunter is mentioned when Lando thanks Beckett for killing Aurra Sing, getting him off his back for good.
The first of two card games in the film takes place when Han introduces himself to Lando. We get an explanation of why Lando is the only person in any of the films to refer to Han with the wrong emphasis on the ‘a’ and it’s because Han doesn’t know how to pronounce the card game, sabacc. As a bit of a grammar Nazi, I love this detail and love that Lando gives Han a hard time for it still decades later. So Han doesn’t win the Falcon in the middle of the movie (because Lando cheats) but they do enlist Lando’s help in getting in and out of Kessel. They also have another asset, the droid L3-37, who is Lando’s copilot and expert navigator. She’s bent on freeing droids, encouraging them to think freely instead of being lowly possessions of their supposed masters. While some of the dialog is a little heavy-handed, this is also the franchise that gave us lines like “if you aren’t with me, then you’re against me.” (I’m saving further comments on L3 and other fan nitpicks for another article, so stay tuned!)
Kessel plays out sort of like Ocean’s Eleven but Star Wars. Everyone goes in with a specific task, and the crew has to make the best of it when pieces of the plan fall out from under them. Chewbacca departs briefly to save some fellow wookiees. L3 starts a droid uprising by removing the restraining bolts from every droid she comes in contact with, which then escalates into a full-blown riot among the slave workers. The crew is able to secure the coaxium they came for but not without cost. L3 is shot to pieces, and Lando is also hit when trying to recover her body. Han goes back to try and save them both, at which point Chewbacca says goodbye to a fellow wookiee and decides to continue fighting to save Han, Lando, and L3. That random wookiee didn’t turn out to be a family member of Chewie’s like many were thinking, but it was still a great moment – and they sort of implied the life debt Chewie owes to Han without really talking about it. Chewie sees Han as the good person he really is beneath the bravado and knows he has to help him because it’s the right thing to do.
After narrowly escaping the shootout on Kessel, the crew has to make their way back through the cluster of black holes around the planet. And they have to do it before the stolen unrefined fuel explodes due to any heat or unforeseen instability. Instead of taking the predetermined, relatively-safer route through the maelstrom, Han punches straight through the storm clouds. He’s not only pursued by TIE fighters (and a heavy TIE fighter I wish we got to see some more of) but also the strange deep-space creatures within it. In this scene, the Falcon is quite literally becoming the piece of junk we know and love. The dish is ripped off (again, though technically the first time probably), the ventral turret is destroyed, and plates of armor are sheered away by chunks of rocky debris. When they finally make it to Savareen, the rendezvous point, they don’t even have landing gear to properly rest on.
Showdown on Savareen:
At long last, Beckett’s crew is able to unload and process their haul, making it safe to hand off to Dryden Vos for their payout. Han tells the first person he sees that he’s just made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, and that guy couldn’t care less. Then there’s another obstacle in the way – Enfys Nest has tracked the crew to the processing camp on Savareen and a funny standoff ensues. Han’s bravado gets the best of him and he insists that the marauders are in over their heads. If he gives the signal, armed thugs will spring from the Falcon and surround the marauders. . .except Lando has had enough and he’s leaving, taking the Falcon with him. Despite their differences, Enfys Nest pleads to not give Vos the refined fuel. Nest removes the iconic helmet to reveal a young girl, daughter of the previous wearer of that same armor. In this moment I was expecting her to be someone’s daughter or a cameo of some kind, but thankfully she remained just as new to us as she did to Beckett’s gang.
Enfys Nest implores the gang to give the fuel to a good cause, none other than the Rebel Alliance. Beckett’s gang declines, and Beckett actually decides to bail out. Once Han gives the coaxium shipment to Vos, his name is cleared, and he intends to disappear into the Outer Rim. He’s heard that “a big shot gangster is putting together a crew,” and it’s implied that he’ll go to work for Jabba the Hutt. Han decides to deliver the shipment to Vos, but tries to swindle him instead. I was a bit confused at first but I’m sure repeat viewings will simplify the great big double-cross and who’s-double-crossing-who at the end.
Enraged by treachery – not only a fake case of coaxium but also lies he was told surrounding Beckett dying on the job – Vos moves to kill Han and Qi’ra after Beckett escapes with Chewie and the coaxium. They push him back and maintain distance, trying to fend off his strikes with a pair of knuckle dusters with dual vibroblades attached at either side. These mean weapons cut through just about anything in Vos’s office with the exception of a sword Qi’ra manages to defend herself with. One of Vos’s blades becomes lodged in the sword, at which point Qi’ra rears back and swings the combined weapon like an axe, killing Vos.
By this time, Beckett seems to be on his way to another ship? I don’t remember seeing one in the film but it’s also possible that Beckett was heading further into town to find transport there. His escape is cut off by Han, and after Beckett starts to explain why he’s doing what he’s doing, Han fires a lethal shot straight to his chest. Beckett dies, his last words commending Han for doing the right thing in this case, and that he was right to shoot first essentially (the words ‘shoot first’ aren’t used but implied by the scene.) Han and Chewie deliver the coaxium back to Enfys Nest, again doing the right thing but turning down the bigger offer to join the rebellion. Instead, they find their way off Savareen to go have a chat with Lando.
Meanwhile, Qi’ra makes contact with Vo’s superior – Maul, head of the Shadow Collective and it’s smaller component Crimson Dawn. Upon learning that Vos is dead, Maul instructs Qi’ra to meet him at his base on Dathomir, and informs her that they will be working much closer from that point forward. This cameo came out of absolutely nowhere but makes perfect sense, given the timeline of the film. I thought there was a strong case for a Boba Fett cameo given the recent releases of toys as well as a leaked Lego minifigure of him. However, Maul is one of my favorite characters as well and seeing him onscreen voiced again by Sam Witwer was amazing. Who knows if Solo will get a sequel where this relationship is explored more of if this storyline will continue in comics and/or novels. Admittedly I wasn’t wild about Qi’ra as a character, but I’m very interested in seeing a former Sith Lord’s take on managing a criminal enterprise.
Last but not least, Han and Chewie track Lando to a jungle planet where he’s found another den to tell aggrandized stories and play cards. Han and Chewie barge in and seem ready to rip Lando a new one when in fact they’ve faked him out and are happy to see him. Another game of sabacc starts and it’s revealed that Lando is missing a card he had up his sleeve. Earlier in the film, he cheated Han out of winning the Falcon the first time, and without that option the second time, he’ll lose to Han. Han reveals the card that Lando needed and tosses down his own hand, winning the Falcon fair and square. He and Chewie take their prized ship off into the stars and the credits roll.
Solo was great fun. I also purchased the visual guide for the film because I can spend hours reading Star Wars reference books, and it adds some interesting tidbits that may have been cut from the final film. We may know more definitively when the Blu-ray comes out (December, I’ve heard) if any special features can shed some light on how the film evolved over time. I can’t wait to see it again – it was a perfect blend of humor, great worldbuilding, and a story that stays well on the downlow compared to tales of space wizards and superweapons.
Don’t overthink how the film is doing in the box office – just go see it and support it. If this movie exists as a one-off then we got a true standalone anthology film. If we get sequels like a Lando story or the recently-announced Boba Fett film ties into these new underworld themes, that’s great too. But seriously, go see this movie. I don’t believe for a second you’ll be disappointed.
Thanks for reading and keep on trooping,
-Supreme Leader David