The following contains spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story, as well as the entire Star Wars movie franchise.
For a spoiler-free take, read here.
A Long, Long Time Ago in a Casting Pool Far, Far Away…
Han Solo is one of the most beloved and iconic characters in all of movie history. The lovable rogue, originally embodied by superstar Harrison Ford, swaggered through space, quipping during times of crisis, squabbling with the girl and running from the good guys, before finally opening his heart to both.
While others have rightly pointed out that there is an issue with Han’s ignoring Leia’s verbalized “no” in The Empire Strikes Back, overriding her consent in their contentious courtship (see the excellent video from the Pop Culture Detective below), there’s also no denying Ford’s inherent charm throughout the franchise.
Ford made a career out of playing the man who didn’t want to get sucked in, who shows up for the good guys anyway.
And that narrative – going from survivalist loner to fully integrated member of society, from man-child interested in his own pursuits to a man concerned for others – is a narrative I can really get behind.
So, how did the film do in terms of bringing us not only a new actor taking on the role of Han Solo, but in telling the backstory of our lovable rogue?
Strap in, Chewie. I have a bad feeling about this.
Not Quite A Prequel, Not Yet A Star Wars
Before we go much further: allow me to give a brief overview of the film itself.
The movie is not bad. It’s not great either.
Where the latest Star Wars films retain an element of grandiosity, the Star Wars stories, beginning with the excellent Rogue One, are inherently focused on smaller, less Sith-driven conflicts. They peek into the pockets of the greater Skywalker Saga, looking at more of the “regular people” who make up that galaxy far, far away.
In general, I like this idea. Mostly because I like poking around created universe, looking for spare character development. But where Rogue One actually had stakes, Solo feels more like an obligatory origin story…for someone else.
Cue the title scroll!
Solo begins by following our titular hero on his last day as a scrappy street youth on a planet that is apparently being menaced by the bluest filter available on iMovie. (More on the terrible lighting in this film in a minute.) Naturally, through some various hijinks, he manages to escape this planet – this version of Solo apparently being brought to you by Aladdin – however he is separated from his childhood friend and, if not sweetheart, then definite snogging buddy, the unnecessarily named Qi’ra, played by Emilia Clarke.
Vowing to get back to their planet to rescue the suddenly sidelined Mother of Frigging Dragons (*ahem* – way more on this in a minute, too), Solo joins the Imperial Army (an interesting idea that gets like no minutes of screen time) where he, of course, falls in with a band of thieves that somehow infiltrated Star Wars version of the Nazis with no one from HR suspecting them.
These are, as you’ve doubtless seen from the trailers, Woody Harrelson as the surprisingly normally named Tobias Beckett and his wife, Val, played gorgeously by Thandie Newton. They’re also joined by a new alien named Rio, voiced by Jon Favreau, whose sole purpose is to advocate for Solo joining the outlaw band, and then to die, but not before declaring Solo the best gosh-darn pilot in the ‘verse. It’s a lot of tell, no show.
Fortunately, in this same sequence, Solo also meets up with Chewbacca in a delightful scene reminiscent of The Reluctant Dragon. Solo also speaks Wookie, which is hilarious, and the two escape the Imperial Army cuffed to one another in a solid comedy sequence that lands them squarely with the outlaws.
Turns out, the mission of the Firefly wannabes includes a train heist, in one of the more impressive action sequences of the movie. The MacGuffin in this case is some sort of explosive jet fuel (doesn’t matter what it is; it’s a MacGuffin), but no sooner do our thieves get the loot than it’s stolen from them by a mysterious menacing crew, dressed as questionable “tribal” space pirates. (See more on diversity in a moment. Sigh.)
Rio dies so that Solo can have a job piloting the ship, and rather more egregiously, Thandie Newton essentially fridges herself so that Woody Harrelson can stay in the film and…feel things? Maybe. (A lot more on this in a moment.)
Having lost the loot, the remaining team – which is to say, Solo, Chewie and Woody Harrelson (I don’t care if his character name is Beckett; it’s Harrelson) – travel to a space yacht of some Evil Guy Who Will Kill Them For Plot Reasons That Aren’t Particularly Explained Except Evil – played by Paul Bettany with CGI scars on his face that are sometimes cool and sometimes invisible. Because CGI? It’s not clear. This is Dryden Vos, a high ranking member of Crimson Dawn, our equally unclear Imperial stand-in for this movie.
Naturally, Emilia Clarke (I refused to write Qi’ra one more time) shows up in a plunging neckline. Surprise! She’s got a Crimson Dawn tattoo on the inside of her wrist, and she’s now the lieutenant and snogging buddy of Dryden Vos, who apparently dresses up his female officers in clothing more appropriate to Monte Carlo than a war room? The movie does not seem to know How War Works. I mean, I don’t know how war works. But I know people called lieutenants generally don’t wear slinky black dresses. I mean, to begin with, where do you keep your weapons? And I’m pretty sure no one is born with kevlar breasts that work better on exposure. That plunging neckline is saving nobody’s life, Dryden Vos!
A deal is struck between Vos and Solo to obtain more of the MacGuffin by doing the Kessel Run, which means that our crew needs a ship.
Enter – at last – Lando.
In-universe lore has it that Solo won the Falcon from Lando in a card game, and the movie definitely has a fun spin on that sequence here. Donald Glover as Lando out-Billy Dee Williams Billy Dee Williams. An interview with Glover revealed that in consulting with Williams, the original actor gave the sage advice: “Just be charming, man.” Advice that Glover, already a polymath with charm to spare, clearly took to heart.
Once Lando appears on the screen, everything comes to life. The movie gains a few minutes of being well lit, the scene is lively, the action makes sense. I’d hazard a guess to say that these scenes constitute much of the 30% from the original cut of the movie before Ron Howard took over the floundering production. (You can read all about the four directors, artistic differences, and script shenanigans here.)
It’s in this sequence that we are also introduced to the Obligatory Space Droid, Lando’s L3-37 voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who gives such a spectacular performance – not only vocally, but clearly as well in her motion capture which reveals one of the most dynamic droids ever rendered – that it’s utterly frustrating when even this non-corporeal woman is fridged as well. (I promise. More in a minute.) If C-3P0 is fussy, and K-2SO is grumpy, L3-37 is a revolutionary lifted from Monty Python’s “See the violence inherent in the system” commune, mixed with everything Dobby the House Elf was supposed to be, with none of the irritation, a healthy dose of self-actualization and, yes, integrated sexuality. It’s kind of amazing. (Which is why she must die.)
Solo doesn’t win the Falcon here, but Emilia Clarke uses her charm and Lando gives in to join the crew to make the Kessel Run to get the MacGuffin that Jack built. They pull the old, “The Wookie is a prisoner!” gag to get inside what appears to be a slave-staffed mine, grab a bunch of the MacGuffin and make their escape. Whereupon they kiiiinda(?) explain the parsecs thing, nearly get eaten by a space squid, escape via black hole, kill L3-37 and enslave her memory drive to the Falcon, arrive at some planet to Do Something What Requires Time Because Of Reasons…only to be waylaid by the tribal space-pirates again, who this time reveal themselves to be the seeds of the nascent Rebellion.
What follows after attempts Oceans 11 or Maltese Falcon levels of crossing and double crossing as Solo attempts to save the MacGuffin for his new friends at the Rebellion (more on this in a moment), and Emilia Clarke finally kills her boss, who has now died in two major sci-fi films this month. Solo goes off and confronts Beckett, who had of course double-crossed Solo, Because Of Plot. And in their final stand off, Solo shoots first.
Meantime, Emilia Clarke takes over Vos’ role in Crimson Dawn (we know because she suddenly has less cleavage: the perks of privilege, no pun intended). In a final twist, she calls up a hologram of none other than Darth Maul from Episode One, apparently showing us that Crimson Dawn is truly the Baddy Bad Guys of Bad-dom, if we weren’t sure before. (And also raising some serious questions about the in-verse timeline. Which I’ve been assured by my fanboy friends makes sense because Darth Maul survived being cut in half and is now part cyborg. So never fear: Han Solo isn’t older than Darth Vader.)
Solo flies off to meet Jabba the Hut, and we’re left in the sure knowledge that no matter how Solo fares at the box office, unlike Rogue One, we’re looking at a trilogy here.
Alright. Let’s grab a drink at Mos Eisley, and sort this stuff out.
How Do You Solve A Problem Like Han Solo?
The major, almost insurmountable, inherent problem here is that Disney decided to do a spin off about Han Solo. Why is this an inherent problem you ask? Because Han Solo was not the hero of Star Wars: he was the rogue. And rogues don’t always make the best protagonists.
The job of a rogue is a fun one. Oscar Wilde’s best characters, like Algernon from The Importance of Being Earnest, is a rogue. Half of Harlequin’s novels have a rogue as the object of affection. Loki is a rogue.
Rogues are akin to trickster gods. They’re chaotic by nature, opportunistic, survivors. They’re loads of fun, and if they change at all it’s only to shift from chaotic neutral to chaotic good. In stories, they’re better sidekicks than protagonists, because a large story arc is not required of them, while a bon mot is.
Now, that’s not to say that rogues or protagonists with roguish tendencies can’t be the hero of the story. As a friend pointed out, Peter Quill aka Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy manages to anchor a movie. To which I’d counter that he anchored the first movie, where he made the obligatory shift from chaotic neutral to chaotic good, and then they tried to make him a “feeling” protagonist in the second movie which didn’t work as well for his character, and then they just made him a jealous baby in Infinity War, which worked even worse.
My point is: anchoring a story on a rogue is tricky.
What makes anchoring on Han Solo even more tricky is that we have already seen his character arc grow in the original trilogy. We don’t particularly need his backstory, because we’ve seen the most interesting part of his story already: where his association with those Skywalker kids changes his life around. Presumably, before that, Solo just Always Was.
In some ways, it’s the exact same problem as anchoring the prequels around the Evolution of Darth Vader. Or, to take another example, it’s the problem of anchoring a fan-made film around the Evolution of Voldemort (a real thing, apparently!).
The Star Wars and Harry Potter stories are more mythologically based than modern nuanced literature, and as a consequence their characters are more archetypes than people. Bad guys need to be bad guys. Rogues need to be rogues. Heroes need to be heroes.
And breaking that mold – as Star Wars films in our decade have begun to do – fundamentally changes the underpinnings of the Thing Itself. (But more on this in a minute.)
Unfortunately, in order to tell this particular rogue’s story, then, the film fundamentally alters who Han Solo is.
And that, in turn, undermines the importance of the whole Skywalker saga.
The Butterfly Effect
In this version of the story, Disney dialed Solo all the way back to a starry-eyed, all but singing out the window, “There must be more than this provincial life,” suddenly Seymour, scrappy streetrat with a (presumable) heart of gold.
Gone is grumpy-McGrumpypants (Harrison Ford’s preferred form of method acting), and instead they cast Alden Ehrenreich who stood out as the righteous cowboy adrift in the corrupt underbelly of the golden age of Hollywood in the Coen Brothers’ underappreciated Hail, Caesar! (See the scene below for the absolute genius of it all.)
How does this undermine the importance original trilogy of the Skywalker saga? A few ways:
Because young Solo is eager to make social connections, his return to help the Rebellion is not important.
One of the thrilling moments of A New Hope is when Solo returns to help Luke win the day in the climactic battle to destroy the Death Star. Because we’re so thoroughly convinced that, apart from Chewie, Solo has no connections, no loyalties other than to himself, his refusal to help the Rebellion is entirely in line with his character. It’s the first major plot point to his personal growth as a character, then, that he chooses to swing back in as the calvary, putting the Falcon, Chewie and his own life on the line for something he previously did not believe in.
However, now that we know that young Solo was the sort of guy who’d accept everyone’s Facebook friend request, his Major Character Growth is made irrelevant. In Solo, Han is a joiner. He’s got a positive relationship with (sigh) Qi’ra, he leaps into fighting for the Empire, he leaps into friendship with Chewie, he positively begs Beckett & Co. to let him join them, he’s buddy-buddy with Lando almost as a given, and when he’s given the opportunity to do right by the nascent Rebellion – the very group he rather importantly refused to join for Luke or Leia’s sake – he’s all “Put me in, coach!” (OK, he doesn’t join the Rebellion at this point per se, but he performs an altruistic act for them. Which the Han we know would never do.)
Because young Solo is in love with Qi’ra, his personal growth through his relationship with Leia is not important.
I’m an absolute sucker for “The Beast Wot I Tamed” romances, so perhaps take this with a grain of salt.
However, Harrison’s Han was at best a womanizer. Initially, he wants a kiss from Leia as a prize to be won, not as the woman herself. And it takes him three whole movies to say, “I love you.”
If the first step on his rogue’s journey is returning to save the day in A New Hope, then his second major character beat is letting himself get frozen by Lando-Vader-Jabba in The Empire Strikes Back, juxtaposed against the closest he can get to intimacy with a single person, in this case Leia’s “I love you” next to Han’s “I know.” Therefore, it’s an actual baptism or rebirth when he’s unfrozen from the carbonite in Return of the Jedi, which is completed by his admission of “I love you, [but I don’t control you]” to Leia, followed by her, “I know.”
This is a perfect three beat structure.
Unfortunately, within the first five minutes of Solo, all this work is undone by young Solo having an actual connection to another woman whom he doesn’t in the least objectify and for whom he is willing to sacrifice himself and do right by the nascent Rebellion to win her approval.
If this is just Han’s default character – essentially a hopeless romantic – then what the hell was the point of the original trilogy? If the force of the Skywalker siblings’ character (pun intended) weren’t in some way special enough to change rogues into good men, who for the love of them helps topple empires…if any petite brunette with a cause would do…then what was the point of Star Wars at all?
Looking forward, it also puts a creepy spin on older Han’s tenderness towards Rey, changing him from a Man Changed By The Skywalkers To Be Paternalistic Towards Every Scrappy Youth, to pathological predatory avuncular figure with a real thing for petite brunettes.
It’s not a good look.
It’s also a missed opportunity for fixing some of the plot holes in the latest films.
Most noticeably, although the romantic in me was sad that The Force Awakens revealed that Han and Leia didn’t work out, it made sense in terms of the loner and trickster Han is at heart. Of course Leia wouldn’t put up with that shit.
Moreover, and rather more crucially for the latest trilogy, Ben Skywalker aka Kylo Ren’s entire identity is predicated upon his hero worship of an unseen but powerful grandfather, Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader, in contrast to his apparently negligent relationship with his own father, Han Solo. (See Emo Kylo Ren, if you haven’t already.)
This, too, fits into the Han whom we met in the original trilogy: a man who can’t make or keep meaningful relationships. Who puts himself before anyone else. Little wonder, then, that his son would do the same.
This retcon of Solo into a Disney Princess also undermines Solo’s final self-sacrifice at his son’s hands.
If Solo’s arc in The Force Awakens is essentially a crunched revisitation of his original trilogy arc – shyster to savior – with the implication that he fell back into his usual ways in the intervening years, then in order to give his final act of self-sacrifice greater weight, we needed a young Solo who never did right by anybody. We needed a Solo who was, in fact, an anti-hero.
We needed a Solo whose story might have had these beats instead:
If Emily Rewrote Star Wars
- Solo uses Qi’ra to get the MacGuffin to get off the planet. Qi’ra should be either styled very like Leia, so that we have resonances of Solo’s later fixation on Leia, or Qi’ra should be played by an actress of color. With a spelling like that, perhaps an actress of Asian or Middle Eastern descent. Otherwise, Qi’ra is now spelled Kira. Choose your own adventure.
- Solo purposely and heartlessly abandons Qi’ra to her fate and joins the Empire to escape with no regrets.
- Solo doesn’t join a band of convenient marauders within the Imperial forces…he makes a band of marauders, perhaps freeing Chewie just for the Wookie’s muscle.
- They have the train job again, wherein the Nascent Rebellion beats them – NOT wearing offensive tribal gear, but clothes that more resembles what the Rebellion will eventually look like (or even looking more like Imperial troops, which should get deserter Solo worried).
- In the train job, Solo has the choice to either save one or two of his companions or save the cargo. He decides to save the cargo, abandoning Thandie Newton and the alien (we don’t need Beckett) on a mountaintop, presumably at the mercy of the Nascent Rebellion.
- Solo thinks he’s gotten away with it, when his own lack of piloting experience catches up with him, he hits the wrong button, and accidentally releases the MacGuffin which explodes the mountaintop.
- Chewie reproaches Solo, but Solo’s like: We’ll get away with this! Stick with me! Which is when, of course, their entire ship is tractor beamed into the Crimson Dawn yacht.
- Solo is confronted by his own past by the return of Qi’ra who reveals immediately she’s joined Crimson Dawn and appears to be “cool” with Solo having abandoning her; reinforcing his great feelings about his own Machiavellianism.
- Qi’ra still wears slinky dresses, but Vos mentions something about how she makes her own uniforms. Other female members of Crimson Dawn are around in regular uniforms. We know Qi’ra is Up To Something.
- Qi’ra then manipulates Solo into doing the Kessel Run to get the MacGuffin. They meet up with Lando the same way as before, except that Solo wins by cheating at cards.
- Lando is included in the party, because Solo isn’t the greatest pilot yet.
- Lando finds out that Solo’s working for Crimson Dawn, and calls Solo out on his Machiavellianism, mentioning that Solo probably shouldn’t trust Qi’ra. Solo replies that he’s using everyone, baby, Lando included. Lando starts planning with L3 (who survives) how to get the Falcon back.
- The trio are caught by the nascent rebellion – including a VERY PISSED OFF Thandie Newton, who reveals the Solo’s mountain explosion killed the alien or if Beckett must exist, Beckett. Solo has a slight crisis of conscience.
- Hearing the Rebellion’s story, Lando is somewhat moved by their plight (making an interesting commentary on the diversity of the film), while Qi’ra reminds Solo the truth of what they both grew up with: it’s better to survive than to be good. She praises Solo for trying to save the cargo at the expense of his shipmates.
- Solo is torn, especially as Chewie, Lando and L3 start freeing all the slaves, while Qi’ra remains focused on getting more MacGuffin for herself. Solo confronts Qi’ra about this – perhaps she uses a slave…or we can have Beckett sent on this mission with them, and she uses Beckett as a meatshield to get off the planet (getting Beckett killed again – he can even yell about trusting no one), which causes Solo to question his own moral code.
- Lando make the Kessel Run, but in more parsecs than Solo eventually will in movie three.
- Nevertheless, Solo gives the MacGuffin to Crimson Dawn and is paid off and given the a letter of recommendation to work for Jabba. He offers to take Qi’ra with him – the first glimmer of his savior complex, but she gives him some line about how she’s tied to Vos or whatever. Solo exits to go the Falcon.
- Alone, Vos congratulates Qi’ra on getting the MacGuffin and simultaneously sending Solo off to be killed by Jabba. Qi’ra thanks Vos and then runs him through with his own weapons. She then cooly takes over Crimson Dawn with Darth Maul. (Mentioning for those of us who don’t know that Maul survived a little bifurbication.)
- Solo goes to where he parked the Falcon, only to realize that Lando’s driven off with the Falcon, L3 and Chewie – leaving behind only Solo’s cheating-at-cards device. (And maybe those damn dice. I don’t care about that symbol.)
- Solo is surrounded by the nascent Rebellion who chide him for losing the MacGuffin, but still make a final ditch to bring him to the light side. Solo refuses, but asks for a ship to get off the planet – seeing how they gave a ship to Thandie Newton. They say if he won’t learn how to join a side, he can stay where he is and fly off without him.
- Solo is left alone, in a literal limbo of his own making…when a ship lands nearby, a shot rings out, and a voice behind him asks if he knows where he can get any of the MacGuffin. Sort of like this:
(SOLO is alone. Pan up in a God shot, then CUT TO:)
(The back of SOLO’S head.)
(A blaster shot.)
(Reverse POV. An armored shoulder. SOLO in the distance. A disembodied, mechanical voice:)
VOICE. Do you know where I can get the MacGuffin?
(Close up on SOLO. He grins, highlighting the scar on his chin.)
(SOLO’S POV: BOBBA FETT strides over the sand dunes.)
SOLO. What was that?
BOBBA FETT. I asked: do you know where I can get the MacGuffin?
(The whole world is Solo and that toothy grin.)
(His fingers itch by the blaster on his thigh, and then trail upward to offer a hand to the approaching mercenary.)
SOLO. Yeah. I know.
(Their hands meet.)
(Star Wars theme.)
I Want Much More Than This Provincial Life!
If you compare the original synopsis with the revised story arc I created, you’ll notice that Solo is more passive in the movie, reacting rather than acting, whereas he’s more active in our revision.
We still trade on our ideas of two men and a woman, which anchors all Star Wars trilogies, but we let Solo be Darth Vader/Kylo Ren (the anti-Luke/Rey), Lando be Obi-Wan/Yoda/Leia/Finn, and Qi’ra actually be Solo’s Shadow Self/Han in A New Hope/Poe in The Last Jedi.
And we also examine the central philosophic pull of Solo’s character: to join or not to join. To be the Machiavel or to be the Messiah. It’s a strong and exciting story Solo’s archetype could have explored.
But instead, the Solo we’re given has NO OBJECTIVE WHATSOEVER.
What do I mean by this? If we think again of Disney princesses, we remember each one expressing their “I Want” song. Belle wants “More than this provincial life,” Ariel wants to be “Part of Your World,” Aladdin wants “A Whole New World,” and Simba “Just Can’t Wait to be King.”
What does young Solo want?
He wants to get off the planet he starts on. Why? Because we’re told he’s sorta-kinda a prisoner there? Yet the first images of him are racing around on his own. Doesn’t seem too oppressive to me.
He wants to get off the planet to “be the bestest pilot in the whole darn ‘verse.” Except we begin with Solo already as the bestest pilot in the whole darn ‘verse. He doesn’t need to learn anything. His “want” is not really a want.
Once he loses Qi’ra, he wants to save Qi’ra. And this is perhaps the weakest motivation of all. First, it’s evident throughout the film that Qi’ra doesn’t need saving – so his want is a useless want. Second, Solo couldn’t find a way to jump Imperial ship in three years? Third, fridging is inherently lazy storytelling. (I promise, more on this is a moment!)
He doesn’t even want “to belong.” This Solo begins by belonging!
He doesn’t want to be a good man. Despite Qi’ra continuing to tell him so – Who knows why? Oh, because a woman’s job is simply to tell a man how good he is. Silly me, I forgot. But this Solo hasn’t done anything purposely evil.
He’s just sort of neutral neutral. He’s a blank slate with half a smirk. He’s a nothing.
And that makes a terrible story.
But let’s take a look at some of the other parts of the movie.
Technical Aspects: Lighting, Casting, Cinematography, Direction, Music
One of the strangest parts of Solo is how impossible it is to see anything. Almost every single scene is backlit, so that the actors – almost all Caucasian and therefore you’d think their skin would be more glow-y – are pretty much in shadows ALL THE TIME. You can’t see anybody’s face. I can’t think of a another single film that’s so universally terrible at lighting the damn scene.
It was actually difficult to get a useful still image from the movie, which is why Lando is featured at the top. Because he’s at least IN THE LIGHT.
We’re gonna get into this more in a second, but I will give the movie this: the actors are still worlds better than the Prequel casts. Even if Alden Ehrenreich is simply no Harrison Ford. I mean: who is?
That said, I’m so over casting only petite brunettes as major lead characters. Padme, Leia, Jyn, Rey and now Qi’ra…THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME. C’mon, Star Wars. You’re better than this.
That said, I’ve recently run across a few interviews with Emilia Clarke and my general impression is that she isn’t being given the roles she could really play. No: I don’t think even her Game of Thrones character does the actor justice. I feel like people cast her for her boobs and that smile, and I’m over it.
Donald Glover, for my money, was excellent. And frankly, I wish he’d been playing Solo instead. He had the right insouciance for the role. However, I’ll take him as Lando because he’s great there, too.
As you may have seen from my rewrite above, I could have done without More White Men, no matter how talented. Bettany and Harrelson both have robust careers. They can live without a Star Wars franchise. Or with smaller roles if they’re included.
Much like the lighting, I’m not entirely sure what was going on with the cinematography. There were a few nicely composed Western-themed shots – images caught in the distance, framed through legs or arms. But there was no unifying imagery.
What’s more: action sequences were difficult to follow. Since the camera man followed the motion of whatever action was happening, rather than centering the action, it was extremely difficult to get a sense of what was happening at all. Add this to the muddled lighting, muddled script, muddled casting and you’ve got a lot of “Huh?” happening.
Ron Howard has no business directing a space opera. As Steve Greydanus put it…vanilla. No grandiose scenes. No sense of purpose. No there there.
As I mentioned in my Spoiler-Free review, by and large the music works, mostly because the composer pulled liberally and loudly from John Williams’ catalogue. I don’t care about any other composer’s music than Williams for my Star Wars score, and composer John Powell knows that. Thank you, sir.
Women in Refrigerators
Which brings me (at last) to my final few points. The first of which is the “fridging” (or near-fridging) of almost every female-identified character.
To reiterate, technically fridging is when a female character with strong emotional ties to our male hero is killed in order to spur our male protagonist into action. Frequently, the female character is in a romantic relationship to our protagonist. And even more frequently, the protagonist typically has no objective or sense of direction until he must Avenge The Woman What Was Fridged.
I’m going to use fridging in a bit more liberal sense of sacrificing a female character in order to let the male take the lead. Rather along the lines of the equally horrid trope of “Black Dude Dies First.” (Which, by the way, watch this. On point and hilarious.)
So let’s take the fridging one by one:
I’ll grant you this isn’t a proper fridging since Qi’ra technically doesn’t die, but since Solo spends the first act of the movie being motivated by her loss, I think it counts.
See above about Solo’s lack of objective. He wants to get out. He can get out with Qi’ra. He wants to become a great pilot (although he’s already a great pilot?). He can do that with Qi’ra. And while there’s Plot Reasons to separate them, the fact that Solo then makes “Qi’ra qua Qi’ra” his – Goal? Objective? Raison d’être! – is all a bit fridgy-much.
The reason why I’m going to fight that it felt like a fridge was that since I didn’t know what was going to happen in the movie, they sacrificed the girl in order to let the guy keep playing. I was glad when she showed back up – but they then didn’t give her her total badassery until the very end. She kept acting like the supportive person, the raison d’être for Solo, which she may as well have done as a memory than as a living person.
Don’t fridge Thandie Newton. Just don’t do it. There was no reason to have her kill herself. Except you wanted to let the guy play. And she’s your only actress of color. Don’t both fridge her and the black dude dies first. C’mon, folks. Always let Thandie Newton live.
Once again, though, they didn’t follow through and even have Beckett grieve. It wasn’t until I read the Wiki page that I realized Val and Beckett were supposed to be married. I thought they were just dating.
(And while we’re at it…did you notice every woman in this film, except the tribal leader, had to be a romantic interest? Including the droid? They couldn’t just, like, be a scrappy street youth? A smuggler? A fekking DROID? I think the tribal leader only escaped because she looked underage. Oy.)
However, Beckett’s total lack of response was a missed character beat – and what is more, is indicative of this whole film. There were no actual character relationships; there was nothing actually at stake. Beckett not grieving made Val even more disposable. Boo. Hiss. Pass.
Here we are with a nearly perfect fridging. L3 is killed, Lando loves her, Lando grieves her. Then Lando essentially enslaves her consciousness to the ship which is…a thing wot happened. And will probably not be addressed.
Why did we kill L3? A friend pointed out that we needed Solo to be able to pilot the ship. So: perfect fridging. Kill the woman so the guy can keep playing.
And we had been doing so well with our female Star Wars leads!
It’s A Small ‘Verse After All…
As SNL pointed out (I’ll embed the video below)…where are all the people of color at?
Now, due to in-universe timelines, the SNL skit didn’t include Finn or Mace Windu, which would bring the number of black characters up to a whopping six, nor did it include Rose or half the cast of Rogue One, which would have at least diversified a weeeeeee bit more…but it’s a truth universally acknowledge that, at least in a galaxy far, far away, the Caucasians got there first.
I’ve written elsewhere about why diversity is important. And as Glover has said in interviews, it’s encouraging to see a black man as suave, rich, sophisticated and charming as Lando in film.
It’s also a positive to have Thandie Newton in all her badassery. (If only they hadn’t killed her.) And Vos might have been played by Michael K. Williams…so it’s a real shame they couldn’t find any other actor of color without a job who could have stepped in when they needed replacing. (C’mon. You just killed Idris Elba over on Avengers. You telling me he wouldn’t wear face scars for a cool few mill?)
However, there’s a major problem Solo has in its what I call “tribal” costuming for the nascent Rebellion space pirates (which the interwebs tell me are called the Cloud Riders – which is actually a pretty cool name). First, let me show you what the costume vs. the girl beneath the mask looks like:
There are nods in the design to Samurai wear, which is both cultural appropriation and in-verse appropriate, ever since the white Obi-Wan strode on in not-quite-a-kimono. However, there are African, and/or First Nations tribal elements here, too, in the patterning of the skirt and the bone-like structure of the breastplate, as well as the use of fur for the cape and the silhouette of the mask.
Moreover, the people who belong to the Cloud Riders are all very dark skinned African descent extras, swathed up in very African-like blankets, etc., and like the good little diverse extras wot we let in: are kept entirely silent. Which is amazingly offensive.
Their leader, Enfys Nest, takes off her helmet. And what we’re greeted with is Erin Kellyman who sports freckles and red hair.
Let me just say this costumers: if you’re not doing Black Panther, maybe don’t make a tribal costume for the Irish-y-est actress you can find.
That said, I will give props that they had a young woman without a romantic partner as the leader of the Cloud Riders. That’s cool. Just, y’know, worldbuilding allows you to not make egregious missteps?
C’mon, Star Wars. Get some writers of color and some women on the writing staff. Tina Fey wants you to.
A Whole New World
To end on a somewhat positive note, I want to circle back to something I find intriguing ever since Rogue One/The Last Jedi, and that’s the increasing examination of the gradation and nuance between the black hats and the white hats in the Star Wars universe.
Now, there’s an argument to be made that Star Wars is best served by archetypes. Bad guys being bad. Heroes being pure. Teachers always wise and never wrong. Good prevailing and evil always leaving a flaw in the design.
This is mythology. And it’s comfortable. And it’s neat.
Tolkein traded on mythology as did Lewis. Yet there was room in their mythologies for nuance. They traded in symbols and knew how Frodo might almost succumb to the ring, as well as what deeper magics lay beneath Narnia.
I’m afraid I can’t give as much symbology expertise to George Lucas. The bad guys look like Nazis and sound like Tories. The bad guys wear black and/or personality obscuring helmets. The good guys talk about balance and wear priest robes from the east. We have a friggin’ princess who needs saving. The Death Star is called a Death Star.
Perhaps in a simpler time, these partially understood symbols used by Star Wars were sufficient. But in our day and age when neo-Nazis are literally roaming American streets – when neo-Nazis are our neighbors and sons – we have an obligation to look deeper.
And when our other neighbors’ families are ripped apart: when America might not have concentration camps but has “lost track” of over a thousand children – well, it might as well be Americans blowing up Alderaan.
When it’s known that it was American policy and armaments that helped create Al-Qaeda: the very group that led us to create ICE – well, that looks an awful lot like Canto Bight, don’t it?
When we as a culture might have to finally recognize that we have elected a Sith lord to the office of president – or if not the Sith, then at least a Hutt – we might finally see our own failure.
When even the liberal media is implicated by a liberal comedian for profiting off of the privileged white boy in power, sounding rather like Benecio del Toro’s con man in The Last Jedi pointing out that there are no sides, there’s just who profits – I’m interested in when and how “good guys” suddenly realize we’re the baddies.
Americans used to rest assured that we were on the side of the Rebellion. But perhaps it’s time to realize that, in recent years, we’re looking more and more like the Empire.
I love that the Storm Troopers are humanized in Finn. I love that Kylo Ren takes his mask off. I love that Luke Skywalker still needs to learn from Yoda. And I love, too, the implication between Canto Bight in The Last Jedi that it’s the corporate middleman who’s the real villain. I love the story of the “good guy” in Rogue One who’s forced to create the Death Star. I love the Fascist marketing in Solo to find a community by joining the Imperial Army – which reminds me of Rolf’s need to belong in The Sound of Music.
I don’t know much about Crimson Dawn yet, but I love that it appears to be a paramilitary corporation, likely dealing in armaments, likely funding the Empire.
Because the truth is: the most evil person you will ever meet is the face in the mirror. Is the one who says: “I can profit off of this. I can survive this. And someone else might suffer, but by God – it won’t be me.”
That’s someone more terrifying than Vader. And I love that Star Wars is inching towards showing the true banality of evil.
I just wish they had someone at the helm who was thinking through what they’re really saying, rather than just throwing in fan service here, and diversity lip service there.
So, no: Solo is far from perfect. It’s nowhere near as terrible as the prequels. And who knows? If it gets a sequel, and if the showrunners start thinking through what they’re saying with these beloved characters, a second movie (if it gets made) might actually be good.
In the meantime, all I can say to future Star Wars artists is:
Okay, kid. Don’t get cocky.
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