A Few Non-Spoilery Things I Can Tell You About Solo (and One Minor Spoiler)

by Arthur B

The fandom debate over the new Star Wars movie will doubtless be breaking out over the next few days, but here's an initial salvo.
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Doing a review of Solo this early after it comes out is a minefield. On the one hand, you don’t want to spoiler people. On the other hand, a good deal of what you want to say about a project boils down to how it ties in with the wider Star Wars saga, the particular direction Disney is presently taking with it, the expectations you have going in and so on.

In particular, as a prequel it spoilers itself in some respects. We know that by the beginning of the original Star Wars trilogy Han Solo is going to be buddies with Chewbacca, somewhat more long-distance buddies with Lando, in possession of the Millennium Falcon and working on the wrong side of the law. (In some editions, he also has sufficient smarts to shoot Greedo before Greedo shoots at him.)

So I’ll kick off with a really non-spoilery first assessment here, and then go on to talk about some things in more detail which made a particular impression on me which I think I can frame in terms which aren’t too spoilery. I will mention some stuff you see and some themes used, but if that constitutes a spoiler for you then you shouldn’t be reading reviews before seeing the film anyway, seriously, what is with you? Did you not read the article title?

My first assessment: it’s a fun side story which feels like a viable take on how the Kessel Run went, Aiden Ehrenreich does a believable take on the character which you can see becoming Harrison Ford after a passage of time and a few more capers, Donald Glover’s take on Lando is delightful and the new characters we’re introduced to are fun and memorable. It’s greatly advantaged by the fact that it’s not so intrinsically tied to the core action of the original trilogy as Rogue One, which gives it somewhat more creative freedom.

Now, some bits I want to particularly emphasise…

It’s got a sly eye for callbacks. Nowhere near to the extent of Rogue One, mind, whose last scene was shot like it could happen five minutes before the start of Star Wars. But there’s a few little visual nods here and there which are quite nice. There’s a particular disguise used at one point which gets used in the conga line of infiltration attempts that Luke and buddies pull on Jabba’s palace at the start of Return of the Jedi, suggesting that that particular disguise has been sat around in the back of a closet on the Falcon for years. At another point, Han wears a big fur coat which reminded me a lot of the silly fur coat that the human stand-in for Jabba the Hutt wore back in those infamous deleted scenes from the original Star Wars.

It also engages interestingly with the sequel trilogy. This is perhaps to be expected - none of the major characters in Rogue One survive to the sequel trilogy era, after all - but there’s stuff here which lends extra depth to Han, which in turn lends extra depth to the sequel trilogy. In particular, remember his dice charms? They were a minor bit of set dressing in the original trilogy but were used to be a major reminder of him in the sequel trilogy, with a particular role played in The Last Jedi. Here we get to see their origins and what they originally meant to Han, which in turn enriches the core films by adding this additional depth to them.

It doesn’t go out of its way to ruthlessly burn out all its loose ends the way Rogue One did. In fact, I would absolutely love to see them do a sequel movie to it. (“Duo”, maybe, now that the Han/Chewbacca teamup is well and truly cemented.) After all, we don’t know how much time Han spends working for Jabba between this movie and Star Wars - and what’s more, during this film some of the new characters we are introduced to could very viably have their own conflict going on out on the lawless fringes of the galaxy without involving the classic Star Wars characters.

On that subject, it usefully expands the scope of Star Wars stories whilst still feeling like a Star Wars movie. For one thing, more or less the entire plot unfolds without crowbarring in a single Force user. (One does show up in a very minor scene, but it’s a brief appearance of little import beyond setting up potential future stories, and the action of the movie would have unfolded nigh-identically had the scene been cut.)

Similarly, although the Empire is most definitely a presence, it’s a more peripheral one than we’ve ever seen in any Star Wars movie set in the post-Return of the Sith era. The major conflicts in this area of space seem to be between various criminal syndicates, the sort we always knew existed at the periphery of the Imperial zone of control thanks to Jabba’s activities in the original trilogy, and which are given a bit more depth here. Precisely because much of the story consists of the struggles between them (and between them and those of their victims who won’t lie down easily),

It renders moot the brattish complaints of geek gatekeepers without at all pandering to their demands. Though there’s room for legitimate disagreement on The Last Jedi, there’s also been an undeniable tidal wave of criticism in bad faith engaged in by wailing fanboys who didn’t like how central women were to it and how critical it was of fragile geekboys with entitlement issues like Kylo Ren. Essentially, their complaint was similar to the complaints being levelled against the Battlefield V trailer for its temerity to show a woman involved in frontline combat in World War II; in both cases, reactionaries deploy the argument that involving a woman, or a person of colour, or an LGBT+ person as a protagonist in a story is an intrinsically political statement and therefore an unwelcome imposition (ignoring the fact that ruling them out as protagonists is equally political). They are, effectively, pushing the Gamergater conspiracy theory that there’s a plot to disappear all media where a straight white man is the hero.

Solo by itself disproves their conspiracy theory comprehensively. It’s a story about a straight white guy and his cool buddies who do a string of awesome heists - precisely the sort of tale that Gamergate, the Sad Puppies, and other associated movements would claim that Disney and others are plotting to suppress. At exactly the same time, it also demonstrates that you can tell that sort of story without abandoning diversity in the supporting cast. There’s plenty of women across the social strata here, including several in places of authority, Lando is thankfully not the only person of colour in the cosmos this time around, and women play important roles in each of the heists Han undertakes across the course of the movie. Phoebe Walter-Bridge gets to play L3-37, a droid who identifies as female and is perhaps the best of the new characters to be added here.

The major representation issue that’s been reported on with the impending film has been the glib declarations of Lando being bisexual, with people validly making the point that this sort of representation doesn’t count for much if it never appears in the actual content in question. (You could call that the Dumbledore Problem, given that the action of the entire Harry Potter series would be no different had Dumbledore been entirely asexual and aromantic.) This is a mild issue, but at the same time I don’t think we’re talking Dumbledore levels of not-making-it-into-the-text here. In particular, at one point L3-37 describes Lando’s banter with Han as “flirting”, and the delivery suggests that a) she’s not wholly kidding and b) she’s used to Lando doing this. It’s more subtle than it really needs to be in this day and age, but it’s closer to an open acknowledgement of a character being LGBT+ in a Star Wars movie than we’ve had so far.

It’s good clean fun. Rogue One was extremely dark. The Last JedI went pretty dark too. Solo isn’t absent of its darker moments (indeed, the lighting scheme is quite subdued in many scenes), so it’s nice to have a Star Wars movie offering a more light-hearted adventure at this point in time.

And finally, the minor spoiler…
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Han shoots first.
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