In the age of superheroes, origin stories are becoming a standard movie genre, not to mention an opportunity to extend the reach of a movie franchise. Solo: A Star Wars Story brings viewers the origin story of space smuggler Han Solo, the cavalier captain of the Millennium Falcon whose bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold persona in the 70s and 80s caused many to swoon (my younger self included) and many others to wish to be just like him.
At the beginning of the story, young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is still a street-smart teen surviving the mean streets of the planet Corellia. He and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) attempt to escape, but Han has to leave without her. He promises himself that he will return to find her after he trains to be a pilot in the Imperial army.
Things take a turn for him, and eventually he meets up with a band of thieves who are about to pull a big heist. Thinking this will be a way finally be able to afford his own ship and get back to Qi’ra, he joins them, pulling his new friend Chewbacca into the scheme as well. Action ensues.
Back in April, at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, TV writer and producer Dorothy Fortenberry (The Handmaid’s Tale) was part of a panel conversation. When asked how her Roman Catholic faith tradition affects her television career, she said that she is often in the minority in the writing room, because she doesn’t think that dying is the worst thing that can happen to someone. She finds herself the lone voice asking “but what about the immortal soul?”
She pointed out that if the worst thing that can happen is your death, then anything done in the name of self-preservation can be justified. In her experience, that’s how most people in the industry look at things. She offered the example of the trope of a good guy who suddenly faces a terrible choice: torture the bad guy to get the information that will save innocent people in peril, or let the innocent people die. The good guy finally tortures the bad guy, gets the information, and saves the innocent people. But what happens to the good guy after he goes through with torturing another human being? That’s something rarely addressed.
Han Solo was a reluctant hero in the original Star Wars trilogy, and in this movie he stays true to character. He has his own reasons and motivations for everything he does, regardless of what the motives of others are. In the age of the antihero, he’s the perfect character to explore.
But this is Star Wars, and Han Solo can’t be a really selfish bad guy. In this film, the escapades he is involved in benefit a couple of different groups living under oppression, and his actions help jump-start the Rebellion that we were introduced to so long ago. Ehrenreich sometimes effectively channels Harrison Ford in his expressions and lines, bringing to mind the older Han.
There are exciting close-call escapes, death-defying aircraft maneuvers, and mesmerizing sets and special effects, just as you would expect. Donald Glover makes an excellent, silky-smooth Lando Calrissian. Certain fan service moments get special treatment—familiar strains of John Williams’ original compositions float up when Han sees the Millennium Falcon, and when Chewbacca sits down next to Han in the co-pilot’s seat.
And so Han Solo can get away being a “good guy” while continuing his criminal pursuits, because there are other criminals worse than him, and because he has a soft side he can’t ignore, and because he is quick-witted and charming.
While it’s fun escapism watching Han get out of one scrape after another, the film would have more power if it showed some recognition of how much a young man in this situation would be affected by his history and by the way he chooses to respond. In fact, Black Panther did just that with the character of Killmonger, who grew up marginalized and had to fend for himself. He grew up into a hurting and angry young man. In an Internet-informed world, we have a pretty clear indication of how trauma, marginalization, and violence—in other words, sin and its effects—alters the human heart, golden or otherwise. That outcome is neither carefree nor charming. I suppose that’s why this is called “fantasy.” (Disney)