We know Han. We have known him a very long time. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” shows us his beginnings, but it really doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about him. Han doesn’t change that much from when we first meet him in the opening of this film to the Han we know in “The Force Awakens”. Even in the brilliant scene that sparks the movie to life when he hot-wires a speeder, he is the Han we already know and love: He’s a risk-taker. He’s good with mechanics. He’s a hustler.
And he has a heart of gold. In later years, he hides this from others, even from himself, but right from the beginning, with his vow to come back for Qi’ra, and the sacrifice he makes for her by volunteering for the Empire’s army, we see he is inherently good.
When he manages to snag a cylinder of the hyperfuel coaxium to enable his and Qi’ra’s escape and talks his way past the Imperial border guard, we are shown he is a capable scam artist. (But we already knew that.). And we see he’s an audacious pilot willing to take crazy risks. The aborted attempt to escape by turning the speeder sideways through a narrow channel of the city’s guts is an early echo of the many later close calls we’re already familiar with.
Many other of his exploits are recognized, much to the delight of the audience. Connections are made through one-line references that are anything but throwaway. Canon we thought had died when Disney took the reigns of the franchise is carefully woven back into the story and given new life. Of course, the ultimate fan fave is when we get to actually see Han do the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, the Solo fabled claim-to-fame. (Even if this is impossible, since parsecs measure distance not time. But who am I to call him on that technicality.)
But all of this is old news. We have grown up with Han. We already know about his idiosyncrasies and love him all the more for them. It really doesn’t matter how they started. It only matters that it shaped him to become the scoundrel that stole all our hearts. What the movie really does is reconfirm our belief in him. Do we really need to see him give the coaxium to Enfys Nest? No, not really. The selfless part of him has already been shown to us in “A New Hope” when he comes back to help Luke destroy the Deathstar. And penultimately, when he gives his life to try and save Kylo Ren’s soul. “Solo” isn’t covering new ground. It is a tribute to our hero, and a convincing reaffirmation of Han as a person, to any doubters still out there.
It is Qi’ra’s transformation that matters most in “Solo”, not Han’s. Her story arc is extreme, whereas Han pretty much stays the same from the beginning of the movie to the end. He sacrifices in the beginning, and he sacrifices at the end. He is always the good-hearted con artist and “the best pilot in the galaxy”. But Qi’ra’s turn is way more dramatic. She is the character in the movie that truly surprises us. Not Beckett. He is more predictable than he’d like to believe, as Han so observantly learns. It is Qi’ra that delivers all the shockers.
She starts out as a loving girlfriend standing in the shadows while Han pulls off the heist and confronts Lady Proxima. She hangs on with gritted teeth as Han makes a wild escape in the speeder. We have the first inkling that she might be more than just a love-interest when confronting the guard at the border gate; she is as good at keeping a Sabacc face as Han. Yet when she is taken away by the Stormtroopers, we fear for her and wonder what will happen to her. She is helpless to get away. We assume she is going to be put in prison or forced to work in a labor camp, or even killed.
When we first see her again with Dryden Vos, we believe she is being held against her will. She has been branded, forced to behave or face punishment. She tells Han that she has “done things”. But he, and we, are ready to forgive any transgressions she might have committed believing that they were done in order to stay alive. Yet we wonder. She must have been terribly strong and played her role pretty damn well to have gotten as far as she has – dressed to the nines, drinking goblets of expensive liquor with the top dog aboard a luxurious pleasure yacht.
She plays her role well. She goes with Han because her master orders her to, and Han thinks he has received a windfall. We see her dreamy-eyed among Lando’s capes, looking to all the world like a street urchin who has never touched finery before. Easily enough, she is ready to melt with Han into a kiss, but we don’t get to see whether it’s true love, or if she is just toying with him, because the job interrupts.
We are tossed a misdirection when it becomes apparent she is not very adept at co-piloting (no, she is not another Rey). She easily vacates the seat for Chewie, and this leads us to believe that she is meek, willing to take a back seat to those in charge.
But on the mining planet, we see she really is as good a player as Han. We scarcely notice a flinch as the doors close on her and the mine operative. Then all we see is a flying red cape and dead bodies. She can hold her own. Perhaps we don’t really know her as well as we think we do.
And she’s good with electronics. She neatly connects L3-37’s brain into the Millennium Falcon, no questions asked. Perhaps she’d always been an equal partner in Han’s earlier exploits, not just his love interest as we were led to believe.
When Qi’ra and Han return with the coaxium for Vos, we think she is on Han’s side, working the scam with him, even if we aren’t yet totally sure what that is. Even Vos seems to think she’s gone against his wishes. But when she picks up the vibro blade, we begin to wonder. Is she just defending herself? After all, she is hiding, trying to stay out of the fight. Yet there is something in her look and posture that makes us suspicious. When she jumps into the fray, we realize she wasn’t kidding about the things she said she’d done. She takes out Vos neatly and with no qualms. But we still want to believe. She is doing it for Love. For Han. Those huge gems sitting there like paperweights entice us as much as they do Han (even if they do look like big chunks of glass).
The weird thing is that Han willingly leaves her behind. He seems to believe she still loves him, but he shuts the door on her of his own accord this time. Has he already realized in his heart who she has become? She says she’s right behind him, then what is she waiting for? Why doesn’t she just take the prize and run with him like she did three years ago?
Wait, what is she doing? Why isn’t she gathering up the gems? Who is she calling?
Holy, shit!!!! It’s Maul!!!!!!!!!!! The villain we love to hate, and admit, we love. And Qi’ra isn’t just scamming him; she’s giving herself to him. When we watch the red light of a Dark-Side lightsaber flickering in her eyes, we know we’ve been had. Was she playing Han and Vos the whole time? Just biding her time to get what she really wanted?
This movie wasn’t about Han. Not really. We already knew everything we needed to know about him. This movie was about a young woman we had never met before, someone who Han loved, turning to the Dark Side.
When discussing the film with my Liningup.net friends after we saw it for the first time at the Mann’s Chinese Theater IMAX, the question was floated whether or not there would be a “Solo 2”. The consensus was there was no need for it. From here, “A New Hope” picks up pretty seamlessly. We don’t really need to see any more of Han’s exploits, fun as they might be.
But the tale doesn’t seem over. Could a movie featuring Dark Side characters be in the works? Don’t you want to see on the big screen what happened to Maul in all those years between when he was sliced in half by Obi-Wan and now? I do. Perhaps the tales of Maul that were relegated to Legends can now become canon again, too. Then that begs the question, how does Qi’ra fit into that grander scheme? What role does she have to play in the future of the Dark Side in the new Star Wars empire?