Origin of a Smuggler-Hero: Another “STAR WARS” Expansion with “SOLO”

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There was a time when it was felt that the “Star Wars” films was enough in itself, the stories contained within its original trilogy of films produced by Lucasfilm for 20th Century Fox being all we needed to know about the characters and the galaxy they lived in. Eventually however, some fans became curios about people, places and events in the past of the “Star Wars” setting that affected the present. This has happened already when the story of how Luke’s father became Darth Vader was told in the prequels. Now more snippets of the past are getting some elaboration.

This was the conceit of the “Star Wars Story” film anthology, which fleshes out numerous things that took place outside the frame of the “Episode” movies, which primarily revolve around the Skywalker family. The first movie, “Rogue One” (2016), detailed how the Rebels got the plans of the first Death Star as referenced in the opening crawl for the first “Star Wars” movie in 1977. Now, the recently premiered one looks on the past of space smuggler turned Rebel hero Han Solo, here played in his youth by Alden Ehrenreich. The result is not at all surprising, but still fun.

“Star Wars” fans who have delved into the old “Expanded Universe” of books, comics and similar material (now called “Star Wars Legends”, with Disney making an EU of its own), would have some smatterings of knowledge regarding Han Solo: he was from planet Corellia, where the Empire built its Star Destroyers; he was briefly with the Imperial military; he met Chewbacca as an Imperial captive and lets him go; and lastly, he won his trademark spaceship the Millennium Falcon from its original owner Land Calrissian, in a card game called Sabacc. All these went into “Solo: A Star Wars Story”.

But the first point of contention would have to be Ehrenreich’s acting, considering that he is picking up the role of Han Solo from celebrated actor Harrison Ford. Granted, he is playing the character as a younger man, but his Han has been noted by “Star Wars” super-fans as being a far cry from the sour cynic played by Ford in the original trilogy. Yes, he in this film counted himself a scoundrel from childhood, but he has a streak of idealism that jarred how fans remember him. Perhaps that brightness can be “blamed” on the woman from his past.

Yes, apparently young Han had a girl before he met Princess Leia. Her name is Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and she has two distinct personas in “Solo”: her during the prologue section and her in the narrative’s present.  In the former she supposedly shares in Han’s idealistic dream of leaving Corellia and their circumstances as young crooks working for a boss, in order to travel the stars in their own ship. Only Han gets away, though he promises to return. Three years later, he’s an Imperial pilot washout serving as a “mud-trooper” on a meat-grinder battleground, but his fortunes would change.

Said change comes in the form of con man Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who reluctantly takes on Han when he deserts from the Empire, along with a prisoner he sprung out: his future right-hand Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Han hopes to repay the debt by helping out on Beckett’s plans to steal some spaceship fuel at the behest of galactic crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who happens to have Qi’ra now as his lieutenant. Things have changed for her too, it seems. Now the three of them need a fast ship to transport stolen fuel. Where to get one?

Enter Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), flamboyant gambler and master smuggler on his pimped-up freighter the Millennium Falcon, which looks vastly swanky compared to how fans are used to. Glover’s performance in place of Billy Dee Williams has raised eyebrows, particularly due to the dynamics between him and his female droid copilot. Anyway, the crew, with Han along, steals some unrefined fuel from planet Kessel, and in order to reach a remote refinery before the unstable cargo becomes explosive, the Millennium Falcon must do what the boast from the original trilogy said: do the Kessel run in “less than 14 parsecs”.

“Solo” does end up addressing some implied incidents in Han Solo’s past by showing how they transpired, but it was the inclusion of so many sub-events in this manner that makes the film sometimes come across as being a rough stitch. It could not be helped though, with how original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were replaced by Ron Howard halfway through a troubled production. But somehow Howard manages to salvage a potential disaster by taking advice from his old mentor George Lucas himself. The man even got to direct one scene in the film during a set visit.

In a way, Lucasfilm’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story” feels a tad superfluous. There was really no need to show how all the past events in Han’s life played out, and some critics might say actually putting them to film removes the mystique of his checkered history. Another segment of the fandom might probably enjoy the many references on the “Star Wars” mythos the movie was able to put in, including the production team’s definitive opinion on an original trilogy scene altered by Lucas to some fans’ annoyance: something about shooting first. You will understand it when you see it.

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