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Arts in Review

Unlike stormtroopers, Solo hits the mark

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After December’s controversial The Last Jedi, fans were skeptical about Disney’s ability to produce another Star Wars prequel that would do justice to Han Solo, arguably the most iconic character from its new pet franchise. Solo is a space Western that follows Han as he escapes the streets of Corellia and tries to return for his girlfriend, Qi’ra. After falling in debt to a crime syndicate, Han turns to a star-studded cast of hustlers to steal dangerous spaceship fuel and win their freedom. Though it flopped at the box office and has received mixed reviews, Solo has more to offer than it’s gotten credit for.

I really enjoyed Solo — the action was exciting and well-directed, and the new settings made me want to jump in and swim around. The dialogue was (mostly) clever and it was a joy to watch the characters interact. Alden Ehrenreich’s evocation of Harrison Ford is an anchor to the original Han without being a distracting impersonation, and Donald Glover is effervescent as Lando Calrissian. My favourite character was L3, a brash, sarcastic droid who rebels against her organic overlords. She doesn’t have a face, but her blunt humour and gangly design is expressive and instantly endearing. Her droid rebellion is a moment of raucous joy for both L3 and the audience, who are treated to gleeful mayhem that feels ripped from an ‘80s kids’ movie.

Solo’s troubled production sometimes peeks through, and while I took fan service as a given going in, it was still a little stilted. Glaringly, its treatment of female characters is not great, as both no-nonsense smuggler Val and L3 are fridged — killed to spur their male counterparts’ character development — to no effect. L3’s droid rights storyline is treated as a joke, and Qi’ra is a pillbox hat and one shade of lipstick away from being a femme fatale. Despite all this, Solo is still more than just enjoyable; it works with its context in the franchise, and reframes the original Han Solo in a meaningful way.

Stories we remember and internalize are ones that show us a new image of life. Solo does this by refining the familiar virtue of being selfless towards others into, specifically, helping marginalized people, even if it means we ourselves will be pushed to the margins. Early on, Han resigns himself to a life of crime and debt for Qi’ra, and at the end, he risks placing a bounty on his head to help an oppressed group of strangers. This is a new portrayal of heroism for Star Wars; where Luke Skywalker helped others by struggling towards victory, Han leaps from victory — escaping Corellia and stealing the hyperfuel — into struggle. Han doesn’t get a medal and a kiss, even though it’s clear he does the right thing. Solo succeeds in updating the theme of a Star Wars movie, and does so less abrasively than The Last Jedi, leaving the core of Han’s character — that of a charming space cowboy — intact, if not unexamined.

Solo comments on the archetypal action hero by using Han’s criminal mentor, Beckett, as a foil. Han is driven by compassion for Qi’ra and a need for independence (rather than dominance), and is emotionally accessible to other characters and the audience; we’re shown multiple close-ups of Han simply being moved emotionally, by flying over the mountains, jumping to hyperspace, even observing affection between Val and Beckett. Conversely, Beckett is violent, controlling, and dispassionate. These are all traits associated with toxic masculinity, and because of them, Beckett bears more than a passing resemblance to Han in Episode IV. The beginning of Han’s arc towards the Han Solo of old is clear at the end of the climax when a direct parallel is drawn between the two incarnations. We see how Han has become more like Beckett and his later self, and it’s gutting.

Solo is neither a radical treatise on the responsibilities of privileged non-oppressors to the oppressed, nor a feminist opus on positive masculinity. It does, however, paint a striking, timely picture of heroism and reframes the essence of the original Han Solo as a facade, re-contextualizing his cavalier personality as a consequence of trauma. Which is more interesting a statement than anything I expected.

At its heart, Solo is a flawed but fun action movie with a great cast that gently tests the moulds of its genre and its franchise. I recommend giving it a fair shake.

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