In the original Star Wars movie, Han Solo is a selfish jerk. He, famously, only looks out for himself. One has to assume the same is true for Chewbacca, Han Solo’s co-pilot, as we’re not given any other information about him except that he’s likely to rip your arms off in a fit of poor sportsmanship. Their mutual affinity is, presumably, based on this shared sense of self-preservation. Han shoots first. Chewy rips your arms off. They’ve got a price on their heads—as one is wont to do when one shoots first and rips off arms—and they’re just in it for the payday so they can pay off their debt and regain their freedom. The moment Han and Chewy show up to pick off the tie fighters and buy Luke a moment of time to implant the torpedo in the Death Star’s service port is a heroic moment, because it’s the first moment of selfless action we’ve seen from them the entire film. It’s the completion of their character arcs. (“Hey, we need something to make Han and Chewy interesting in Empire. How about a love triangle?”)
Sardonicism aside, Han and Chewy’s character arc in the original Star Wars movie is important as it offers Luke a contrast to the life philosophies espoused by Obi-Wan and Leia. Obi-Wan is “Trust the Force” mystical; Han and Chewy are “a good blaster at your side” practical. Leia endures all for the greater cause; Han and Chewy just want to get paid. Pick a side, Luke. (Oh, also you can be powerful and evil, but we’ll save that for movie two.) The original Star Wars film is an ingenious contraption for many reasons, but it’s no small feat that it is able to shade in these characters so effortlessly that you don’t realize they’ve been shaded in until George Lucas starts futzing with the hues a few decades later – “Han shot first!” and whatnot.
So, for Solo: A Star Wars Story to be a compelling film that is consistent with the Star Wars universe’s primary texts, the narrative arc of the new film needs to lead Han Solo and Chewy to a rather dark place and leave them there. Otherwise, it risks either feeling radically heretical or rendering the original film a regressive air. Solo: A Star Wars Story nods in the direction of tragedy, but it lacks the narrative conviction to see it through. The movie is too eager to please. It has no idea how satisfying a solid meal can be, so it opts for candy and soda pop instead.
I was going to write, “This movie certainly has moments of real verve.” I wrote that sentence, actually, but then I struggled to follow it up with specific examples. I’ve thought back through the film scene-by-scene, and while I appreciate that there is an internal continuity to the order of events and the characters’ actions in them—something Rogue One was seriously lacking—no moment stands out for me. I wasn’t bored watching Solo. There’s a lot of “Get the thing! Get away from the thing! Whoa! There’s another random thing to get away from!” and all the while the filmmakers drop in little references to things we already know about Han and Chewy from the original films. I just haven’t thought about it since. I think I’ll enjoy the films that follow this one in the narrative continuity better if I don’t think about this one.
Oh! There’s a cascading droid rebellion at one point in this movie sparked by a droid character named L3-37. That’s fun even if it’s ultimately meaningless. Also, L3-37 and Qi’ra have a conversation in this movie that is the most ludicrous conversation that anyone has ever had in a Star Wars movie, and that’s saying something. Plus the whole movie has a kind of shabby 1970s feel due to the lighting and colors used throughout. It’s a love it or hate it kind of cinematographic choice made by, I assume, Bradford Young. I didn’t like it while watching the movie, but I think it might grow on me.
Ultimately, Solo: A Star Wars Story is an impossible film – how you do make the set-up for an already complete narrative arc compelling? George Lucas couldn’t manage it with three films an whole lot more characters. This isn’t the first time a character created by George Lucas and originated by Harrison Ford has run into this problem. The fundamental flaw in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is that it shows Indy learning what he also learns in Raiders, so if he already learned it during the events of Doom, why does he need to learn it again in Raiders? I guess some people never learn. No, not the characters. Hollywood never learns. Balance sheets lack the faculty for recollection.