The Story Geeks blogger Anthony Holdier responds with an additional perspective to the same topic discussed in this week’s podcast – how to improve “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” Want to share your own take? Join the conversation in The Story Geeks Facebook group!
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If you ask me, “Solo” was the Star Wars equivalent of lime sherbet: I didn’t hate it and I didn’t regret experiencing it, but I found it thoroughly forgettable and can’t imagine anyone saying it’s their favorite flavor. But, we Story Geeks like to be specific in our Make It Betters, so rather than just saying “MAKE ME CARE ABOUT IT” here are three targeted suggestions to improve on the Ron-Howard-wears-Lord-and-Millers-corpses feature we ended up with.
1) FIX HIS NAME (or “Remove Lazy Fanservice”)
I don’t often groan audibly in a movie theater, but if I remember one thing about my first viewing of “Solo” it was the painfully extreme eye-roll that the (completely unnecessary) origin story of the name “Solo” FORCED out of me (see what I did there?! Was that joke necessary? No! It was predictable and lazy, just like that gate guard’s entire function in this movie).
More broadly, there were many parts of Solo that seemed like they were just there to offer pandering fanservice to people who love Star Wars: the opening parallel of Leia-in-Disguise’s thermal detonator scene from RotJ, the inversion of Han’s famously ad-libbed “I know” (now directed towards Lando’s hatred), the inclusion of the Imperial March non-diegetically as the actual theme of an Imperial recruitment ad — each of these references slips closer towards cheap and obvious emotional manipulation on the part of “Solo’s” creative team.
References like these have to be subtle in order to avoid risking an audience’s rejection of the fictional premise. If a film feels like it’s trying to use our fond memories of another movie to trick us into feeling something specific, then we might just feel like we’re being tricked (or worse, like our emotional capital is being stolen).
To be fair, “Solo” did effectively work in some nods to the original story (I particularly liked how the film ret-cons Billy Dee Williams’ mispronunciation of Han’s name), but too much of this sort of thing was flamboyantly strewn about “Solo’s” script.
2) Save Val.
I really enjoyed the character of Beckett and, even more, his wife Val; particularly since the movie had been promising a relationship between Qi’ra and Han, I was expecting Val and Beckett to act as a relational foil, contrasting the pairs of love interests (the good Han and bad Beckett with the bad Qi’ra and good Val, to oversimplify).
Beyond that, Val offered something rare in the Star Wars universe — an independently strong female character who also manages to be romantic. Val was funny, intelligent, and eminently capable; with the death of the Han-Leia coupling in “The Force Awakens,” I initially thought that Val and Beckett’s relationship might be able to serve as a sort of stand-in example for mature romantic couples.
And then she died.
Don’t get me wrong, it was heroic (kind of) and set up Beckett’s later Face-Heel turn (I guess), but — particularly since Val’s murderers end up being good guys (of a sort) — her death was remarkably unsatisfying and ultimately unnecessary for the flow of the rest of the story. Really, I would have loved to see Val’s reaction to Beckett’s betrayal of Han in the third act, mainly because I really don’t know which way I think she’d go (with Beckett or against him). Her character was a missed opportunity.
3) Let Han be bad.
I get that Alden Ehrenreich is playing the protagonist, but far too much of this movie makes Han look like Luke Skywalker and not nearly enough like Lando. By the time Han shoots Beckett at the end (in a moment that really made me want to pour one out for both Greedo and George Lucas’ pride), Han really doesn’t seem like the kind of character who would do that sort of thing.
I mean, in “A New Hope,” he literally walks away (at first) from Luke and the Resistance, even though in “Solo” he sacrifices everything in order to help the Cloud Riders; you could argue that the excitement of Han’s return to rescue Luke as the Deus ex Machina of “A New Hope” is clouded by his behavior here — I want Han to be a genuine scoundrel until the very moment we hear his battle cry through Luke’s comms.
What’s that? It’s Qi’ra’s betrayal that turned Han into the cold-blooded pirate we meet in Mos Eisley?
Nice try — remember that Qi’ra doesn’t leave Han until after he shoots Beckett — so that shot remains completely out of the to-that-point-heroic character Han had been in this movie. To make it better, we’d have to either make Han doe-eyed and innocent all the way through until Qi’ra’s betrayal (which doesn’t happen) OR make Han pure scoundrel from the jump (which also doesn’t happen). It’s like the filmmakers wanted to let Han be both innocent and world-weary which…really doesn’t make sense. And didn’t really work.