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Solo: Not Dark and Twisty Enough

Solo

I saw the original Star Wars trilogy in theaters when it first came out, and my favorite character was Han Solo. It helped that I had a serious tweenage crush on Harrison Ford, and I wasn’t the only one. Even my mother, who thought Star Wars was a silly kids’ movie (even before it was called “A New Hope”), was able to muster up some love for Han. But while my fangirl affection for Han and his star-crossed love story with Leia carried me through the 1980s, it is not serving me well for the newer crop of Star Wars movies.

We Know How It Ends for Han

I looked forward to The Force Awakens in 2015 as much as anyone else, and I was thrilled to meet Rey and Finn, a new force wielder and a stormtrooper with a conscience. These characters blew out of the water the tired old stereotype that black or female leads couldn’t carry a blockbuster movie in the United States. I cheered them on and listened to the soaring John Williams soundtrack, delighted by their exploits.

Except, as much as I loved The Force Awakens, I also hated The Force Awakens. The story was exciting enough and boldly told that I was mostly willing to forgive the many plot holes, but I can’t forgive the way Han Solo was killed.

I seem to be a minority in this view, maybe a minority of one. When I ventured to my friends, “that part was a little too dark for me,” they answered back, “It’s supposed to be dark! That’s what Star Wars is about!” And they’re right. It’s not called the Dark Side for nothing.

kylo-ren-killer

Brian Kesinger

But Star Wars is about more than that, to me. It’s also about humor, and about hope and redemption. And all the humor, hope, and redemption that I had lived along with Han and Leia’s love story and in their victory over the Empire died with Han there on that unnecessary catwalk. I came home from the film to fitful sleep and disturbed dreams. Han, Luke, and Leia hadn’t just made a few parental and avuncular mistakes. No, they had spawned a mass murderer.

image via Pinterest

A Nightmare of Eternal Return

“It’s a classic battle of good and evil,” a friend told me. “An allegory, a morality play” (as my 10th grade English teacher had also once remarked). “No one side will ever really win or defeat the other side permanently.” This argument struck me as Nietszchean. Han’s death plunged the series into a nightmare of eternal return, in which nothing and no one ever won or lost or even changed very much. Jakku was Tatooine rebranded. The First Order rose from the ashes of the Empire. And they apparently didn’t learn anything about not building planet-killing weapons with single fatal flaws that can be destroyed by small bands of fighter ships.

What would an origin story about Han Solo add to all this? Might it somehow redeem Han’s death? Could it say something new about families, about fathers and mothers and sons, or even about the power of romantic love stories and the limits thereof? Unfortunately, at least so far, the answer is no.

A Boy and His Dog

I didn’t hate Solo: A Star Wars Story. It was an enjoyable enough way to spend two hours on a Memorial Day afternoon. Alden Ehrenreich did a credible job soldiering through the action sequences, and Lando’s antics as played by Donald Glover were amusing. I especially liked the meeting between Han and Chewbacca. Every hokey science fiction movie has a scene in which our hero is thrown into a pit to fight a crazed hungry beast. I was happy to see the script end differently for once. It would have been nice, however, if we had a reason that Han could speak Wookiee. What made him learn that language? Is Han talented at languages or especially interested in them?

Image via ckpg today

image via CKPG

As it was, the movie seemed like a kids’ movie emotionally, in spite of its PG-13 rating. The boy-and-his-dog friendship between Han and Chewie is a case in point. Chewie could have been Lassie for all the emotional complexity their relationship had in its early stages.

The Dark Side?

This same issue — cute, talented kid mysteriously turns bad — plagues Episodes I-III as well. The stakes are higher with Anakin because he starts out cuter and more innocent than Han. Anakin also has further to fall to become Darth Vader than Han does to become Jabba the Hut’s eventual target. But both transformations are similarly unsatisfying at the core. There is no real betrayal of Anakin’s trust by those he loves. Padmé Amidala loves Anakin unto the end, and even Obi-Wan cares enough to travel to Mustafar in hopes of saving his Padawan. Anakin just turns, motivated not by tragic circumstances but by a character flaw exploited by the Sith Lords.

Similarly, Han is not betrayed in Solo by anyone or anything that matters, not even himself. The Empire whose army he deserts is corrupt. His sometime-friend Beckett has already shown his true colors plenty of times, even as Han remains a loyal friend and helper. Han couldn’t help leaving Qi’ra behind on Corellia and carries a torch for her for 3 years hoping to make it right. Qi’ra fights by his side when it counts. Han saves Chewbacca and even lets him go to help other abused wookiees, at serious risk to himself.

Return of Eternal Return

Qi’ra is long gone by A New Hope. The method of her disappearance whether by death, betrayal, or other, is the only thing I see here that might transform this movie’s Han into the bad boy we know and love. Qi’ra (played by a dark-haired Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones’ Mother of Dragons) starts out as a standard romantic love interest and becomes potentially the darkest, most complex character in the film. Her motivations and feelings remain murky, but like Padmé Amidala before her, she is still too good and true (and alive) to ruin Han’s earnest boringness in this film.

So any betrayal involving Qi’ra would have to happen in a sequel. In order for that sequel to work, it needs to be more dark and twisty in the realm of human relationships than anything in Star Wars we’ve seen. It would need less of the spirit of Lassie and more of Game of Thrones. Yes, this would mean telling a story that might upset some fans.

image via Pinterest

But it also would mean confronting what we really want and need from this franchise, 41 years in. Is Disney just going to keep telling the same story over and over with different names? Or do they have a chance now to delve deeper into human motivations around betrayal, deceit, and the will to power?


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10 Responses

  1. Were you crushing on Ford has Indiana Jones as well? I so crushed on Karen Allen in that first Indy film!

  2. Reviews_h says:

    Very well written, though not a great fan of star wars.

  3. Oh, and a PS, another redemption story I like is where a good person who is completely impotent against the forces around him gradually becomes badass and deals with them. That was Luke’s story, and it helped me to not notice Han’s.

    • Karen Allendoerfer says:

      I loved and identified with Luke’s story too, probably more so than any other character. The scene where he comes in from a long day working on the moisture farm, and is frustrated about his lot in life and longing for more, and looks up at Tatooine’s suns setting and the violins come in and play the theme, is one of my all-time faves. I felt I was living that too, an intense desire to get out of my own backwater and have adventures.
      “Binary Sunset.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gpXMGit4P8

      A reason that I preferred Luke and Leia to be brother and sister rather than lovers is that a lot of my Star Wars fandom is tied up with my relationship with my younger brother. He had all the action figures (because back then it was more socially acceptable for a boy to have action figures) and we used to play with them together. And to this day we still talk about Star Wars fandom (and are in a Star Wars fan facebook group, among other things). To the extent I identified with Leia (which, honestly, was not a lot back then, a little more now since I’ve grown up, married, become a parent, and had to deal with love, loss, and a lot of BS), it made sense to have Luke as a brother.

  4. Good day, Milady. Haven’t seen Solo, don’t intend to, but I found your opening remarks interesting, and I wonder if it’s a gender thing. I too saw the original in the theater, and as a guy, I saw Han as an arrogant ass who needed his comeuppance, and rooted for Luke to get the girl right up until they dropped the bombshell. After that first impression, I never really liked Han. Understood he was vital to the plot, and that he was doing good, though mostly as a side effect, but wouldn’t have minded at all if he hadn’t made it. What do think, is it that women like that take-charge bad boy while men see him as a threat, or is something else going on there?

    • Karen Allendoerfer says:

      That’s an interesting point. I speculate it also has something to do with the time and place and the cultural zeitgeist. AO Scott remarked in his NYT review of this movie that “It’s more that the time line can’t quite adjust. Guys like the old Han Solo belong to the past. We’re all supposed to be much nicer now.” Han’s toxic masculinity is perhaps more obvious nowadays, and perhaps more obvious to adults than to kids, although you say you saw it immediately. I was 11 when I first encountered Han Solo, and I saw Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark around the same time. I think that the two characters may have kind of merged in my mind, and I did have some of the same fangirl feelings about Harrison Ford as Indy’s dreamy students. Straight men and boys wouldn’t have that clouding their judgement–LOL!

      But the thing that appealed to me most about Han was specifically his redemption, not just his bad-boy persona. That he would come back and save Luke and help him destroy the Death Star, and then that he would fall in love with Leia, join the rebellion, and fight by her side were what made Han appealing. Just watching good characters be good all the time is kind of boring and/or exhausting. Watching bad characters turn good is, for me, one of the things that makes a story interesting (also watching good characters turn bad–but I think everyone agrees on that).

      • Doubly interesting! I was 27, married with kids, right at the age that should have been the height of whatever alpha-maleness I may have possessed. Perhaps I recognized him as someone I would inevitably clashed with had we met, and perhaps my 11-year old self would have loved his rebelliousness. Whatever the case, after his first abrasive introduction, I never really liked him, and never shed the idea that it was primarily Luke’s story.

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