HEAT VISION

What 'Solo' Should Have Kept in the Past

Solo A Star Wars Story Still 7 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
The 'Star Wars' spinoff fails to have an inspired take on one aspect of the iconic character's history.

[This story contains spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story]

What’s in a name? Family heritage? Self-pride? Identity? Rich, subtextual meaning intended to define a character’s nature on first introduction? If you’re a Star Wars fan, and if you’ve been wondering for years or decades about the etymology of Han Solo’s cognomen, rejoice: Solo: A Star Wars Story reveals the truth behind his surname, though after wondering for so long, the movie’s answer probably isn’t the one you’re hoping for, a creative contrivance that’s less the former, more the latter. Nothing’s worse than a crummy backstory, save for an unimaginative backstory, one where the connotation of the hero’s name is entirely literal.

We find out where Han became Solo really, really early in Solo: A Star Wars Story’s running time, as Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his childhood friend-cum-crush, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) flee from their homeworld, Corellia, which is a crime-ridden rathole, and from their crime boss overlords, who want very much to kill them. (In fairness to the crime boss overlords, Han and Qi’ra double-cross them pretty much as soon as the film begins, but let’s also keep in mind that they’re murderous crime boss overlords and thus not especially deserving of pity or empathy, much less Han's and Qi’ra’s loyalty.) As they hoof it through a spaceport, eager to get the hell out of Dodge, Qi’ra gets pinched by Imperial police at customs, forcing Han to go it alone and leave Corellia behind without her.

He does, but not without a parting gift of a last name, accorded him by an Imperial recruitment officer. “Who are your people?” he asks Han. “I don’t have people,” he quickly, guardedly replies. “I’m alone.” The officer stares at him for a beat, lost in thought, poring over his mind thesaurus, reaching for the exact right synonym to capture the circumference of the moment and trace the portraiture of Han’s existential loneliness. Han Separate. Han Alone. Han Single. Han Only. Han Forlorn. Han Unattended. None of these roll off the tongue and the officer knows it, and so he decides on the word that sounds the coolest: Solo. Han Solo.  

Solo: A Star Wars Story is good and entertaining as long as it’s focused on weightless fun, divorced from the greater overarching plots of Star Wars canon; as summer movie season popsicles go, it’s a lively romp featuring good Ehrenreich, great Donald Glover (as the one and only Lando Calrissian) and even greater Phoebe Waller-Bridge (as Lando’s droid sidekick, the sharp-tongued, dry-witted, utterly hysterical L3-37). (Let’s also give a shout-out to Joonas Suotamo, fully taking over Chewbacca duties from Peter Mayhew for the second time and making the struggle of wearing a giant fur suit for hours on set look effortless.) But it’s also a great example of how mystery is so often better than demystification, particularly when the alternative to mystery is this goofy.

The “Solo” reveal is the stuff of The Critic, an idea so thuddingly absurd that it can only be the product of satire, except it isn’t. Somehow, someway, nobody involved with Solo: A Star Wars Story either read that exchange on the page or watched the scene during filming, caught the stannic tang of rusty dialogue, and said, “You know what, let’s just not.” It’s not just the straightforward dopiness of the reveal that’s at fault here, though that’s certainly a factor; rather it’s the spirit of the reveal, the thought process that went into it, that’s so troublesome, and on so many levels. If you’re going to underscore the origins of a character as iconic as Han Solo, you’d better have a good origin story to tell, and if you’re going to walk through the roots of his name, those roots had better run deep. At least they’d best run deeper than a 10-second reference check.

It's a revelation that feels unnecessary all around. Even a clever derivation of the Solo family name would feel inessential; the significance of “Solo” to Han as a character need not be dwelled on because it announces itself from the first time we meet him, not in Solo: A Star Wars Story but in A New Hope. Han is a scruffy, roguish, self-centric survivor. He lives by the thieves’ golden rule, “look out for number one,” preferring a life as a smuggler versus a life as a rebel to start out with. Apart from Chewie, he doesn’t really have anybody, and quite frankly he likes it that way. But we know all of that. We know that Han is a loner. His character is defined by his actions. His name is just corroborative buttressing evidence of his character.

Maybe that’s a reason to give Solo: A Star Wars Story a pass for so comically bungling the big reveal. Han by any other name would, after all, be Han. He is the sum of his outlook, not the product of a four-letter word. But Solo: A Star Wars Story is to A New Hope as Prometheus is to Alien, Annabelle: Creation is to The Conjuring, The Thing '11 is to The Thing: It’s a vestigial organ, functional but nonessential for living, thanks to the knee-jerk impulse to shed itself of subtlety. The film, and the audience, would be just fine not knowing how Han came to be called “Solo.”

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