HEAT VISION

The 'Star Wars' Universe Is Becoming More Like Marvel's

Solo A Star Wars Story Still 14 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
'Solo' features a surprise that suggests the stand-alone won't be a one-and-done movie.

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

There’s something about the last-minute reveal at the end of Solo: A Star Wars Story that feels at once inevitable and surprising. It's an unexpected lurch toward the Marvel Studios model of cinematic universes that goes beyond the Easter Eggs of earlier movies, and toward a school of thought that expects audiences to watch every movie in the series in case of unexpected crossovers. Despite its troubled production, does Solo point to the future of Star Wars movies?

For the majority of its runtime, Solo behaves like a traditional Star Wars movie of the Disney era: a straightforward adventure story with its roots in the original trilogy that can, nonetheless, be understood by newcomers, with its margins filled with references and Easter Eggs designed to appeal to fans with different levels of obsession. There are, for example, a number of scenes in which a pair of dice are given particular importance, paying off a visual moment from last year’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi and drawing a direct line between the two movies as if to say, “See? Solo counts, too.”

Those dice, curiously enough, only appeared in one scene of the original trilogy, in 1977’s first movie; they were, nonetheless, eye-catching enough to show up in two spinoff comics. They made their return to the movies in The Last Jedi; despite showing up in a publicity still for 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, they never actually appeared in the movie itself. Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo once suggested that they were the actual dice used by Han to win the Millennium Falcon, an idea Solo retcons away with in two respects; Han had the dice years before that, and the Sabacc game that won him the Falcon didn’t use dice.

And yet, the movie’s final surprise — a cameo revealing that the figure heading up the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate is none other than Darth Maul, one of the villains of 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace — was something else entirely.

It’s not that, for most of the audience who doesn't pay attention to anything other than the Star Wars movies, Darth Maul was killed in The Phantom Menace (that was undone in a 2012 cartoon). It’s that the entire reveal feels out of place in the film outside of the idea that it’s setting something up for another movie down the line. Even his promise to Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) that the two of them will be working together more closely in the future feels like a promise to the audience: Oh yeah, this is definitely a thing, stay tuned.

The scene plays, more than anything, like the Star Wars equivalent of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) showing up in the early Marvel movies to gather the team together; it’s not that Maul is necessarily building an evil Star Wars Avengers, but that the movie is suddenly interrupted by an outsider who, instead of contributing to the story you’ve been paying attention to, is deliberately teasing something else altogether.

This isn’t a bad thing, per se — certainly, it has worked for Marvel for a decade now — but there’s something about the intrusion of an entirely unrelated story for a walk-on cameo that feels especially un-Star Wars, especially in how insular it feels. Wondering what to make of the end note of the Crimson Tide thread of the movie? Watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars and even then you’ll not have the full story, because this is clearly a lead-in to something else, somewhere.

And worse, still, is the fact that it’s not clear exactly where this thread will be followed up. Will Darth Maul be the villain of any potential Solo sequel? Is the Crimson Dawn thread something that will appear in another movie altogether? (An Obi-Wan Kenobi film, perhaps, as Maul and Kenobi are canonical archenemies.) Solo, then, doubles down on the gotta-watch-it-all impulse by ensuring that you keep track of all the future movies so that you don’t miss how this particular story plays out.

This may not mark a long-term change in the attitude Star Wars takes toward its audience; certainly, there was more than enough up in the air during the making of the movie that it could simply be a misstep as opposed to an intentional, permanent shift away from the more open attitude of earlier movies.

But if it isn’t, and this is the way Star Wars movies will approach the franchise's wider canon and continuity in future, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the franchise’s success at the box office. After all, even Marvel only asks its audience to keep track of the movies; Star Wars is expecting fans to follow movies, television shows, novels and comic books simultaneously, and that might be too much of a buy-in for many.

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