The latest trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story ends on a moment that should raise the stakes pretty high. Chewbacca, the kindly and fierce Wookiee that we’ve known and loved for over 40 years, has his furry head hanging out a window of a fast-moving ship, and a large rock is right in front of him, thiiiis close to turning him into a fuzzball without a head. This ought to be an adequately tense cliffhanger. But then, you’d have to do more than suspend your disbelief to wonder whether or not Chewbacca’s going to get out of this jam. You’d have to forget that … well, you’ve known and loved Chewie for 40 years, and that he’s alive, well, and very much in control of his head as of last December, when he nearly ate a Porg in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In short, the new look at Solo may hit some appropriate beats for an action-movie trailer, but it doesn’t remove the fact that it’s a prequel with far less suspense than the alternative.
This problem isn’t unique to Star Wars, but the huge franchise is emblematic of a common stumbling point. How exciting can a story be when it tells audiences something whose ending they already know? Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ran into a similar problem in 2016, but largely swerved around it for two reasons: Almost all of its characters were new creations, and they almost all died. That solves the conundrum of wondering why, in the 1977 Star Wars, we only get a brief bit of lip service to the Rebel spies who steal the plans for the Death Star. And think of the Star Wars prequel trilogy from the early 2000s; it had plenty of issues, from dialogue to poor performances, but chief among them was the awareness that Anakin Skywalker would always become Darth Vader, no matter how hard he fell in love with Queen Amidala.
Now, in just six weeks, we get Solo. Even if the film didn’t have its fair share of production problems, the hardest nut to crack would be that it’s a prequel that inexorably has to lead its title character to a cantina full of scum and villainy, a Tattooine farm boy, and his elderly mentor. No matter if Phil Lord and Chris Miller directed it, or Ron Howard, or anyone else. Han still has to go to Mos Eisley, make a deal with Luke and Obi-Wan, and shoot Greedo before he boards the Millennium Falcon. (Please note: Han doesn’t shoot Greedo first, because that presumes that Greedo could shoot back, which he couldn’t do because Han shot him.)
So, in the same vein as what happened with Rogue One, it’s hard to see how the characters played by Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, and others make it out alive in Solo. More to the point, it’s hard to see why we should be invested in their story. If only Han, Chewie, and Lando Calrissian make it into the original Star Wars trilogy and these new folks don’t get a mention, caring about their fates is an uphill battle.
The new trailer for Solo heightens the effect by spending most of its time focusing on characters talking about or to Han Solo, as opposed to him taking center stage. That speaks to the other unavoidable issue at the core of any movie about young Han: Can anyone possibly fill Harrison Ford’s shoes? It’s arguably an unfair challenge to even the most talented young actor, and Alden Ehrenreich has proven to be very charismatic in other films. But can he be young Harrison Ford? Can anyone? He gets a mildly funny laugh line near the end of the new trailer, shocked at how old Chewbacca is, but the ad seems to deliberately withhold him, backgrounding Solo in his own story. Hopefully, he’s not being hidden for discouraging reasons.
When Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, it was so it could make movies like Solo: A Star Wars Story. The galaxy far, far away is a massive cash cow, so the decision to expand this universe beyond the Episodes isn’t surprising. As of now, after J.J. Abrams directs Episode IX in 2019, there’s no publicly revealed release strategy for future films. However, we know that Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff will have a series of films in the works, while Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson has been hired to craft a new trilogy of films, separate from the Skywalker saga. It’s that last part that’s most exciting: knowing that a new series of films won’t be beholden to the stories we already know means that they can go anywhere. There’s nothing holding Johnson back from forging a new path in the Star Wars universe. Movies like Solo are shackled to the mythology we know, which means that even the coolest-looking trailer can promise only something moderately interesting. Even if we want to pretend otherwise, we know this story’s destination.