J. Sam Williams
In 1977, the world swooned for Harrison Ford’s gun slinging, wise-cracking, wealth-seeking Han Solo. Ford brought a fiercely independent and begrudging hero to life. Alden Ehrenreich’s Solo stayed loyal to this vision, but also gave us insight into the character not yet witnessed: Han is an artist, not just the rogue smuggler.
Solo: A Star Wars Story opens on Han’s home planet, Corellia, and we see Han as a young man, perhaps even a late teen-aged boy. He’s madly in love with Emilia Clark’s Qi'Ra, and looking for freedom and a life the means something more. Early in the movie, we find that Han and Qi’Ra want to buy a ship, fly away, and live their life together. Immediately, we see Han attached to someone, and more importantly, tied to a goal.
This isn’t your daddy’s Han. He’s a romantic young man, full of hope.
Han’s attitude in Solo is that of a 18-year-old protester drafted in Vietnam. During the trench-warfare scene, he seems the only soldier capable of asking, “What’s our objective”—a question that’s more to do with a silent protest than actually seeking the answer. In a later scene, when Han’s Imperial commanding officer refers to the enemy as “hostiles,” he points out “It’s their planet, we’re the hostiles.” This echoes the thoughts suppressed during the 60’s, when it was unpatriotic to question the military maneuvers of the United States.
Star Wars has always shown Han as independent, a man who bristles at being commanded. It’s no surprise to discover that Han was kicked out of the Imperial Academy for “having a mind of [his] own.” What’s Solo brings is this new understanding that Han has an artistic passion for piloting, much as one has for playing the guitar, writing books, or painting. His drive in life is to push himself to be the best pilot. He is a man that wants the proverbial paintbrush in his hand at all times.
Piloting spacecraft in Solo isn’t delivered as just a means to get from point A to point B. It’s a craft that is greatly improved by the experienced and the talented. This movie creates the image that piloting is to be caressed, studied—it is not something that any old robot can do.
In Empire, we get a glimpse of this treatment of flying, where Han’s ability as a captain helps Leia & co. escape the clutches of the Empire. Leia kisses Han on the cheek and while discussing Han’s superb gift, quips, “You have your moments. Not many of them, but you do have them.” Solo expounds on this idea, showing us the true talent Han has for flying.
Solo attempts to be an explanation of how Han started as a romantic and became hardened by heartbreaking circumstances. It only partly succeeds, as it never actually shows the consequences of said heartbreak. What it does succeed in doing, however, is supplying a look into the Han before he becomes the grumpy smuggler we meet in A New Hope without trashing the integrity of his character.
Solo is a western adventure with an independent thinking, war protesting, flying artiste at its helm. While the movie falls into tropes and clichés, it succeeds by giving a greater breadth to this most beloved character, providing insight that not only manages not to bore the audience, but give the audience a reason to root for this character—a difficult feat in a movie where the audience knows the main character is going to survive. Solo, along with Ehrenreich’s performance, fills out character gaps and gives us something we’ve never seen this clearly—a romantic artist in the Star Wars Universe.