When I went to go see “Solo: A Star Wars Story” the other day with my best friend, I can’t say that I held the highest hopes for the film.
It’s pretty hard to get past the fact that, no matter how good of an actor Alden Ehrenreich is, he’s never going to be Harrison Ford.
Han Solo is an iconic role, one that has captivated fans for 41 years now, ever since his introduction in “Star Wars,” which was later retitled “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” — that’s a pretty hard record to beat.
I was excited to see the new trilogy of films: “The Force Awakens” was great, and “The Last Jedi” had a lot of compelling and exciting points too, but perhaps what some people might find most surprising is how much I’ve actually enjoyed the latest prequels.
A lot of people seem to be confused by why Disney is making prequels now; the assumptions that the movies are just a money-making scheme are cynical, if not entirely incorrect. However, I’ve found both “Rogue One” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” to be as compelling, if not more compelling than the original trio of films, and here’s why (spoiler-free, of course):
“Rogue One” was not trying to be what other “Star Wars” films were — it did not attempt to cut away to diplomatic negotiations going on in the Galactic Senate or focus heavily on the chosen one-type stories, nor did it attempt to balance several complicated plotlines at once. It was, and remains, a contained story of several rebels, from various backgrounds, on one insane suicide mission to defeat the Empire.
And that’s it. There are no convoluted love triangles or even much time for romantic dalliances at all. The characters are on a mission. It’s both tragic and incredibly gratifying to us as an audience to see that even the leading would-be romantic heroes don’t do anything more than hint at something that could have been if there had only been time. And not for the movie, but for them.
Even without the magic that we get with the Jedi, “Rogue One” is able to deliver a peek into the “Star Wars” universe just before the first “Star Wars” film starts — to give us a glimpse into the rebellion before Leia’s famous call to Obi-Wan. It’s a story of outcasts who find each other and begin to become friends, and those connections prove more valuable than any juxtaposed plot about Jedi and Sith would have been.
Another thing that is incredibly valuable in all of the updated “Star Wars” movies is, of course, the diverse spectrum of representation we’re granted as an audience. There are people of color and women working in just about every scene, when, before, there were maybe two women in the whole galaxy, and one man of color per trilogy.
Even the vastly contested I-III films were more progressively cast than the IV-VI films were, and many women and people of color could grasp onto the diverse background cast of Jedi as their favorites. There was such a shock of validation that I still remember feeling when I saw so many female pilots and Rey as our hero. For so many girls it was massive to see a lead female Jedi after growing up having to defend our place on the playground. Perhaps inevitably, Rey was labelled a Mary Sue, but that doesn’t diminish Rey’s importance.
In “Rogue One,” we get four leading men of color, one leading woman and the main white dudes are the leading woman’s father, the villain and the voice actor who plays one of the funniest robots to date.
That brings us to “Solo.” While Lando may be the leading character of color in this film yet again (reprised brilliantly by the multitalented Donald Glover), “Solo” continues to be one of the most progressive entries yet in the series.
When the film began, I was willing to give some suspension of disbelief toward this new Han, but, surprisingly, I easily forgot about it maybe twenty minutes into the film and was able to genuinely enjoy Ehrenreich’s interpretation of a younger and more idealistic scruffy nerf-herder than the one we meet in “A New Hope.” All of the characters are compelling, including the complicated love interest Qi’ra, Woody Harrelson’s rakish character Beckett and the chilling villain played by Paul Bettany.
Across the series, one of the main questions (and problems) discussed by “Star Wars” nerds everywhere is that of robot sentience and the way that robots are treated as second-class citizens — often even worse than slaves. In “Solo,” this is finally addressed through the character of the surprisingly feminist freedom fighter droid L3-37, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Choices such as this make the prequels more than filler episodes. Instead of changing or revamping plots, “Solo” and “Rogue One” complicate the worlds in which the characters live, giving middle grounds aside from the binary of good and evil.
The new “Star Wars” films also focus on the motivations of evil characters in a more complicated way — they often show that the villains’ decisions are based on fear, selfishness and a need to hold onto power whatever the cost, rather than malicious intent. In the most recent “Star Wars” films, such as “Solo,” it shows that there are power dynamics that exist and struggle at every class and societal level.
Instead of focusing only on the Rebels and the Empire, the films manage to give space for characters of other lives and backgrounds, thus giving them time and a true middle ground aside from the political drama of the series.
Another benefit of the prequels is that they are able to tie up loose ends, and (mostly) not focus on overarching plots that can often grow convoluted and overcomplicated, instead focusing on the individual story of each film.
Needless to say, by the end of “Solo,” my opinion had changed — this was one of my favorite “Star Wars” films to date.
Is it the exact same as the original trilogy? No, it isn’t. In fact, it’s very much a movie of our generation — of our time — in the same way that the original series was of its time, too.
And maybe, instead of viewing that as a bad thing, we should start viewing that as progress.
Lauren West is the assistant blog editor. Contact Lauren West at [email protected].