I don’t want to start a fight but… I think Solo: A Star Wars Story is the most underrated Star Wars film. Maybe that’s not such an unpopular opinion, it just seems like you can talk about anything attached to Star Wars without someone screaming at you. But I recently did a story over on Medium about The Mandalorian (which you can read here) and it got me thinking about droids in the Star Wars universe.
This franchise is ultimately meant for kids (whether you like that or not), and cute droids like R2D2 and BB8 easily win over younger fans. However, the spinoff movies Rogue One and Solo, as well as the first season of The Mandalorian, all introduce droids that I really introduce crazy and unexpected voices to the world in the form of K2SO (Rogue One), L3-37 (Solo), and IG-88 (Mandalorian). They each have a more adult sense of humor, while still being loud, active, and visually recognizable for kids. L3-37, voiced and played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is by far my favorite.
I could rant about my love for her all day. She comes on the screen, screaming for droids rights. Every time I saw it in the theaters, everyone laughed like crazy at her. I’m a firm believer that there’s a little kernel of truth in every joke, and it’s the context of this truth where people can cross the line in terms of being offensive. In the case of Solo and L3, the kernel of truth is not that they’re making fun of people who call for equal rights, it’s calling to attention how much this universe actually does abuse droids!
You might be laughing at that point, but think about it… these droids have personalities, they’re treated like close friends, C3-PO even takes a moment to say goodbye to the people who care about him… and yes they are treated horribly. They really are slaves in this particular universe and it’s bizarre they’re given personalities or allowed to develop them, and then treated as though there is an emotional connection. Even when you go to Disneyland to build your own droid, you actually pick a chip that will determine the “personality” of the droid you build.
It’s the most heartbreaking thing when L3-37 goes down and is downloaded into the Millennium Falcon. It solidifies that this world does not agree with her way of thinking, that droids have rights, and undermines everything we’ve come to know about her character. It also doesn’t help that the film only has one Woman of Color and she dies before the end of the first act. For a film that is heavily-male driven, the female figures in the story feel more like story points (the femme fatale, the lost love interest, the unexpected antagonist) that push Han or Beckett into the next decision in the film. None of them have arcs per say, except for L3-37. She is on a mission to find her purpose and finds it in the midst of this mission, and dies for the cause. I’m definitely pushing the complexities a bit here, but basically, she’s the most developed female character in the film.
Regardless, I still really love this film’s overall fun vibe. Let’s get into the breakdown and then I’ll say something nice about the film after.
Protagonist: Han Solo
Want: To steal coaxium from Kessel and deliver it to Savareen
Need: Be less naive and learn to work with a team/authority
Personal Antagonist: Dryden Vos / Beckett / Qi’ra
Extra-Personal Antagonist: Crimson Dawn
Pre-Existing Life: On Corellia, Han Solo steals a M68 speeder to get back to Lady Proxima’s den and meet up with Qi’ra, showing her the hyperfuel he stole. He is beaten for insubordination and fights his way out with Qi’ra. They try to bribe their way off the planet, but Qi’ra is taken and arrested. To get away safely, Han decides to join the Empire with a mind to come back and save Qi’ra when he has the money.
Inciting Incident: Three years later in battle, Han meets Beckett, Val, and Rio (a group of thieves). He tries to join up and is thrown in a pit with a “beast” (Chewbacca) for desertion. He and Chewie escape and join the thieves on their train robbery mission. They are attacked by marauders in the middle of the mission. Val is pinned down and sacrifices herself to save the team. Rio is injured and killed, forcing Han to pilot the ship. The marauders’ leader, Enfys Nest, and Han fight for control of the loot and Han is forced to drop it to save the team. Beckett scolds Han afterwards, telling him the debt they know owe to Dryden Vos of Crimson Dawn.
First Act Decision: Beckett and Han meet with Dryden Vos and Han runs into Qi’ra, who is now a soldier/slave of Dryden’s. Han is thrilled to see her but she is a different person. Han pitches robbing the Kessel mines and getting bringing it to Savareen. Vos agrees, and tells Qi’ra to go with them to make sure it happens.
Progress: The team goes on the hunt for a ship and meets Lando Calrissian, as well as his droid companion, L3-37. Han plays a game of sabacc to try and win the ship, but loses to a cheating Lando. Qi’ra steps in with Beckett, and they make a deal with Lando to join their cause with his ship.
Reversal: They fly the Millennium Falcon to Kessel, and on the way Han tries to convince Qi’ra they can be together, but she turns him down. Beckett tries to warn Han about her, but he’s convinced he’ll win her over. L3-37 talks to Qi’ra about her feelings, but she downplays them.
Midpoint: They make it to Kessel and rob the mines. Chewbacca splits off to save the enslaved Wookies in the minds and L3-37 starts a riot by freeing the droids. They manage to make it off the planet, but not without Lando taking some hits and L3-37 being mostly destroyed. Han has to fly them out as fast as he can before the authorities catch them.
Reversal #2: In the Kessel Run, Han has to go into the dark and unknown paths to get them away from being shot down. They come into contact with a massive beast in the galaxy. Lando downloads L3-37’s memory to the ship to help them find a way out. Beckett drops some of the hyperfuel into the ship to give them just enough of a kick to narrowly escape. They make it out but the shape of the ship is rough.
False Climax / Low Point: The team barely makes it to Savareen as the Falcon is seemingly on its last legs and the coaxium is breaking down. Just as the coaxium is being refined, Enfys Nest and the marauders arrive to shut it down, Lando takes off with the ship.
Third Act Decision: Enfys is revealed to be a young woman with a cause for the people behind her. Han wants to help her. Beckett won’t do it and leaves.
Climax: Han, Chewie, and Qi’ra go to deliver the (possibly fake) coaxium to Dryden. Beckett arrives, he already revealed Han’s plan to Dryden. They all realize the coaxium Han brought it real, leading to a standoff. Beckett gets the coaxium and Chewie, and bolts. Han, Qi’ra, and Dryden fight with Qi’ra killing Dryden. She tells Han to go ahead without her while she gets money and jewels from the ship. Han leaves and Qi’ra ditches him. Han faces off with Beckett and shoots him. He’s finally thinking smart. He sees Qi’ra take off and accepts it.
Resolution: Han and Chewie hunt down Lando and play some cards for the Falcon. Han stops Lando from cheating this time and Han wins. He and Chewie head off on their own adventures.
One of the best things about this story is that it doubles down on what we’ve seen from Han Solo in the other films, but goes against the impression audiences often walk away from. George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan, as well as those inspired by the B-movies that Star Wars makes nods to, will often talk about the “rakish rogue” character, putting Han Solo in that category. This archetype can include the idea that the guy can get any girl. We see it with Indiana Jones, James Bond, and half the characters that Bill Murray has played. Han Solo is as charming as these characters, but we never see him hit on any woman except Princess Leia.
Han is also not that slick in the heat of the moment. Where Jones and Bond are incredibly smart and quick on their feet, Han messes up and puts himself in situations where he winds up making quick, rash decisions. It’s usually played for comedy, and this is probably what the original directors, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, were leaning into when they were making the film (that they would eventually be taken off of for focusing too much on the comedy). It’s an aspect of the character that Harrison Ford, who originated the role, doesn’t get enough credit for, in how he plays physical comedy.
Solo leans into the idea that Han is a “one woman” guy and pretty spazzy in a jam. It might not be what a lot of people were expecting to see, but it is incredibly true to the character.
There are a few things about this film that I bump on (the fake grenade reference, L3-37’s death, Val’s death, the reveal of Enfys Nest — seriously, I think we’re supposed to think that reveal is surprising because she’s so young, but in a world with Ahsoka, Leia, Amidala, Rey, Rose and Paige Tico, why is anyone surprised by how awesome strong young women are??), but it’s overall a really fun ride that touches on everything that makes Star Wars great. It’s familiar while expanding the universe. I do still want to see what happens to Qi’ra’s character with Darth Maul. It’s a great introduction to the start of the rebellion. It’s kid friendly. It’s merch friendly. It’s dark, but you still laugh. It has romance and action. It really ticks all the boxes and I wish we could have more.
If you haven’t seen it… well, first I apologize for ruining the whole thing for you… but you should also check it out or give it another chance. It really is a fun romp and a great blue print for a well-done action-adventure movie.