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Han Solo is steering into the skid. That’s the technique a driver uses when things are going totally wrong, when the vehicle is slipping out of control. Turn in the direction where you’re losing control, and, counterintuitively, you can swing yourself back on course.
We already know how the rest of his life plays out, but in Solo: A Star Wars Story, set about 10 years before Han meets Luke in that Mos Eisley cantina, the galactic smuggler (Alden Ehrenreich, taking over from Harrison Ford) is making all the wrong moves.
He tries to join the Empire but washes out of its Imperial Flight Academy. He’s a fugitive from the authorities, along with Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke’s Bonnie to his Clyde). And he’s eager to prove his worth among the worst denizens of the galactic underworld. Later in his life, Han Solo may prove to be selfless, but in Ron Howard’s new film, he’s still trying as hard as he can to be selfish.
The movie seems to relish how misguided Solo is about himself. “I’ve got a really good feeling about this,” he declares at one point—a twist on the old “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” line that has turned up in nearly every Star Wars film.
“It really is a rite of passage,” Howard says. “The story sends him on an unexpected journey that hurtles him into a dangerous world surrounded by charismatic but lawless characters. And that’s where he needs to try to make his way and gain his freedom. So, so much of this is about trying to satisfy that yearning to really be free, to really call his own shots in a very lawless part of the galaxy and at a time when it was wide-open.”
Freedom—as someone in our own galaxy once noted—is just another word for nothing left to lose. But as young Han goes on his quest to assemble a team for a dangerous train heist, he ends up collecting some unwelcome baggage: friends.
Most important, an alliance with a familiar Wookiee (Joonas Suotamo, inheriting the Chewbacca role from Peter Mayhew). “Joonas is a really funny guy, and he also brings a lot to the role,” Ehrenreich says. “It’s clear when you’re up close and seeing him do it just how much Wookiee craft he really has to do, knowing how to move in the suit to convey the right things.”
Han also crosses paths with a much smoother operator, Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover in the role originated by Billy Dee Williams), who assures him that every story he has heard about him…is true. “Their relationship is many different things, as it is when you see them in the original films,” Ehrenreich says. “I think they have very different styles.”
Han likes to keep things rough-hewn. Flying something that looks like a hunk of junk through the galaxy attracts fewer scumbags and Imperials than a stylishly appointed starship. But Lando can’t help himself. Savoir faire is a weapon in his arsenal.
“Lando’s always the best-dressed person on that set. And I don’t say that lightly. There’s a lot of cool costumes and a lot of cool clothing,” Glover says. “He takes pride in the clothing. It makes things easier. When people see you and you’re debonair, they tend to want to give you stuff easier.”
Lando’s direct partner in crime is the shape-shifting droid L3-37 (Fleabag star Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who has literally built herself from the ground up during her travails through the galaxy. If there’s one quality all of these outlaws share, it’s that they are all self-made.
The movie has a warning from Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), the low-grade scoundrel who serves as Solo’s mentor: “Assume everyone will betray you, and you will never be disappointed.”
It’s ominous advice, and a cynical lesson. But that’s just one more thing that Han Solo will need to unlearn — once he stops sliding toward the edge.