Solo: A Star Wars Story has finally opened in theaters, giving us a look at the youth of Han Solo (as played by Alden Ehrenreich). There are spoilers coming here, so if you haven’t seen the movie, do it now and come back when none of this will mess up the experience for you.
In the film, we see a young Solo join a gang of criminals, find out that his love isn’t exactly who he remembers her to be, and meet a lifelong friend and a lifelong frenemy. The film is full of action and drama, but also many of the tropes we’ve come to expect from an old-timey Western.
The train job
In Solo, Han joins a band of bad guys trying to rob a train of some precious cargo. They’ve got a plan, dangerous as it is. However, Enfys Nest’s rival gang has plans of their own. Things do not go well for our Han and friends, despite how hard they fight. In fact, they lose two members of the team.
The train job is all over Western films and TV shows, from The Wild Bunch to 3:10 to Yuma to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; heck, there's even a Firefly episode called "Train Job." Trains were the preferred method of transporting goods since they moved fast and were less vulnerable to being taken over by a group of thugs in a covered wagon. Well, unless it’s a movie, of course. Then the loot is definitely going to be lifted.
Don’t tell anyone your retirement plans
In Solo, Beckett (Woody Harrelson) talks about what he wants to do with his life once he’s got enough money. He dreams of being a musician, despite the fact that Val (Thandie Newton) says he has no musicality. He talks about it again as he dies.
When sitting around a campfire, cowboys and cowgirls often talk about what they’d like to do when they retire. However, once you tell people your dream, it’s a sure sign to the audience that you’re never going to get to do it. And that’s not just in Westerns. It’s all over movies. Note to future cowboys: maybe just tell people that you only plan on working until they shoot you dead.
The dance hall of debauchery
In the film, Han, Chewie (Joonas Suotamo) and the gang have to report their failure to crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). They head over to his floating yacht, which is full of very pretty criminals, music, murder, and debauchery. They also encounter Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), Han’s childhood sweetheart, who's gotten herself into a bit of a pickle, working for Vos to survive. Vos takes down his enemies, drinks are served, and there are entertainment and dangers galore.
The dance hall (or saloon full of danger, drinks, and women) is all over the Western genre. Look at the brothel in the HBO series Deadwood as an example. You’re unlikely to get away with a quiet sarsaparilla in a corner. No, you’re going to get propositioned, probably deal with a crime boss and probably have a drink smashed over your head. There are saloons in High Noon, The Spoilers with John Wayne and pretty much every other Western film out there. There's also one in a scene from Serenity, where a belly dancer delivers a message to Captain Mal.
Hold on to your drinks, because a bar brawl is a-brewin’
Speaking of saloons, most can boast a good brawl. In Solo, the gang reports to Vos that things haven’t worked out and they try to pull a fast one on him with the loot. He’s not so happy about it and it turns into an all-out battle. No lightsabers here. We’ve got blasters and weird glowing knives.
The first bar battles that come to mind are the arm-cutting incident in A New Hope, at the watering hole on Tatooine. Obi-Wan and Luke deal with some local toughs in Mos Eisley, and, of course, there's the moment Han shot first at Greedo in the cantina. In Dodge City, the brawl comes after a group of dancehall girls get the whole bar into a singalong… right before tables get thrown. We also see examples of this in Ride Beyond Vengeance and 2011’s Cowboys & Aliens.
Quickdraws always win the shootout/the anti-hero always shoots first
Towards the end of Solo, we find out why Han always shoots first. Beckett has betrayed him, and Han has to take him down. Though it doesn’t seem to be the catalyst for our hero becoming the world-weary Han we know and love, it certainly provides a precedent for a certain cantina scene. Anti-heroes (another trope) often draw first.
How many “Han shot first” t-shirts do you own? Probably at least one. We all know the scene where Han deals with Greedo and pulls a gun on him. It was a character-establishing moment, despite the fact that George Lucas tried to adjust it when the films were re-released in the late ‘90s. The quick draw also appears in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Desperado, Serenity, The Magnificent Seven, and even Blazing Saddles.
Long coats and mustaches are the coolest
Okay, maybe it’s not a long coat, but Lando (Donald Glover) does have a stunning variety of capes. Even Qi’ra can’t help but try some on. He’s also got one of the coolest lip ferrets in the galaxy. Hey, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) certainly seems to approve.
The mustache isn’t really a trope, of course (though there are certainly a number of them in Westerns, particularly on bad guys) but the long coat is. Beckett and Dryden Vos have one as well. There's something about having a long covering, cape or coat, that can disguise the weapon you are most certainly carrying. It also gives a dramatic flutter as you walk. Sin City, Carlito’s Way, Tombstone, Gangs of New York, even the Matrix trilogy all have examples of long coats.
Let’s join a bandit clan, because family should be armed
In Solo, Han and Chewie join Beckett, Val, and Rio (Jon Favreau) in a bandit clan as they attempt to pull off a train heist. Though things don’t go well during the gig, they have the obligatory chat ‘round the fire where Beckett talks about his retirement plans (don’t do it, Beckett), Val figures out that Han is in love, and Rio (sniff) chats about food. It’s the first time Han has felt like he has a family since he left Qi’ra back on Corellia.
There have been other bandit clans in movies such as How the West Was Won, I Shot Jesse James, the TV series Justified with the Crowder family, and even a number of times in Game of Thrones. Hey, when things are rough, it’s good to have family around to help you out.
Don’t mess with the card shark
Lando Calrissian is arguably the best part of Solo. He’s also a damn fine sabacc player. Han may have won in the end (after exposing Lando’s cheating), but he has to resort to methods other than just playing the game. He gets the Millennium Falcon, just as we knew he would, but very few people can play against Lando and win.
Gambling against card sharks (or as they were known in the time period, card sharps) is all over the genre. In fact, it’s hard to find a Western without it. Clark Gable as Babe in No Man of Her Own, Shooter in The Cincinnati Kid, Rotten Luck Willie in Paint Your Wagon, and Jean in The Lady Eve are a few among many examples.