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No Dice: Why one of Solo's greatest strengths is what it doesn't show us

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May 29, 2018, 4:49 PM EDT (Updated)

With origin stories, you forever run the risk of reaching a midi-chlorian moment, that point when the beginning of something has been explained so thoroughly that you strip away any sense of mystery, leaving the viewer both over-indulged and disillusioned. While it might skate that line at some point, Solo: A Star Wars Story finds some of its best storytelling moments when it reaches the point where it could tell you everything, and then pulls back, leaving some key shreds of mystery in one of the galaxy's most intriguing characters.

If you were familiar with the world of Star Wars prior to seeing Solo, and you were asked to guess what elements would be key to establishing Han Solo's origin story, one of your first guesses would likely be his lucky dice, and indeed you'd be right. The legendary dice, which went from incidental ornament in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon to talismanic memorial by the end of The Last Jedi, do have a role to play. In fact, they bookend the movie.

**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story below**

One of the first things we see Han do, after he steals a speeder on the streets of Corellia, is hang up the dice on its mirror. The last thing we see in the film is the dice hanging in the Falcon. In between, he passes them to Qi'ra during a key moment on Corellia, and then Qi'ra passes them back to him during another key moment on Kessel. Visually speaking, the film is telling us over and over again that the dice are important. If you were to watch Solo with the sound off, you would intuit this, and perhaps expect that at some point Han or another character would offer up some explanation as to why the dice matter to him and his story so much.

There isn't one, and that's great.

Solo is full of explanations, of course. We get an explanation for how Han got his trademark blaster, how Han came to fly the Falcon for the first time, why the Falcon's navigational systems are so great, and even how Han got his last name. If you're less inclined to enjoy this film, you might see some of these moments as simply phases of a checklist being ticked off, letting fans know where each key element of the Solo mythos came from, right down to his eventual encounter with Jabba the Hutt (teased, but never shown in this film). If the film moved at an even slightly slower pace, it could very well have come off as nothing more than a simple exercise in filling in the blanks rather than an actual story. But then you come back to those dice.

Again, visually, everything about those little baubles places them in a position of importance, but the only explanation of their significance comes when Qi'ra mentions that they're for luck while she and Han are attempting to leave Corellia. That moment, plus the film's opening seconds in which they first appear, leave you waiting for some kind of speech from Han about those dice. Perhaps his long-lost father gave them to him, or maybe those dice were the first things he used to earn money as a scrum rat in the Corellian sewers. You keep waiting for Alden Ehrenreich to tearfully recount just how much those little cubes mean to him, and he never does. It turns out to be one of the best things about the movie, because if you're really paying attention, the dice tell their own story.

Have you ever bought something and just felt it was important, even if it was a $5 T-shirt you dug out of a thrift store bin? Sure, you picked it up just because you liked the logo or the particular color, but once you actually put it on, it felt weightier than just a neat thing you found. Maybe you were wearing it the day you got the call about that new job, or the day you narrowly missed a car accident, or the day you met your wife. That article of clothing, or knickknack, or good luck charm didn't arrive with any real importance, but as life goes on around it that thing becomes enchanted in your eyes. The same could be said of Han's dice.

For much of the film, Han doesn't have his lucky dice. Qi'ra does. For three full years, she holds on to them, until she hands them back to him on Kessel, and in those three years she rises from Corellian scrum rat to Crimson Dawn lieutenant, and eventually Crimson Dawn leader under the watchful eye of Maul. By the time Han reconnects with her she's well dressed, comfortable (physically, at least), well connected, and successful in her chosen field. She alludes to the horrible things she's done to get there, and tells Han that she survived by never actually leaving the underworld, but she's nonetheless risen in the ranks, all while holding those dice.

When Han gets the dice back, during the coaxium heist on Kessel, it's the beginning of his journey toward becoming a changed man. When Qi'ra hands the dice back to him, he's still someone who believes he can rescue her from Crimson Dawn. He thinks that one day soon they'll fly away together on his brand-new ship and they'll have endless adventures, perhaps even as husband and wife. He thinks Beckett and Lando will always be his friends. Even after the coaxium job, as he's preparing to rip off Dryden Vos, he's sure he's going to win. Qi'ra tries to tell him that's not the object of the game, but Han has his lucky dice in his pocket and Han is undeterred. He's wrong.

By the time those dice have taken the journey from speeder to Qi'ra's pockets to the cockpit of the Falcon, Han understands that he was wrong. They've gone from a symbol of good luck to a symbol of innocence lost. He's not keeping them because he thinks they'll keep him alive. He's keeping them to remind himself of what it takes to stay alive, and we see that reflect in how he behaves by the time A New Hope rolls around. In the original trilogy, the dice are an interesting little background detail. In Solo they serve as a kind of emotional bookmark, made all the more powerful by the fact that their significance is never explicitly spelled out for the viewer.

Plenty of things in Solo are very explicitly spelled out for the viewer. That is the fun and the burden of prequels. The trick is to find the right moments to leave unspoken. Solo finds that in the dice, and in never explaining why Han knows a little bit of broken Shyriiwook, and in never letting Lando tell us why he's so into capes. In finding those moments, this film that could have told us positively everything still leaves just enough mystery alive to keep the twinkle in Han Solo's eye.

By the time the credits roll, those dice are filled with meaning because of what the film doesn't outright tell us, and that's the key to a good origin story.

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