Solo: A Star Wars Story brings us the (arguably unnecessary) origin story of Han Solo, one of science fiction’s most beloved rogues. We see Han’s meet-cute with Chewbacca, witness his first encounter with Lando Calrissian, watch him make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, and we even learn how he got the name “Solo”, answering a question no one ever has asked in the history of Star Wars fandom.
We also see the people Han surrounds himself with before he meets old Ben Kenobi and an annoying brat in a cantina on Tatooine—including Beckett, the smuggler who teaches Han his most important lesson: shoot first. But Han is also surrounded by women, from fellow smuggler Val to droids-rights activist L3-37, and, most importantly, Han’s childhood sweetheart, Qi’ra. These are the pre-Leia women who shape Han into the emotionally unavailable man we meet in A New Hope. There’s just one slight problem: Solo doesn’t pay enough attention to them.
Warning: Spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story.
The movie is called Solo, not Qi’ra or L3-37 or Enfys Nest: Fury Road—although I would 100% watch that movie—and it’s certainly not Val’s story. I’m not arguing that Solo should feature more screen time for any of these characters. This is a Han Solo story, and on Han Solo it should be focused. But Solo could have done better by these characters, most of whom suffer from a narrative inattentiveness that makes them less realized and interesting than they could be.
Val suffers the worst by far, blatantly fridged for Beckett’s man pain in the first act even though Beckett’s grief has no real importance to the larger story. Beckett is a jaded criminal even when he’s with Val, and her death doesn’t significantly change his lessons for Han. Val could have survived only to betray them, thus underlining in bold Beckett’s “trust no one” mantra. Or she could have been ride-or-die for Beckett, and together they could mirror Han and Qi’ra’s potential future as criminal lovebirds. There are better, more interesting options for Val that don’t involve fridging her, but Solo goes for the easiest, cheapest story beat.
On the other end of the scale is L3-37, a great character who gets a proper arc, and while, yes, she dies and it makes Lando sad, L3 isn’t fridged quite like Val is. L3, at least, gets to die in service of a cause she believes in and at a moment of triumph. Her death still seems a little forced—is it going to be a rule that spin-off droids must die?—but at least L3 gets to develop and achieve something first. Where the script leaves her hanging is in her afterlife as the computer of the Millennium Falcon. Is importing L3’s “brain” into the Falcon like an organ transplant, or did Lando just enslave his freedom-loving droid partner? I don’t believe Solo intends to be so dark, but there is that narrative negligence again, as it’s just not clear what is happening to L3 at that moment. This is not a plea for more exposition, but for better scene structure.
On Kessel, in just a few beats and through Wookiee yowls, we’re able to understand Chewbacca’s conflict and decisions. But L3’s post-life contribution is confusing and potentially existentially horrifying because the scene plays without attending to what it means for the underlying character. It feels as if screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan created L3 by working backward from C-3PO’s line in Empire Strikes Back: “Sir, I don’t know where your ship learned to communicate, but it has the most peculiar dialect.” L3, having served her purpose, is reduced to a plot mechanic to explain a line in another Star Wars movie that doesn’t require explanation. The result is a lingering, and troubling, question about how much of L3 is now in the Falcon, another unattended thread.
In between these two extremes is Qi’ra. She has more purpose than Val but less of an arc than L3, and her past is deliberately vague to the point that she is made less interesting. Every time there is an opportunity to illuminate some aspect of Qi’ra’s past and who she is without Han, it is passed. Again, this isn’t about spelling things out, it’s about using those moments to build good characters. We get a sense of Qi’ra as a complicated, even troubled person, carrying a burden of shame and guilt, but every time there is a chance to build on those impressions, it is denied. We don’t see anything of Qi’ra from the time she and Han are separated until they are reunited, and then everyone insists on talking around this period in her life. It’s meant to make her mysterious, but really it just undercuts the character because we have no reason to care about this mystery surrounding her. Oh, she went through some bad stuff? No duh, we gathered that from the prologue.
Solo brings a number of intriguing women into Han Solo’s early life, but there is an inattention to detail with these characters that ultimately betrays them. Enfys Nest is so thoroughly abandoned that her reveal, which feels as if it should be important, falls entirely flat because we’ve been given zero reasons to care about who is under the mask. (Also I thought her name was “Infant Zest” for most of the movie.) The women in Solo are introduced and then unattended, for lack of a better term, and the result is that what should be a coterie of fascinating pre-Leia ladies is instead a largely forgettable parade of half-formed characters. And that, in turn, takes some of the shine off Han Solo.