There’s a telling moment near the end of Solo, when I found myself thinking that I’d like to see what happened next. But not Han Solo. We know what happens next to Han Solo, which takes a lot of the point out of watching what happened to him beforehand.
It’s tempting to say that if Solo didn’t exist, no-one would have missed it, but Firefly and books like Retribution Falls demonstrate that we kind of did want some version of the early footloose Han Solo before he got the pointless promotion to General and all the rest of the baggage. Charming scrappy scoundrels are fun. Not essential, but fun.
Solo is a bit like that. It’s not essential, but it’s fun. But it’s not like I’ve been wondering these last 35 years just how Han managed the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. It turns out that he managed it by accident, and kind of ineptly, and that he’s been rounding it down ever since. I was with Chewie when Han tries out the story for the first time, and Chewie made a non-commital roar which I immediately decided meant “Nobody cares.”
And as with all prequels, the fate of the star is foreordained, so the only interest lies in guessing the fate of all the other characters. Though you don’t need a PhD in advanced guesswork to figure that out; we’re meeting people we don’t see in the later movies; none of them need to be buying any long playing records. Rogue One wrote the playbook for that one; Solo is setting out to be a bit more lighthearted, so there isn’t quite the same commitment to sweeping all the pieces off the board. But after Thandie Newton’s Val blows herself up on a bridge, the movie’s served notice that Han’s going to be Solo in more ways than one before the movie is over.
Which is a shame. We’re getting to meet people who are more fun than Han, at least in small doses, and all we’re getting is small doses. And they’re new, so we don’t know what to expect, other than the obvious. Han and Chewie are going to make it, obviously, and so is Lando, since he’s got the heavy burden of being the only black man in the galaxy far far away to carry through two more movies later on. And no matter how charming Donald Glover makes him, we’re still watching him knowing he has nothing to worry about. Which somehow makes him less interesting that L3-37, his cantankerous droid co-pilot, who was instantly my favourite character in just the same way as K2-SO was my pick from Rogue One. Phoebe Waller-Bridge knocks it out of the park for the few minutes she’s given. Instead of making a movie about Han Solo’s origin, they should have made a whole movie out of L3-37 trying to start a robot revolution and giving sass to anyone who got in her way. Sadly, they can’t, because, character in a prequel movie. Damn.
But after the scorpion conga reaches its conclusion and everyone’s betrayed everyone else the ordained number of times (and left me wishing that Alan Tudyk had been there at some point), there’s a quiet moment as we try to figure out what Q’ira’s game is, and she phones up Darth Maul - of all unlikely people - and at that moment I thought to myself, I’d really like to see where this goes next. Emilia Clarke doesn’t really set the screen on fire as Q’ira and Darth Maul appearing out of nowhere is more confusing than shocking, but somehow, in that moment I wanted more of something I’d been thinking I didn’t really need in the first place.