Spoilers ahead for “Solo: A Star Wars Story”
There’s lots to love about “Solo: A Star Wars Story” — Han (Alden Ehrenreich) barks in Chewbacca’s (Joonas Suotamo) native tongue, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) leads a robot rebellion and Donald Glover inhabits the role of Lando Calrissian as effortlessly as Billy Dee Williams did in 1980.
But “Solo” is only enjoyable in spite of its issues. Ron Howard’s extensive reshoots allow the film to zip along at the requisite pace, albeit like a rickety Resistance ski speeder rather than the Millennium Falcon. Still, “Solo” doesn’t do enough to justify its contested existence, and it fails to overcome its superfluity.
As its “Star Wars Story” branding suggests, “Solo” is inherently subsidiary. Like “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” before it, “Solo” stands apart from the main saga films, a distinction emphasized by both films’ omissions of the franchise’s customary scrolling yellow prologue and John Williams’ iconic opening fanfare.
Likewise, both “Rogue One” and “Solo” are preambles to familiar stories. The former is based on two paragraphs from the opening crawl of “A New Hope,” while the latter offers an origin story for its eponymous smuggler — neither are essential to the films of the main saga.
The “Star Wars Stories” are designed to be supplemental, which becomes redundant given the sheer volume of ancillary “Star Wars” stories already told through television shows, novels, comics, video games and even a theme park. Regarding a Han Solo spinoff, Marjorie Liu’s 2016 five-issue comic series about the iconic scoundrel debuted to critical acclaim, which makes justifying the existence of “Solo” even trickier.
Both the comic and film, while telling different stories, only ever intend to illuminate the character of Han Solo — both offer foil characters who dramatize the good within Han, with a backdrop of high-stakes space chases. But only one of these received a budget of over $250 million.
So who’s to say that “Rogue One” or “Solo” shouldn’t have been manifested as an ancillary medium, if they’re telling the same stories as secondary media? It’s almost regrettable that “Rogue One” wasn’t a television show — each member of its eponymous rebel squadron is drawn in enough detail to demand long-form storytelling, while a roughly two-hour film undermines blink-and-you’ll-miss-it backstories.
In this sense, the delineation between “Star Wars Stories” and the franchise’s various media becomes blurred. As prequels, the “Star Wars Stories” are doing the mortar-filling canon-reinforcement that should fall chiefly on the franchise’s nonfilm mediums. In contrast, some of the most compelling characters and concepts from the Disney era of “Star Wars” stem from the pop culture juggernaut’s satellite works, when they should also originate from its stand-alone films.
Where “Rogue One” and “Solo” are content to rely on iconography such as the Death Star, Darth Vader and Han Solo, the now-concluded animated television show “Star Wars: Rebels” consistently tested the limits of the franchise’s near-biblical mythology.
At the series’ conclusion, showrunner Dave Filoni nimbly and naturally introduces time travel to the “Star Wars” universe — a reinterpretation of the “Star Wars” galaxy that “Rogue One” and “Solo” would never attempt. And for anyone shocked at Darth Maul’s return in “Solo,” just know that “Rebels” and its preceding show “The Clone Wars” gave him new life (and an epic send-off) long before screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Jonathan Kasdan thought to do so.
And where both “Rogue One” and “Solo” introduce diverse characters, many of them are wasted before their full potential is reached — in “Solo”, Val (Thandie Newton) never makes it past the first act, a bungled opportunity to introduce a female character of color in a galaxy that sorely needs more of them.
In this regard, the various other mediums of “Star Wars” storytelling have a leg up, prominently featuring female characters of color — among them, “backbone of the Empire” Rae Sloane whose arc stretches across decades of canon and spans multiple novels and comics. It’s not just representation. It’s good representation.
The list goes on, including characters such as Iden Versio (Janina Gavankar), the Imperial-turned-rebel heroine of the video game “Battlefront 2,” and Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar), the saber-wielding warrior of “Star Wars: Rebels.” Likewise, the Indiana Jones-like rogue Doctor Aphra and the smuggler heroine Sana Starros have quickly become fan favorite comic characters, who also offer much-needed LGBTQ+ representation.
Ultimately, the promise of both the “Star Wars Stories” and the franchise’s various television shows, novels, comics and video games is to explore corners of the galaxy hitherto unseen. “Rogue One” and “Solo,” while entertaining on their own, only ever dare to skirt around the edges of familiarity, while scores of secondary “Star Wars” media undertake the worldbuilding that the films shirk. The “Star Wars Stories” have the chance to translate a sense of narrative daring to the big screen. Until they do, they’re rather pointless.