BOOK REVIEW: Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo: A Star Wars Story novelization answers a few lingering questions. Eric Onkenhout shares his review of this Expanded Edition book by Mur Lafferty.
*Book Review: Solo SPOILER WARNING
If there was one thing the Solo film did really well, it was drop easter eggs left and right. And for those that have been keeping up with all the of the ancillary material, such as the legends novels, the animated tv shows, including the somewhat neglected prequels, this served as a bit of a reward. SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY also left enough holes for exploration; to make you wonder, as all Star Wars stories do.
Four months later, we have the Expanded Edition of Solo: A Star Wars Story novelization written by Mur Lafferty. Going into this novel, I definitely had some lingering questions.
- Was Lando on Vandor?
- Was Dryden’s ship also on Vandor?
- Where did the end scene with Han and Lando take place? It was never mentioned in the movie that I’m aware of.
- Why did Lando leave Savareen without his payment after he just told Han that he’ll be in the Falcon waiting for his cut?
In the opening scene of the movie, we see Han hotwiring a speeder. Now we know that speeder was the property of a shady dealer, and that Han steals it in a deal gone sour. I love how right away Lafferty opens the book with Han being Han – Getting into sticky situations, yet using his wits to save himself.
After the stint with Lady Proxima and Han and Qi’ra’s escape, we learn that the Security checkpoint officer that Han and Qi’ra bribe is named Falthina Sharest, and that she hates her job and has similar dreams of leaving Corellia. She’s your typical sour grapes Imperial that looks like she ate lemons for breakfast every day since she was five. She sort of reminded me of Admiral Pryce from Star Wars Rebels. She’s miserable, so you’re going to miserable too.
Once Han joins the Imperial Navy, his skills are the only thing keeping him from getting relocated sooner. Sergeant Broog, impressed with Han’s piloting, tries futilely to keep Han where he is. Broog’s superior Captain Whain didn’t appreciate Han’s skill in the same vein and had the insubordinate young pilot relocated to the Infantry division on Mimban where, thanks to Commodore Almudin, he’ll “be flying in no time.” During Han’s meeting with Commodore Almudin, Han eyes Lieutenants Tag Greenley and Bink Otauna of the Tag and Bink comics published by Dark Horse (2001).
Chapter 8 got off to a rocky start for me. Four paragraphs in, it states that “A human (Han) had fallen into his (Chewbacca) pen. On the following page, we hear Han exclaim, “There’s a beast?” Which we know from the film that he says that before he gets tossed into the pen. What gives? Seems like the events are a little out of order. I also had a couple minor issues with how Lafferty described what was happening. On a few occasions, I had to re-read sentences to understand what she was trying to say. For example, when Chewbacca was pinning Han to the muddy ground. The sentence structure came across as choppy, and only benefitted from the movie visuals.
Another interesting thing of note: on Vandor during the scene with Val, Beckett, and Han laying in the snow and Val is expressing her true feeling about Han to Beckett. In the movie, Val eyes Han when she says to Beckett, “because sometimes you put your faith in the wrong people.” In the novel, Lafferty leaves out that bit of detail that I thought was a great use of subtext. It’s those subtle actions (or non-actions) that give a glimpse into the mind of the character. See Vader and Luke on Endor for some of the best uses of subtext you’ll see anywhere.
There was a brief scene with Val and Beckett after the campfire scene that revealed some more of their relationship and their plans after they get their hands on the coaxium.
As a creative writing student, I see things in Lafferty’s writing that my instructor would tell us not to do if at all possible. For example, writing in passive tense or telling us what’s happening instead of showing. And I usually criticize things like that, but in this case, I thought it suited the story well. Han Solo, as we know him during this story, is still finding himself. He has big dreams but clumsily goes about them without any real direction. We come to find out Han is not one for making any solid plans. And Lafferty’s writing lives by those same rules – that there are no rules. Her casual writing is appropriately placing us in Han’s shoes as he amazingly gets through this story in one piece; well mostly.
After the plan to steal the coaxium goes awry, Han flies the AT-Hauler to safety. Quietly mumbling to himself, “I can do this, everything is fine, I can do this.” Just like a girl he’ll come across decades later.
I may be being overly critical here but, I thought Lafferty took way too long to reveal that it was Qi’ra’s hand on Han’s shoulder in Dryden’s ship. In the film that scene took maybe 2-3 seconds, there’s no way it was worthy of two paragraphs of exposition in a book. But that’s me. I do love how we learn that it was Qi’ra who gave Dryden the idea to hire someone to steal the coaxium from the Imperial conveyex.
To answer a couple of my questions: Yes the fort Lando was playing sabacc in was on Vandor. How convenient. Dryden’s yacht was docked at Fort Ypso. All the gang had to do was cross a rope bridge a la Indiana Jones to find Lando and L3.
I found the most enjoyable expanded scenes were with L3 and Qi’ra, either together or on separate occasions. Can we now admit openly that the Falcon is a character on her own? I think so. I’ve heard some dissatisfaction expressed in L3’s dialogue. That it sounded too snarky when read. I don’t necessarily disagree with that; however, we have the benefit of hearing Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s voice when we read her lines, and that helps with the intonation. If this wasn’t the case, I too might find her dialogue to be snarky just for the sake of being snarky. I was impressed with how Lafferty dealt with L3’s transformation into the Falcons’ navigational systems. Her strong beliefs in droid rights, liberation, and independence from human overlords are directly perpendicular to her outcome. Yet, in another expanded scene, the way Lafferty weaves in Lando’s last conversation with L3 before complete integration both satisfies the reader by explaining how this could happen and gives justice to her character arc. The Falcon also welcomes L3 in with open circuits.
One of my favorite scenes in this entire novel comes when Lando offers Chewie his hair products to rid his undercoat of Mimban mud. Oh, how I wished that was in the movie! Getting back to Qi’ra, we learn that after Lady Proxima recaptures her, Qi’ra is sold to a slaver called Sarkin Enneb who then sells her to Dryden Vos. Poor naive Han wants so bad for Qi’ra to be the same girl he left on Corellia. What he doesn’t know is that what Qi’ra has gone through would change anyone forever. Being a victim of human trafficking and/or slavery, Qi’ra was trained to kill by Vos by using an anti-Jedi technique called Teras Kasi. Named after the best and worst video game of all time.
I also enjoy the callbacks to the original Star Wars movie, where Chewie had to wear shackles around his wrist to play the prisoner. Forty years ago it was a clever trick to fool the Death Star guards. Jumping ahead to the present day, knowing now about the slavery of the Wookiee species and Chewbacca’s time as a prisoner on Mimban, we now sympathize with the big guy. He’s a little sensitive about these things. Han promises Chewie, “You’ll never have to do it again.” Unfortunately, the future is always in motion.
Shortly following this scene, after the gang laid out its plan to raid the Kessel mines, Han began to appreciate the “new logic leading to confidence.” Who knows? It may come in handy when “rescuing” princesses. As the group prepares to smooth talk their way into the mines, Beckett is disguised in a familiar suit of armor seen in Return of the Jedi; worn by Lando to rescue Han. Seems like a reoccurring theme doesn’t it? The armor we now know is Tantel armor and a gondar tusk mask. As a child whose first Star Wars movie was RETURN OF THE JEDI, I loved this!
Fast-forwarding, Chewie now feels the urge to rescue his people from the Kessel mines. In a touching moment, Han realizes that Chewie still has a home – he still has his tribe. Han then realizes he has no one, no one to give up everything for. This feeling of loneliness will haunt Han for years to come.
I debated with myself about what Han was feeling or thinking as he watched Qi’ra fly away aboard Dryden’s ship. His facial expression was unreadable to my eyes. Lafferty explains that since they were teens, Han always expected Qi’ra to leave him someday. He finally started to grasp how much she had changed when they reached Savareen. So as he’s watching her leave, I can only assume he’s thinking ‘I knew this day would come’. And so it has.
I can’t leave you without mentioning the cool scene in the epilogue. Enfys has a meeting with Saw Gererra and an 11-year old Jyn Erso. A very cool way to link side stories, although a little forced in my opinion.
Despite my critiques of Lafferty’s writing style, I thoroughly enjoyed the novelization of Solo: A Star Wars Story Expanded Edition. It gave great insight to each of the characters, and Lafferty did a tremendous job showing character growth. It’s a quick read, but entirely enjoyable.