To paraphrase the second chapter of the Bible, it is not good for man to be solo.
It’s also something of the message of the latest Star Wars movie, which just hit theaters.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is the second of the franchise’s “anthology” movies—stand-alone films set within the saga that aren’t a main episode. The first of these was Rogue One (2016), which despite its stand-alone status felt more like Episode 3.5. Solo is much more of a free-standing story, aware of and frequently nodding to the events of the wider saga without bearing the same epic-storytelling burden. The scale is smaller than previous Star Wars movies; both the cast and scope of the story are more intimate. This is not a tale of worlds and empires, but of one particular character and how he came to be the man so many boys grew up wanting to be. This gives it a different feel than the other films. It has the opportunity to cover less ground, and it manages to do so in a more satisfying way.
This was by no means a given.
Solo entered the theaters having gone through a troubled development. The original writer-directors were switched out during the filming process, reportedly due to a different vision for the film than studio boss Kathleen Kennedy had. Director Ron Howard stepped in when much of the filming had already been done. Needless to say, there were fairly mixed expectations of what the end product would be like. Howard is not the most consistent of directors. Would we be getting Apollo 13 Ron Howard or Da Vinci Code Ron Howard? Would the movie bear the scars of its abrupt production changes?
In the end the movie is a great success (even if it has disappointed at the box office). Solo has a coherent feel and terrific storyline. I was skeptical that anyone other than Harrison Ford could make me like Han Solo, but Alden Ehrenreich does a sterling job inhabiting a character that has already been so well defined.
One of film’s joys is how frequently Solo references the original trilogy. Some of this comes in the form of homage; some of it sets up and explains what we already know. Watching the movie with this hindsight was a particular pleasure. I had a similar experience the first time I read C. S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew and learned for the first time where Narnia’s lamppost came from. It is also why seeing how the Old Testament sets up the person and work of Christ is so thrilling for believers.
This film is lighter than Rogue One and The Last Jedi, with more humor (especially in the developing friendship between Han and Chewie). But it is not without its disappointments. A somewhat awkward (and admittedly minor) theme is one prominent character’s pansexuality, with suggestions of a sexual relationship with a droid. This feels like an unnecessary attempt by the franchise to push the sexuality envelope in an explicitly LGBTQ-affirming direction.
Need for Community
But the film’s main theme is related to its title. Throughout Solo we have references to the need for community. Solo, we learn early in the film, becomes Han’s last name only because it was first his reality. Asked who his people are, he replies that he doesn’t have a people. (According to screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, this was the first line of the movie to be written.) He’s on his own and doesn’t really belong to anyone. Later on, talking round a campfire with a band of other thieves, he’s reminded that everyone needs someone. At another moment, translating an alien species, Solo says he’s not sure if the right word to use is “family” or “tribe.”
“What’s the difference?” another character replies.
For these characters, “family” is far more expansive than a mere biological family unit. We are reminded of how closely in Scripture the concepts of tribe and family are intertwined.
For these characters, ‘family’ is far more expansive than a mere biological family unit. We are reminded of how closely in Scripture the concepts of tribe and family are intertwined.
This theme defines the overall arc of the storyline. By the end of Solo (and this is no spoiler to anyone who knows the other movies), Han has found something of family. While there is a romantic interest, the real love story is the friendship between Han and Chewbacca. They belong to each other. At one point the latter chooses Han even over his own kind. How these two meet and grow such a deep friendship is the movie’s greatest charm.
Not Good to Be Solo
“Solo” is Han’s descriptor at the start of the movie, but not by the end. It’s refreshing to see a movie suggest the answer to our aloneness is not romantic partnership but deep friendship. This is something the church could profitably reflect on today. The church has often neglected the significance of deep friendship as a means toward healthy intimacy, fixating on romantic relationships instead. As Tim Keller recently tweeted, “Adam wasn’t lonely because he was imperfect but because he was perfect. The ache for friends is not the result of sin.”
It is refreshing to see a movie suggest the answer to our aloneness is not necessarily romantic partnership but deep friendship. This is something the church could profitably reflect on today.
As the later episodes demonstrate, Han’s friendship with Chewie ends up lasting far longer than his romance with Princess Leia. We live in a culture where romantic partnership bears the weight of ultimate fulfillment and satisfaction. And yet for that reason it is often temporary and unstable. In such a context it does us no harm to celebrate an affirmation of lifelong friendship, something both marrieds and singles need in life.
After all, it is not good for a man to be solo.