Few movie news stories have caused more internal conflict than the announcement of Chris Miller and Phil Lord directing the solo Han Solo adventure.
There’s just no easy way to feel about it. On the one hand, I’m totally in the tank for Lord and Miller (and have been since Clone High). They’re bright creative voices, appropriately juvenile, that bring fresh ideas to even the most commercial, cash-grabby projects. In short, they’re great, and the idea of seeing more Han Solo is tempting.
However, on the other hand, not only is casting a new, young Han Solo going to be a near-impossible needle to thread, I’m not sure I see a point in re-imagining such an iconic figure. And make no mistake, that’s what doing The Adventures of Young Han Solo will do.
Most movies are about the most interesting time in a character’s life. That’s what makes sequels so difficult ‐ you have to find a new adventure that’s at least as interesting as what’s already been billed as the most interesting. The problem is compounded with prequels and origin movies, the Star Wars prequels themselves being a perfect example. You’re essentially telling an audience that it’s the character they know and love and, by definition, that it’s not the character they know and love. It’s the character before they’ve become the character.
Thus, you have to create a scenario wherein all the things that made people initially fall in love with the character aren’t fully formed, or don’t even exist yet. Sometimes that’s interesting, oftentimes it’s a disaster.
Even when it works, it serves to mute the mystery of the character. That part is inescapable. When it comes to figures with limited (or no) backstory, crafting one for them can either illuminate or shred one of the most fascinating, magnetic parts their personality.
Keyser Soze and The Joker don’t need origins. Aldo Raines and his noose-shaped neck scar don’t need origins. E.T. and Ripley don’t need origins. Mary Poppins and The Man With No Name don’t need origins. The Dude ‐ introduced more perfectly and succinctly than just about any other character when he writes a check for $0.69 to buy Half and Half for his White Russians while wearing pajama pants and jellies at a Ralph’s ‐ does not need an origin.
One of the latent functions of our era of reboots and franchise spin-offs is that a lot of characters we love can and probably will be strip mined, developed and given questionable feature length backstories specifically because they’re iconic. It’s only a matter of time before whoever owns the rights starts thinking, “But what really made Dirty Harry like that?”
I can’t help but feeling like studios, prodded by fans, are going to dissolve a lot of cool cinematic mysteries in the process.
That’s not to say that an origin story for an established, especially detail-less figure can’t be entertaining or add depth. It’s just incredibly difficult and almost always feels unnecessary. I recently rewatched Revenge of the Sith and found out that it was far better than the collective reputation earned by the prequels, but it’s still unclear what those three movies added to the mythos of Darth Vader. The strange thing is that, if anything, Vader is the kind of figure who could benefit from a backstory. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
He’s dynamic and brutal, but he’s not wholly evil. He’s also not an enigma meant never to be solved. He’s a fully realized figure in the original films, and the question of what made him the way he is could be a fascinating, fulfilling one.
The thing that separates Han Solo (and Yoda and Chewie) from Darth Vader is that he’s a side characters who ‐ despite any well-rounded traits they reveal ‐ serves a singular purpose. Han Solo is the cowboy of the franchise, and there’s a reason that cowboys ride into and out of town as strangers. He’s cool as hell, so seeing him “become” Han Solo as we know him now is high risk and low reward.
One counter argument is that James Bond has made it work. Casino Royale wasn’t exactly a prequel in the strictest sense; it took about a minute to see him earn his double-0 status, and he was pretty much suave, debonair, Vesper-sipping Bond from then on out. Sure, an insanely attractive woman won his heart, but that had also happened before. What’s interesting is that it’s arguable that Skyfall worked so well because we got to see even more into the histories of both Bond and M ‐ histories that managed to illuminate. Still, they were working with a long franchise arc and a character who has appeared in dozens of films, so a handful of details about the house he grew up in wasn’t going to burn his image to the ground. With any luck, the crew working on The Star Wars Spin-Offs: Han Solo Begins: The Search For More Money (or whatever it’s officially called) will look to the Bond reboot for some inspiration on slyly adding information without detracting from the core character.
If anyone can craft a compelling story it’s Lawrence Kasdan, and if anyone can execute that story with energy and heart, it’s Lord/Miller. There are reasons to have hope because the personnel involved is stellar, but I disagree with Lord and Miller’s claim that “this is the first film [they’ve] worked on that seems like a good idea to begin with,” tongue-in-cheek savvy as that statement was.
A Han Solo origin story seems creatively superfluous, but at least there’s encouragement to be found in Lord/Miller’s follow-up that they, “promise to take risks, to give the audience a fresh experience, and pledge [themselves] to be faithful stewards of these characters who mean so much to [them].”