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Han Solo's spinoff film will let Disney keep the original Star Wars trilogy alive

Over the last few years we've gone from having no new Star Wars movies on the horizon to having six — three new numbered episodes in the upcoming trilogy, and three "Anthology" spinoff movies. The latest of these, confirmed yesterday ahead of this weekend's San Diego Comic-Con, will star a young Han Solo, and will explain "how he became the smuggler, thief, and scoundrel whom Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi first encountered at Mos Eisley."

As with the other Star Wars Anthology films announced so far — Gareth Edwards' Rogue One and the as-yet untitled Boba Fett movie (which might currently be in production limbo) — the Solo-centric story mines the original Star Wars trilogy rather than the prequels for characters and setting. That's surely for the best (nobody wants Jar Jar Binks Begins), but by using the new movies to fill in the gaps around the original trilogy, Disney is ensuring that it can keep the best of both worlds.

Spoiler warning: minor discussion of the new Star Wars comics ahead.

J.J. Abrams looks to be doing a good job with The Force Awakens, but no matter his efforts, it'll be difficult to design an antagonist for the movie as outright evil as the Galactic Empire, headed by the iconic Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader. If Episode VII's First Order doesn't captivate in the same way the Empire did — if Adam Driver's Kylo Ren isn't as immediately memorable as a cackling raisin in a bathrobe and evil Samurai Dad — then the spinoffs need only break out the old stormtrooper armor to appeal to fans for whom the original trilogy is folklore, creating two routes by which Disney can guarantee eyeballs on its movie-making and merchandising machine. We might have already seen the company cross the streams between old and new: yesterday it was reported that Darth Vader will be making an appearance in Rogue One.

Leaning on existing characters also lends the Anthology movies wider appeal for people who might not consider themselves Star Wars nerds. But the tactic could conceivably have a downside — how do filmmakers Christopher Miller and Phil Lord stamp their own mark on characters set in stone across three much-loved movies? Already we've seen one director move on from an Anthology project, and Boba Fett, the bounty hunter Josh Trank was set to bring back to the big screen, is a far less concrete character in the Star Wars fiction than suave smuggler Solo.

Solo is perfectly described by his introductory scene in the Mos Eisley cantina, a beautifully economic bit of storytelling that tells us almost everything we need to know about the character with just a few lines and a blaster. We know he's prideful, we know he thinks he's the galaxy's biggest badass, we know he likes to beat the odds, and we know he'll shoot first — or at least at exactly the same time. Everything else — his heart of gold, his smarmy charm, and his loyalty to his friends — is fleshed out by the end of A New Hope.

Han Solo's character is perfectly described by his first scene in A New Hope

Where Boba Fett has the murdered father, violent impulses, and brooding personality to support a gritty, Batman Begins-ish origin story, Han Solo doesn't fit the same mold. Fortunately, the filmmaking duo chosen for the gig are more than capable of making Solo's story fun, fresh, and funny. Christopher Miller and Phil Lord took 21 Jump Street, an almost-forgotten police procedural set in a ‘90s high school, and made it into a surprisingly clever and self-referential comedy. The appointment of Miller and Lord is more than just a safe set of hands for the spinoff: it's a good indication of the movie's tone. Chances are we can expect a caper rather than a consideration of the human (and non-human) condition.

Solo's background, scrubbed partially clean by Disney's decision to do away with the Star Wars expanded universe, is still full of stories that Miller and Lord can expand on. The smuggler famously completed the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. Perhaps the movie will track his fabled attempt to move at unprecedented speed through the Maw, the mass of black holes that surround lumpy penal planet Kessel? Or perhaps it'll take us back further, show us how exactly Solo won the Millennium Falcon. That movie would introduce young Han to young Lando, a pairing that, if given the right actors, would be magnetic on screen. Or perhaps we'll go back even further, to Solo's youth, and work out how he earned the right to wear his Corellian blood stripes. Perhaps we'll even see him rescue Chewbacca, earning the Wookiee's lifelong loyalty in the process.

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The movie may also star Han's recently introduced wife

For now at least, the movie's plot is presumably fluid, but we can be sure about a few things. The Solo spinoff can't feature Princess Leia, or at least, can't feature her in a role in which she actually meets Han. Their first introduction is set up in A New Hope, and their trajectories are too different for them to bump into each other at the local tapcafe. Instead, we may see an appearance from a character introduced to the fiction just last month — Han's wife, Sana Solo. Neither Marvel nor Disney has yet to elaborate on the specifics of her relationship with Han, but she already seems his equal, having been able to track the notoriously slippery smuggler the length of the galaxy. Han and Chewie could conceivably shore up a 21 Jump Street-style buddy movie on their own, but when one of the buddies is a growling 7-foot carpet, dramatic exposition becomes a little trickier. Sana offers the opportunity for banter, for back and forth in the cockpit, for Han to loudly proclaim "It's not my fault!" at someone in particular when the hyperdrive fails again.

But as the movie brings in the young Han Solo, it's a good bet we'll also see the end of the old. Maintaining two takes on the same character in theaters at around the same time could be difficult for audiences, and Harrison Ford, though still crashing into golf courses at the age of 72, may not have wanted to sign on for the grueling filming schedule of a new Star Wars trilogy. At least if the older Solo is heading out, he's got a while before he needs to vacate the Millennium Falcon's pilot chair — the Han Solo spinoff movie won't blast onto screens until May 28th, 2018.