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The novelization of Solo: A Star Wars Story adds new depth to the film

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Exploring the nature of servitude in the galaxy

Photo by Andrew Liptak / The Verge

Solo: A Star Wars Story hit theaters earlier this summer, pulling off a satisfactory story, despite a rocky production, and giving a definitive origin to one of the franchise’s best-known heroes, Han Solo. If you’ve seen the film, you know the story: Han Solo escapes a rough childhood as a street rat, gets kicked out of the Imperial Academy, falls into a life of crime with a couple of gangsters, and ends up running into Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian. A newly released novelization of the movie by Mur Lafferty layers on some additional scenes and character development and subtly changes the tone of the story from a straight-up action / heist film to one that explores the nature of servitude in the galaxy far, far away.

Movie novelizations can be a mixed bag. Some are quick adaptations of the film’s script that allow studios to get a little extra income on top of their box office returns. Others are full-fledged novels that expand and add to the film in question and can stand on their own next to the film. Lafferty’s adaptation of the film does a bit of the latter, turning the origin story of Han Solo into an intriguing meditation on one’s personal freedom and autonomy, but it falls just short of building even further on Ron Howard’s film.

Spoilers ahead for the book and film.

Image: Penguin Random House

Lafferty’s adaptation adds some scenes that didn’t end up in the film’s final cut: notably a couple of extra scenes during Qi’ra and Han’s escape from Corellia, and Han’s time as an Imperial pilot, during which his insubordination led him to a posting on Mimban, the muddy planet where he met Tobias Beckett and Chewbacca.

But Lafferty goes beyond just adding in the missing scenes (which will all be on the upcoming home release), also focusing on the characters and who they’re beholden to. The film’s titular hero is famously independent: he’s a reluctant hero who is pulled into the events of the larger galaxy, wanting only to get by being one of the best pilots in the galaxy. He’s drummed out of the Imperial Navy for disobeying orders, and he frequently improvises his way out of the situations that face him.

This is balanced against Qi’ra’s own backstory, which Lafferty explores a bit more thoroughly by dropping in the details of her journey between the time she and Han were separated and their reunion later in the film. She’s enslaved, brought into Dryden Vos’ Crimson Dawn syndicate, and trained as a brutal enforcer.

Lafferty is able to get a bit further into Qi’ra’s head than the film could, and the book version of her comes off quite a bit colder than what we see in the film. In the movie, Qi’ra and Han’s relationship feels like a budding romance. In the novel, Qi’ra is far more calculating: she sees Han as a way to escape from Corellia and their captors, and she begrudges having to owe him a favor as they make their escape. The notion of servitude permeates Qi’ra’s entire existence: she’s initially part of a street gang, before being sold into the service of Crimson Dawn. While she eventually rises to the head of the criminal syndicate, we learn that she’s still beholden to dangerous individuals like Darth Maul. Han is able to break free from his captors and superiors, but Qi’ra goes the opposite way, aiming to go straight to the top of the criminal underworld, where she can call the shots.

There are other elements of this theme throughout the book: Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s revolutionary-minded droid L3-37 is something we’ve never really seen in the franchise. She’s her own, autonomous droid who loudly points out that droids are enslaved in the galaxy, and she makes it her mission to free droids where possible. This is where the book stumbles, as Lafferty continues her story after her “death” on Kessel. With the death of her body, L3’s autonomy is stripped when she’s integrated into the Falcon and is essentially provided a choice: assimilate with the ship where she’ll have to take orders from the ship’s pilot, or really get erased. She ultimately agrees to become part of the Falcon — learning that she already made that choice before it was even presented to her — and it feels as though it undermines the entire point of the character and her message.

As to where this leaves the characters, the open-ended nature of the story means that the novel never really comes down to any sort of a definitive conclusion for what this means for them. We know where Han eventually ends up, but it leaves plenty of space for more exploration into where Qi’ra’s could go. Solo felt like a film that could stand on its own as a sub-franchise had it performed to its astronomical expectations at the box office, but should one not materialize, those stories could easily be continued in a series of novels. We already got Daniel José Older’s Star Wars novel Last Shot earlier this year. But as it stands, the novelization of Solo, like the film, is a fun adventure tale within the larger Star Wars franchise that goes beyond the run-of-the-mill novelization treatment to explore a new bit of the world that we haven’t yet seen.