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SOLO, ROGUE ONE, and What “Standalone” Should Mean for STAR WARS Movies

Warning: SPOILERS below for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

In three years, we’ve now gotten four new Star Wars films in the Disney-owned version of Lucasfilm. People have generally lost their minds (both positively and negatively) about The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi and the continuation of the series’ main saga. But the two “anthology” films—Rogue One in 2016 and the newly released Solo—have left some fans feeling sort of empty, like these stories weren’t necessary, filling in gaps that didn’t need filling. The Star Wars universe is a massive and complex one, and each entry should certainly consist of more than just references to what’s come before. After Solo, I think we finally have a good idea of what “standalone” should mean for this franchise.

Any time we’ve used the word “standalone” thus far, it’s been a misnomer. Rogue One is a movie entirely bound by the knowledge of what had already happened, and what was about to happen in A New Hope, which evidently begins mere minutes after Rogue One ends. It’s about as stand-near-stuff as possible. Solo starts to take us in a different direction; while it’s still intrinsically linked to the prior knowledge of characters we’ve seen before and it depicts events we’ve heard about offhandedly, it’s very clearly the beginning of a new strand, a new individual saga in the Star Wars canon. It’s finally pointing toward adventures that, while firmly planted within continuity, are not just about filling in gaps or showing us things we already knew about.

Origin stories get super boring, especially if they’re for a character whose story’s ending we’ve already seen. I’ve opined in the past that Han Solo’s arc in A New Hope, choosing to eschew money and expediency in favor of helping a righteous cause, entails that all we’d be doing with a prequel movie or series would be to see him before he’s a good guy. Solo, however, set up an outlaw figure who nevertheless has a clear morality, and a desire for adventure, choosing to operate on the other side of the law not because he’s a born villain but because he sticks his nose up at authority, especially the Empire. There’s so much there to explore.

With the inclusion of one of the movie’s final moments—which introduced a very particular surprise character—we got our first glimpse at a series of new adventures to come, set in a period of time in between the Prequel Trilogy and the Original Trilogy. Solo suddenly became about more than backstory, more than connecting dots; it became about whole swaths of adventures we didn’t already hear about, and it reminded me a lot of the old Han Solo EU novels.

There’s a lot in Solo that just sought to explain how things happened that we didn’t really need to know. We know Han Solo won the Millennium Falcon in a game of sabacc from Lando Calrissian; did we really need to see it? We know Han Solo must have met Chewbacca at some point; did we really need to see it? And for the love of Peter Mayhew, we know the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, because nobody will friggin’ shut up about it! These were foregone conclusions, and the entire movie could have just been one, and thankfully wasn’t. But it got all of those references out of the way, and now we can go on from there.

Han and Chewie go off at the end to Tatooine, and we know he’s heading to find work from Jabba the Hutt. We can assume he’ll pull several jobs for this crime lord prior to dropping his payload, which is referenced in A New Hope as the reason Han needs Obi-Wan’s reward. But they’d be damn fools to show us this in a prospective Solo sequel. At this point, we should just see Han and Chewie taking on adventures, facing off against the Crimson Dawn criminal network, and probably running afoul of a bounty hunter named Boba Fett. This gives us a lot to work from that isn’t just a blatant reference to something we’ve already seen.

So far, it’s been abundantly clear the Disney Star Wars films are beholden to the Original Trilogy to an almost crippling degree, but with the overused adage of The Last Jedi, we’re told to let the past die. Talk of more Han Solo movies, a Lando movie, an Obi-Wan movie—these don’t have to be about merely connecting dots. These can be truly “standalone” adventures, or mini-trilogies, that give us context and drama for characters we love without so much baggage.

Following Solo, I’m finally looking forward to more anthology movies, because the galaxy is massive, and there are a lot of stories to tell that have bleep-all to do with Darth Vader.

Images: Lucasfilm

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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