Solo: A Star Wars Story didn’t blow away critics or break box office records in 2018. But, as what tends to happen, it developed a reputation worse than it deserved in some corners of the fandom and especially in the echo chambers of the Internet — where that which mildly disappoints gets deemed disastrous and unacceptable. So it was a surprising development when #MakeSolo2Happen began to trend on Twitter on the heels of the announcement that the Snyder Cut of Justice League had finally been willed into existence on HBO Max. If Star Wars fans manage to make Solo 2 into happen, there’s a good chance the sequel will surpass the original, but only if it follows the exploits of the right character. And Solo made it painfully clear that character is Qi’ra.
The very notion of producing a standalone Han Solo movie seemed ill-fated from the start. With Harrison Ford in his 70s, a different actor had to inhabit the iconic role. That’s always a risky proposition, and Solo had an especially high bar to clear with a character as rogueish and charming as the infamous pilot of the Millenium Falcon. Origin stories are tricky to pull off, too, since the audience knows the title character will survive the prequel. To complicate things further, production didn’t go smoothly, which spooked Lucasfilm into swapping directors (The Lego Movie‘s Lord and Miller for Ron Howard). This almost necessitated hasty rewrites, while reshoots exploded the budget and contributed to poor word of mouth before anyone had seen the final product.
Solo feels like a second (but not final) draft as a result. It’s tonally inconsistent with some threads that could’ve used another pass. But its most egregious offense is that it makes Han seem a little lame compared to fans’ imagined versions of the character in his youth, through no fault of Alden Ehrenreich’s performance. Han as he’s written in Solo is too much of a gullible, goodie two shoes who just happens to get caught up in morally grey situations. His love interest, Qi’ra, is given a similar backstory but becomes a more compelling figure with more agency.
Like most subpar Star Wars, Solo is still, at worst, a mixed bag that does enough well to hold the audience’s attention. The film doesn’t spend enough time exploring the dynamic between Tobias Beckett’s modest gang of outlaws and Enfys Nest’s Cloud Riders, but the intersection of the criminal underworld and burgeoning rebel groups feels like an element that could return in a more satisfying and consequential way. Solo spends too much time providing unnecessary or underbaked explanations for random trivia from the Original Trilogy, but one hopes Lucasfilm has gotten that impulse out of its system and would resist the urge to do so in Solo 2. The most interesting part of Solo is, by far, Qi’ra’s turn.
Unless you were spoiled ahead of time, you probably didn’t see it coming when Qi’ra killed Dryden Vos and made contact with Darth Maul. Qi’ra could have been just another plucky space brunette who, for narrative purposes, has to fail to live up to Leia. Instead, Star Wars‘ Story Group made the much more interesting choice to set her up to become our first true female villain; not some side assassin or high ranking Storm Trooper, but someone pulling the strings of power. She’d make for a better than average adversary and an ideal main character in a sequel because she’s terrifyingly competent, and because her motivations are so much more complicated than most Star Wars villains — or heroes for that matter.
By the time she escapes in Vos’s ship, completely unscathed, she’s successfully manipulated everyone in her orbit. She had Han and crew wrapped around her finger the whole time: She was able to sow distrust between her former lover and his new mentor to get what she wanted. Even her enslaver didn’t see her revenge coming. And she engineered the outcome so that, upon reporting to Maul, she was blameless. But the audience can never be sure how much was planned and how much was improvised; her intent is frustratingly but fascinatingly hard to gauge. Lest we forget, Qi’ra isn’t pure evil as is, unfortunately, the case with Smugglers and Sith Lords far too often. She came of age in horrendous circumstances, suffered a particular kind of abuse because of her gender and appearance, and has come out the other side streetwise and self-preserving. Her psychology, as opposed to blind ideology, makes total sense.
Solo had to come first but Solo 2 would be lightyears more tense and gripping from her perspective, with Maul back in the picture, former lovers pitted against each other and audiences having to question her every word and machination. A Qi’ra led movie would also play more like an organized crime thriller, which would be cheaper to produce than a typical Star Wars movie, making it a good fit for Disney+.
And, despite her potential, fans aren’t as invested in Qi’ra as they are characters like Vader or Boba Fett, making her a low-risk experiment in elevating the villain to the forefront.
The morally complicated Qi'ra was everything young Han Solo was supposed to be.