My students know that in my class, all roads eventually lead to Star Wars. There are examples of every literary device under the sun in the Star Wars movies, even amid the sometimes hackneyed dialogue. They were, after all, based on the mythic archetypes, and there are very consistent themes that run throughout all the movies. In my experience of them, the new entries actually deepen the themes of both the original trilogy and the prequels.
I don’t want to join the whole debate about the quality of the latest entry in the Star Wars saga, Solo: a Star Wars Story. Let’s just say I’ve seen it three times now, and have been listening to the soundtrack album incessantly when I’m writing these days. I, of course, revel in literary analysis of my favorite movies. This one was no exception.
The movie is book-ended by closeups of Hans hands (say that five times fast) flicking switches in a vehicle. The theme of betrayal is played out over and over – and actually foreshadows what we know about Han’s death many years later at the hands of his own son. But though I figured betrayal would be a theme even from the previews, what surprised me on a third viewing was what the other main theme of the movie is: learning.
The opening sequence, in which Han escapes from his indentured servitude to the “vile Lady Proxima” established the theme in no uncertain terms:
Lady Proxima: Well, what happened?
Han Solo: I’ll tell you what happened. They double-crossed you and tried to kill me.
Lady Proxima: The money?
Han Solo: They kept it.
Lady Proxima: My coaxium?
Han Solo: They kept that too. But we learned a very valuable lesson. We cannot trust those guys.
Lady Proxima: So you expect me to believe that you walked away with nothing?
Han Solo: Oh, I ran away with my life. I think that’s something. To me, that’s a lot.
Lady Proxima: I trusted you with a simple task. And all I’m hearing is more excuses. There must be consequences for disobedience or else you never learn.
Han Solo: You know what? I don’t think I’m ever going to learn.
I couldn’t help but think of some of my own, endlessly in-trouble students who drift in and out of suspension and in-school suspension. I also couldn’t help but think of school systems around the country that seem to run on Proxima’s philosophy that the main thing we are educating students for is obedience.
Later in the movie, when Han is trying to join a band of smugglers, he tells them he was thrown out of the Imperial Academy for “having a mind of his own.” After he has actually joined the smugglers, who are led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Beckett tells him that the only thing Han needs to know is how to follow orders and do exactly as he’s told. Not exactly a step up from the Proxima philosophy. Han does not follow orders though – he improvises. Their heist goes wrong and they lose their payoff. Beckett tells Han (after punching him in the face) that he doesn’t follow orders, and he doesn’t learn.
But throughout the middle part of the movie, Han does listen, and he does learn. Beckett gives Han, and Chewie, several nuggets of advice along the way as they head into their second heist of the movie, the Kessell Run sequence.
He tells Chewie that “People are predictable.” He tells Han himself, in one of the most quotable lines of the movie, “You want to know I survived as long as I have? I trust no one. Assume everyone will betray you, and you will never be disappointed.”
Later in the movie, Han shows he does indeed listen and learn. He pulls a double-cross on Beckett near the end of the movie, and tells him, “I was paying attention. You told Chewie people are predictable. You’re no exception.” And in the end, he follows Beckett’s advice about betrayal as well, and shoots first (in a clever nod to a controversial scene in the Episode 4 Special Edition).
And in the movie’s final moments, when Han has a card game rematch against Lando Calrissian in an attempt to win the Millennium Falcon off of him, he pays attention again, and learns the secret to Lando’s wins. Learning that secret wins him the Falcon.
Of course much of the Star Wars saga is about learning and not learning, but I didn’t expect to find the theme so strongly represented here in Solo. And Han’s move from learning as blind obedience to learning as thinking for yourself seems to be something we as a school system still seem to be trying to get right.
Han hasn’t learned everything by the end of Solo – in fact a lot of what he’s learned is to look out for number one – a clear setup for the Han of Episode 4. But the seeds of his future self are planted – they just take another few movies to grow. Sometimes we need to remember that our students are living their own prequels, getting ready for the main sagas of their lives, and that we can play a role in planting the seeds of the potential heroes they will become.