[This post contains spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Consider this your only warning.]
As I’m writing this it’s been a couple of weeks since I saw Solo: A Star Wars Story and, for the life of me, I’ve been trying to put my finger on why the whole movie, even though it’s enjoyable for the most part, just seemed … off.
What cemented all of this is when, near the end of the movie, Darth Maul shows up – signaling that Maul will play a larger role in future Han Solo adventures. But why? Why is there a former Sith Lord in this movie? It feels like an effort to make these Han Solo adventures feel important, even though a little-known smuggler trying to make a living in a corrupt galaxy shouldn’t at all be important. And that’s where this movie feels off: it’s trying to shoehorn “importance for the galaxy” into a story that shouldn’t be important at all – because Han Solo wasn’t important until he met Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi. He was just some dude until fate interfered.
But that’s kind of the problem with making a standalone origin story feature film, it has to feel somewhat grandiose in today’s market, or what’s the point? And that’s why I think I’ve finally figured out what’s wrong here. The adventures of Han Solo before he met Luke and Ben shouldn’t be grandiose or important. They should just be stories about Han and Chewbacca trying to smuggle spice, or whatever, without getting caught. And, yes, it would be hard to make a series of movies in today’s “I have a theory; it must all come together” climate without some overreaching arc about some evil force pulling the strings, like a former Sith Lord.
So that’s why the adventures of Han Solo should have been a television series.
In 1979, NBC aired an hour-long action-comedy series called B.J. and the Bear about a truck driver, named B.J. McKay, who traveled around the country with his sidekick, a chimpanzee named Bear. Every week they’d have some new dumb thing they’d have to haul and, along the way, meet a cast of crazy characters. Today, that show is lumped in with the “trucker craze” of the late 1970s that basically led to movies like Smokey and the Bandit becoming popular. (My faint memories of that era did make driving a big rig look like the coolest job in the world, at least to a four-year-old.) I have little to no evidence to back this up, but I suspect the appeal of B.J. and the Bear had less to do with the “trucker craze” and more to do that it was basically an Earth-set version of Han Solo and Chewbacca. You had the dashing driver, B.J., and his best friend (B.J. literally refers to the chimpanzee as his best friend in the theme song), a hairy sidekick who only speaks in animal noises.
(As an aside, Greg Evigan played the role of B.J. McKay and he also sang the B.J. and the Bear theme song. A few years later, Evigan would co-star with Paul Reiser on the sitcom My Two Dads, in which Evigan also sang the theme song. I bet that was brought up quite a bit by Evigan’s agent at the time, “Well, you know, if you cast Greg, not only do you get one hell of an actor, you also get a theme song out of it. It’s really a great package deal.”)