[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.”)
But this would be a wonderful template for a Han Solo television series. Just Han and Chewbacca, going from port to port, looking to pick up a side job here and there while avoiding bounty hunters and trying to appease Jabba. It would be incredibly low stakes as far as the galaxy is concerned, but high stakes – and fun! – from Han and Chewbacca’s perspective. There’d be no origin story. We get the gist! They are smugglers and they smuggle. That’s all we need to know.
(I know what some of you are thinking, “Um, they tried this with Indiana Jones and it didn’t work.” Well, that’s true. But when the Indiana Jones television show was on, television wasn’t what it is today, and they went with “let’s make this important and have young Indy meet every famous historical figure from that era,” which is the opposite of what I’m suggesting here.)
And don’t think for a second actors wouldn’t want to play Han Solo just because it’s a television series. I suspect Alden Ehrenreich would have still jumped at the chance to play Solo. And his boyish charms would have been great to watch in a ten episode first season. We could watch him grow into the role, as opposed to what happened here where he’s kind of thrust into mess of multiple directors and multiple tones and expected to take on one of the most iconic roles of all time.
Instead, we get a movie where Han kind of accidentally helps fund the Rebel Alliance because what he does in this movie has to have meaning (a friend asked me if this means the Rebels were just paying Han back with his own money at the end of the original Star Wars) and we find out that Han is now going to be archenemies with a former Sith Lord. Even though Solo is already part of a huge franchise, it also kind of feels like it fell into the same pitfalls as all these other would be franchises that are a bit too concerned with making some giant, connected universe and not just focus on the characters. And that’s what Han and Chewie would have been best at: just having a new weekly adventure where they try to smuggle some crazy thing that has no real importance to the rest of the galaxy. (What’s interesting is we got a taste of this when we first meet Han and Chewbacca in The Force Awakens,before they get roped into another Skywalker adventure.)
I can almost picture it. Each episode starts with a cold opening where we kind of get the gist of what someone is hiring Han and Chewie to smuggle. Then Han pauses, every time, and says, “Wait, you want us to do what?” Then Chewie growls and we cue the fun Han Solo opening credits and theme song … performed by Greg Evigan.
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