solo cameo

I’ll assume everyone is planning to rewatch the prequels before seeing Solo: A Star Wars Story, so I only need to offer three double features this week.

Just kidding. Would that it were so simple.

Ron Howard’s foray into the universe of Corellia and Kashyyyk also takes place before A New Hope, but there’s little reason to subject yourself to podracing and amorous picnics just to get a feel for the time period. Watch all the Star Wars movies your head can handle, sure, but let’s see if we can expand the galaxy a bit with some space Westerns, classic adventures, and a look at what Howard was doing back in 1977 when Star Wars first lit a fire in fans’ eyes.

Here are 6 non-Star Wars movies to watch before or after you see young Han borrow young Lando’s capes.

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

To get a sense of the new Han Solo, it’s good to look back at what put Alden Ehrenreich on the map. He got his start with Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro (after acting with Steven Spielberg’s daughter in a Bat Mitzvah video that scored him an agent) before cutting his teeth on Park Chan-wook’s Stoker and Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. But the movie that truly showcased his infinite well of charm was the Coens’ farce about golden era Hollywood where he played an acrobatic cowboy struggling in a high society film.

Here’s the thing. You can’t see Han there, but you can see the core swagger from which a lot of different, confident, Han-esque characters could branch out from.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

I’ve used this one before, but it’s perfect here. It’s the last time we got a glimpse of a Harrison Ford character as iconic as Han being played at a younger age by a different actor.

The intro sees River Phoenix gritting his teenage teeth while trying to escape a circus train to protect an artifact from grave-robbers-for-hire. He’s got the grin. He’s got the brashness. He hasn’t got the whip thing down, but he’ll get there. In the end, he gets the hat. Whenever anyone questioned Han being played by someone else, I always thought about Phoenix’s peerless ability to deliver a younger version of Indy whose authenticity we never questioned.

Grand Theft Auto (1977)

The same year we got Star Wars, we got Howard’s directorial debut. Produced by Roger Corman, Grand Theft Auto is a raucous cross-country chase led by Howard (who wrote, directed, and starred) and Nancy Morgan as mismatched lovers trying to elope in Las Vegas.

Howard’s character is a lovable scoundrel, there are a bunch of old school crashes, and they make it to the neon-lit chapel in less than 12 parsecs.

Oliver Twist (1948)

Want some more? Here’s the David Lean adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic poorhouse to pickpocket saga. If Oliver! is more your flavor of poverty, feel free to pair it.

The key here is the transition from the boot black workhouse where the grumbling Mr. Bumble serves a scant amount of gruel to his tiny, exploited labor force. This is a story primarily about escape. Escape from drudgery. Escape from a life under someone’s boot to one of scofflaw fun and whimsy. Escape from tragic statistic to standout.

Also, there are undoubtedly some capes in this movie, too.

Blade Runner (1982)

It’s absolutely fascinating how Ford dominated the genre realm for years, crafting a host of iconic characters after his sci-fi debut in Star Wars. From 1980 to 1984, Ford was in a movie a year: The Empire Strikes BackRaiders of the Lost ArkBlade RunnerReturn of the JediIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. What a streak.

The following year he made Witness, got an Oscar nomination, and continued to bounce between any genre he wanted.

But Ford was in a ton of movies, so why choose this one? Because of Sean Young. Deckard is a colder version of Han Solo, but Young’s Rachael marks an intriguing connection to Emilia Clarke in Solo as a risky love interest with strength and otherworldly mannerisms.

Outland (1981)

High Noon in space! Director Peter Hyams brought signature tones of isolation and detachment to this space Western. Sean Connery plays a Federal Marshal assigned to the wild frontier of Io, a mining moon with a curious amount of deaths. Or maybe the appropriate amount of deaths for such a dangerous place. And talk about swagger. This is Connery we’re talking about. Han isn’t exactly Bond, but he’s not far off.

The tradition of the space Western is alive and well with The Expanse, and you can see the DNA of Outland in it and in Solo. Just as you can spot some Ocean’s Eleven in The Last Jedi. Or Dirty Dozen in Rogue One. Really, any time you successfully mash two genres together, you’ll come up with magic.

The Mix

What people sometimes forget is that Star Wars movies work only as well as the genre-borrowing sequences that comprise them. After all, Luke Skywalker swung across dangerous gaps before Indiana Jones did. Cue the Tarzan yell.

These are Westerns and globe-trotting MacGuffin chases in space. They are also soap operas, romances, and dramas that straddle pulp and prestige.

Solo is a risk because it has to traverse a lot of the stories we’ve been told about or promised in older Star Wars movies while treading a fine line between positive nostalgia activation and accidentally being Star Wars Babies. But it’s also a risk in the same way all Star Wars movies are risks: they have to live up to the lore in our minds while smashing the right genre elements together. That’s how you get Oliver Twist stealing vehicles and meeting Chewbacca.

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