While reading Solo: A Star Wars Story by Mur Lafferty, I toyed with trying to separate it from the movie it was based on. Since the book is billed as an ‘Expanded Edition,’ I thought maybe the key would be to discuss what new things the book brought to the movie. But a novelisation is still a novelisation, and the book doesn’t add enough to the characterisation or tone to set it apart. Some of the extra scenes are very strong, adding to Enfys Nest’s story. But overall, cheesy writing drags the book down, and many of the added scenes don’t add enough. In fact, Solo is a confirmation of the bad reputation novelisations generally have. Fans of the movie would be better served picking up Most Wanted.
Like The Force Awakens novel, the sentences in Solo are puffed up with clichés and contradictions. Objects become detached from their sources: Han watches many “feet” pass by his hiding place with no mention of the people to which the feet are attached. Some major scenes, such as Val’s death and the Kessel Run, are rushed. Han’s emotions are detached and simple—“He felt very alone at that moment.”
Possibly, the tone is intentionally goofy. Han himself is simple and direct, and likely to stumble over his own opinions the way the prose does. There are some funny lines here, but they struggle in the flatness of the story. That flatness means the book isn’t particularly fun, especially not without the charisma of the actors, which is what sold the movie.
Another one of the movie’s strengths was its visual style: musty Corellia was dark and claustrophobic, the Falcon pristine and white in contrast to its later grime, the storms of Kessel colourful and strange. Little of this clutter comes through in the novel, little of the classic-looking set dressing or detail. This is particularly evident on Savareen, which established what little character its spaceport had through the rusting equipment on the messy desk.
In general, the physical descriptions are unremarkable—Dryden Vos is only described a few pages into his appearance—but the book does make an effort to lean into the lush textures of the wealth denied to Han, namely Lando’s cape closet and Dryden’s party. The contrast between rich and poor is central to the plot of the movie, and it’s at least partially present in the novel.
As a movie, Solo seemed to struggle with its themes. It was about freedom, except that the character who most explicitly calls for freedom ends up trapped. It was about Han growing, except that he could not grow too much or else it would undo his arc in A New Hope. The book similarly loosely handles Han’s motivation. Qi’Ra’s motivation is a bit stronger: she spends some of the novel trying to define what exactly holds her to Dryden (other than the fact that she’s technically his slave), and the resolution of that question makes her eventual victory over him even more satisfying. Some extra scenes explain what happened to her after Han left her for the first time, emphasising how her terrible situation forged her into a hard person scrambling for any bit of power in a system that fenced her in. (The young adult book Most Wanted did this as well.)
L3 and Qi’Ra’s relationship is expanded upon in the book as well. It’s nice to see that L3 inspired Qi’Ra to understand her own motivations better. But the book’s interest in L3 is badly undercut by the movie itself. The book does an admirable job of giving L3 a voice after she is integrated with the Falcon, as well as making that integration something of a choice. But it still isn’t a choice. That script can’t be changed. In the end, L3 finds her situation only acceptable, and the Falcon is still a symbol of freedom for Han that has slavery at its core.
Enfys Nest fares a bit better. The novel gives an even-handed look at her identity and motivations, even if detail is lacking. One of my favourite scenes in the book was recently revealed in an excerpt where Enfys talks to Saw Gerrera, linking two major figures of the early Rebellion in the new canon. I really enjoyed learning what this scene has to say about Enfys’ approach to prickly negotiations and the early Rebellion, as well as the connections to other Star Wars stories. With some of the novel’s problems stemming from Solo itself, I can’t help but think I’d rather be reading an Enfys novel by the same author. If only the prose didn’t stumble so much. I’d struggle to recommend this one to even the most die-hard fans.