Solo Vs. Star Wars

Image result for new han solo compared to old han solo

On the whole, I applaud the plethora of new Star Wars films coming out these days such as Solo: A Star Wars Story. Oh, maybe to me they aren’t as good as the original movies, but then again…I’m not ten years old anymore.

Perhaps that’s what makes the new stuff a challenge for us old-school fans. In the 1970s and 80s, we were all at a very different place in our lives. We had no preconceived ideas about how a Star Wars movie “should be” in 1977. We were a blank slate in that regard and we accepted the Force and the hyperdrives without much fuss. Now, however, we are in our late 40’s and 50’s. We feel we know best how a Star Wars movie should look, feel and taste.

Even though I am affected by this virus as much as any older fan, I try to keep it in check. After all, much of the fun of seeing any new Star Wars film is discovering another person’s interpretation of Gorge Lucas’ original vision. Which brings us to Solo: A Star Wars Story.

First off, I have to give kudos to the entire cast. Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover both did excellent jobs. I imagine it is very difficult for an actor to follow behind another actor’s interpretation of a character, but both these guys pulled it off flawlessly. And frankly, for me, that’s the most important part; the characters.

I love characters. Rich, textured, deep, and convoluted characters make for the best fiction. Thus, one of my chief complaints about The Matrix wasn’t the world building…but that I never gave a crap about one-dimensional Neo! Give me characters I care about and any movie or book is well on the way to giving me a story I care about. Skip that part, and you might as well go home and forget about it.

Comming back to Solo: A Star Wars Story, I must say it could have done better. Here’s where I hike up my old-fogy pants and shout, “Kids, get off my lawn” I suppose, but I felt the film put too much emphasis on action and not enough on characters. In total, I counted eight action scenes in the movie whereas the original Star Wars had only five. The action in Solo was done well, but it took time away from character building scenes that I felt the movie could have used more of. In fact, my favorite scene of the film is where Tobias Beckett teaches Chubacca how to play space chess. The scene is short but it connects us to the old beloved original movie while deepening our understanding of who this Tobias guy is.

Perhaps that’s modern movies on the whole for me. Too much well-choreographed action and not enough well-written character scenes. In the original Star Wars, Lucas took his time. We had long conversations between characters like Luke and his Uncle and Aunt. We had meaningful banter between Han and Leia.

Of course, I write books, not movies. Action scenes connect with an audience differently on a screen than on a page. Characters, however, are just as important in both mediums. and it’s characters that matter.

I Just Read Space Viking by H. Beam Piper.

Space Viking
Never heard of it? Perhaps not, but it’s a trophy sought by old-school science fiction fans and a guidebook to the origins of much space opera that came after it.

Piper is best known for his Little Fuzzy books about cute little aliens who befriend a grumpy old prospector on a far-off planet. Those books have been in and out of print for years and there’s even an updated version of the novel by John Scalzi (author of Old Man’s War). Although a rather prolific author, Piper’s career was stopped short by his suicide in 1964. Coincidentally, that is the year Space Viking was released, a book which his fans often praise as the best work ever.

For decades I’ve hoped to come across a copy at a used bookstore or science fiction convention. Now, due to the magic of the internet, I was able to procure a used original 1964 paperback (and even then it took some doing). So now that I’ve read this legendary book, what do I think of it?

Well…

I found it fascinating how Marc W. Miller cut and pasted so much of Piper’s universe to write the hugely popular role-playing game Traveller. The setting of the novel is the far future, but characters still carry titles such as duke and baron as they fight over interplanetary fiefdoms. The emphasis of Space Viking lives is also very Traveller; they simply strive to amass wealth and power over their enemies. In fact, the plot of the book can be described as: her creates and equips a starship, goes into combat, amass wealth, and uses wealth to upgrade equipment and expand power base–then goes into combat, and repeat.

With this in mind, there is very little exploration of the characters as three-dimensional people. Our hero, Trask, makes rational decisions, builds his empire for…reasons, and only rarely shows any sentimentality or desire outside his political goals. Also, in the tradition of OLD SCHOOL gamers, there are no women playing active roles in this novel. One ship is said to have a female captain, but we never meet her and the ship explodes in battle. All the other female characters are love interests at best and window dressing at worst. This jives with the ascetic of 1964 I suppose (If Mad Men is to be taken as factually based), but without active women in this universe, how impressed am I supposed to be by the men?

It is said that science fiction author Jerry Pournelle and H. Beam Piper were friends, and I can see how the two men had a lot in common. Apparently, this was especially true in the field of politics. As in Pournelle’s works, Piper presents an almost Ayan Randian philosophy; the man in charge who inherits wealth should not be ashamed to use it—for by doing so intelligently, society will prosper as a side effect. Whereas, the man (and yes it’s always a man) who organizes the rabble and fights for social justice is the villain who’s misguided philosophy will destroy the galaxy…or whatever. In Space Viking, characters talk at length about these subjects and it’s clear where Piper stood in the matter.

So, yes, the book is flawed and dated. But I still recommend it as a study in Science Fiction anthropology because it’s clear many major players in science fiction have read this book. For example, Gorge Lucas lifted the name for planet Hoth right off the pages. As a kid in the 1980s, I played an awful lot of Traveller so I must admit that Piper’s last novel influenced my own writing quite a bit (read The Adventures of Crazy Liddy if you don’t believe me).

Space Viking is also a study of what works and what doesn’t work in space opera. When a reader picks up a book with a title such as Space Viking he or she expects lots of action and peril, not a lot of political talks. Besides, there is something “clay pidgin” about expressing one-sided politics in science fiction. The author, after all, sets up the targets and it’s no surprise to the reader when he hits the bulls-eye from two feet away.

By Clayton J. Callahan