[Editor’s note: The following contains some spoilers for “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”]
When “Solo: A Star Wars Story” zooms into theaters this week, the Ron Howard-directed film will allow audiences to explore the early years of such beloved characters as Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), but the film isn’t only beholden to dramatizing the first meet-and-greets with some of the best-known stars of “Star Wars” — it also introduces a number of characters. Those new to the galaxy include four female characters, who join a long line of daring “Star Wars” women, from Leia to Padme, Rose, and Rey.
Howard’s film, written by frequent “Star Wars” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan, is understandably tasked with filling in big chunks of Han’s backstory, from his misbegotten youth on Corellia, to his time in the Imperial Navy, and his earliest run-ins with the kinds of characters his fate is inevitably twisted up with — and that includes some people we’ve never heard about before. There’s Han’s first love and the steel-fisted crime boss who shaped him, but there’s also a rebellion-minded droid with a big connection to Lando and a thieving badass we barely get to know.
Here’s a breakdown of the fresh faces in the cast, and everything you need to know about them.
Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke)
Howard’s film opens with a giddy Han zooming through the streets of his native Corellia, bursting with the bluster of a man who just robbed a bunch of bad guys, made off with a cool hover-car, and is on his way to scoop up his lady love and get the hell out of Dodge. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” doesn’t stay in those teenage years too long, but it does lay out a backstory for Han in which he’s just one of many poor Corellian kids who have been forced to spend their youth toiling for local crime boss Lady Proxima. That’s how he met Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), a fellow Proxima captive who he intends on spending the rest of his life with. They’re both plucky young orphans with a strong bond, which makes it all the more crushing when they’re pulled apart just as they’re making their way off Corellia.
It’s Han’s desire to get back to Qi’ra that frames the film’s early motivations, and when “Solo” zips ahead to three years later, with Han toiling as an Imperial soldier, he’s still hoping to get back to Corellia to save her. But Qi’ra comes from the same scrappy upbringings as Han, and she doesn’t need his saving. Or does she?
After Han abandons the Imperial Navy, he runs into Qi’ra on Dryden Voss’ (Paul Bettany) fancy crime lord space barge, where she has been installed as one of Voss’ “top lieutenants.” The hows and whys of her own Corellian escape are kept under wraps, but “Solo” drives home the point that she’s not actually free and she’s had to do just terrible things in service to Voss, whom she views as a mentor (and perhaps more?). It’s a complicated role, and Clarke makes it work because, despite the big questions surrounding Qi’ra and her path in life, she can’t hide her feelings when Han is around. She’s a femme fatale, but not heartless.
Val (Thandie Newton)
Han’s naval desertion is inspired by an unlikely run-in with Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), himself a rogue and smuggler who comes to be a father figure to young Han. He’s also got his own crew, including lady love Val (Thandie Newton), a seasoned thief who provides some very necessary assistance to the team as they undertake their first big score together. Beckett initially scans as a lone wolf type, but Val’s rough-and-tumble attitude and undeniable technological skills must have won him over at some point. She’s the kind of capable character so often present in “Star Wars” films, even if her skill set comes from a different place than someone like Leia or Rose.
L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge)
We’re used to viewing Lando Calrissian as a lone gun, all swagger and big capes and “oops, sorry I sold you out to Darth Vader, can you ever forgive me?,” but “Solo” finds a clever way to introduce his sidekick, who ends up stealing the show. Yes, Lando had a droid, and the witty robot is voiced (and performance-captured) by no less than “Fleabag” breakout Phoebe Waller-Bridge. As L3-37, Waller-Bridge is tasked with creating a sarcastic character (those droids, nothing but attitude) who also has her own motivations, and a healthy taste for rebellion.
“Solo” might take place just before the actual Rebel Alliance gets cooking, but L3 (as she’s most often called) has already got some major ideas about oppression, the patriarchy, resistance, and how resistance can make big changes possible. She’s a revolutionary, and she wants to free the droids from their masters, even nice masters like Lando, who L3 appears to have some feelings for (yes, she’s a rabble-rouser and she’s got a sexual appetite). She’s also an ace co-pilot in possession of the best navigation computer in the universe. When we first meet her, she’s trying to free a tiny droid that’s been drafted into cage-fighting for cash.
Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt)
“Solo” also boasts a female villain who looms large over both Han and Qi’ra’s early years: “foul” Lady Proxima, a slave boss who has snapped up all of Corellia’s hungry and poor (mostly kids, it seems), only to draft them into her service. She’s a classic bad guy, a big meanie who uses their influence and power to enslave those far worse off than her (kind of like the worst teacher or headmistress you can imagine — Miss Trunchbull on spacey steroids). But despite her sprawling orphan hideout and panache for chunky jewelry, it’s hard to shake the sense that she’s a relatively small-scale operator. Han double-crosses her while out on a mission for her, and nearly gets away with it, too — the trouble comes when he goes back for Qi’ra, who we come to understand has also spent much of her youth working for Lady Proxima.
She’s also not human. Voiced by Linda Hunt — that Linda Hunt, star of “Kindergarten Cop” and “Silverado,” “She-Devil” and “Dune” — Proxima is a fairly large, water-dwelling snake creature, like a massive centipede who enjoys spending time in hot tubs, wearing scores of stolen wares. She’s only seen in the first act of the film, but her influence over Han and who he becomes is apparent. And when Qi’ra reunites with Han, there’s a hint that she’s been unable to fully break those changes, and Proxima may still have some kind of hold on her.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” will be released in theaters on May 25.