WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story, in theaters now.
The friendship between Han Solo and Chewbacca is a cornerstone of the Star Wars universe. It's a bond that spans the beloved franchise, from their introduction in a seedy cantina in 1977's A New Hope to their emotional reunion with the Millennium Falcon in 2015's The Force Awakens. During that time, the two grew from smugglers to heroes of first the Rebellion and, eventually, the Resistance. As expected, Solo: A Star Wars Story takes audiences back to the very beginning of this important relationship.
But in its retelling, director Ron Howard's film significantly alters the foundation of their decades-long partnership, for the better.
According to Star Wars tradition, both canon and Expanded Universe/Legends lore, Chewbacca's bond with Han began out of obligation rather than true friendship. In those stories, following the birth of the Galactic Empire, Chewbacca and other Wookiees from Kashyyyk were enslaved, and their renowned physical strength utilized in such places as the mines of Kessel. Chewie was put to work in the fields to help feed the Imperial military.
At some point, though, Han freed him from slavery and, as is Wookiee custom, Chewie then swore a life oath to protect Han. In other words, he's paying off a debt. That dynamic obviously changed over the years, but still it was a relationship rooted in obligation, even servitude.
Solo rectifies that. In the film, a young Corporal Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) seeks to escape Imperial military service on Mimban and join up with Tobias Beckett's rag-tag criminal crew, themselves disguised as soldiers. Beckett (Woody Harrelson) doesn't take kindly to Han's attempts at blackmail, so the criminal rats out the corporal's intentions to abandon his squadron. As a result, Han is thrown in prison, sentenced to a fight to the death with a "monster," who of course turns out to be Chewbacca.
Han convinces Chewie to trust him and, after faking the fight, the two escape. Han takes Chewie to Tobias' fleeing ship, and the criminal mentor, impressed with their fortitude, inducts them into his gang. They quickly become best friends due to their shared predicament: They're both lost souls trying to make a little cash, and find their way back home to the people they love.
It's a smart, and subtle, bit of retroactive continuity, as it packs greater sentimental punch than Chewbacca owing a life debt to Han. Writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan introduce a bond based in trust, rather than in obligation.
Their loyalty to each other comes full circle later, when Han, Chewie & Co. free the enslaved miners on Kessel, including other Wookiees. Here, just when it looks as if Chewie has abandoned Han to liberate prisoners, he returns to save Han from death. When the former slaves beckon Chewbacca to join them, he turns down the offer without hesitation, and remains with Han, recognizing the young man isn't only a kindred spirit, but "a good guy," after all.
Directed by Ron Howard from a script by Lawrence and Jon Kasdan, Solo: A Star Wars Story stars Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo, Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra and Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca. They’re joined by Thandie Newton as Val, Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37, Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos and Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett. The film is in theaters nationwide.