Star Wars novelizations have a long history of expanding on and enhancing the movies they adapt—whether through new material added to clarify moments in a film’s narrative unseen on screen, or to give us insight into earlier iterations of the final product. Mur Lafferty’s Solo novelization is no exception. Here are a few extra layers it adds.
While we basically get to skip 99 percent of Han’s time with the Empire in the movie, the novel dives a touch deeper into his training. Or rather, specifically, we get to learn what gets him sent to the mud planet of Mimban in the first place. Just like in the old Expanded Universe, Han was a bit of rogue at the Academy, his loose attitude bristling against the order and subservience that the Empire demands of its recruits.
Han ignores a direct order in order to the save the life of a squadmate during a flight exercise, which ends with him careening a ship into the hangar bay of a Star Destroyer. The poor boy is hauled before an Imperial Tribunal—featuring the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-ian EU characters Tag and Bink, who were once going to be in Solo but were cut—and promptly shipped off to do grunt work on Mimban.
The novel also delves further into Qi’ra’s past after she is hauled back to Lady Proxima’s gang in the wake of her failed escape attempt...and it’s very, very grim.
Basically, before she ever met Dryden or the Crimson Dawn syndicate, Lady Proxima actually sold Qi’ra to a slaver, who then sold her into the servitude of Dryden Vos. After making several violent escape attempts, Vos saw potential in Qi’ra and elevated her to his lieutenant, training her to be his assassin—even convincing her to hunt down the slaver that sold her—and offering her a life of luxuries...even if she was technically still a slave.
The novel also adds a little more about Qi’ra knowledge of Darth Maul as Crimson Dawn’s leader, something Lafferty herself alluded to ahead of the novelization’s release. Qi’ra had spoken to Maul once before her holo-call during the film’s climax, so she was aware of his existence and status, but the conversation we see in the film is indeed the first time she realizes that Maul has force powers. This is very scary considering she now has to go and work alongside him.
L3-37's death and integration into the Millennium Falcon’s computer systems is one of the weirdest and darkest moments of Solo—especially given that the film establishes her as an ardent supporter of droid sentience and liberation. So the idea of her being trapped inside a ship’s systems instead of her own body raises chilling questions the film doesn’t have time to answer.
The novelization attempts to downplay L3's loss of autonomy with a final moment before her mind is absorbed into the Falcon’s systems. She accepts that being one with a clunky but speedy and resilient ship is “tolerable,” but not before it twists the knife by giving her a final goodbye with Lando, croaked out over a text interface. It’s grim because not only does it remind you that yes, L3 is basically becoming the slave she always feared being, but it doesn’t actually ruminate on what that means. Hell, Lando even downplays it, telling L3 she’s not a slave, only to literally moments later tell her that it’s impossible to remove her from the confines of the Falcon’s computers when she asks if she can be freed.
It also further goes on to remove some of the nebulousness of her new form the film left open to interpretation by confirming that L3 doesn’t remain as L3 when she is merged to the Falcon, but “dies” and merges into the current system to create a new form that isn’t really her. So really, if you had dark thoughts about what L3's sacrifice in Solo meant, the novel makes them even darker. Oof.
Solo is a fine movie, but one of the most awfully contrived things it does is attempt to give a reason for Han’s name, which is pointless because his name should just be Han Solo because that’s his name. But before I send myself spiraling into a fit of incandescent rage, the novelization at least adds a bit more to this moment than the film had, in which a random Imperial recruiter suddenly decides that, as Han is alone when he signs up, he’s Han “Solo.”
Han himself gets a little more agency in the decision in the novel, as he thinks about how he has “no people,” between having just immediately lost Qi’ra and being distanced from his biological parents. It’s still very, very contrived though.
The revelation that Enfys Nest is hunting coaxium fuel to aid the burgeoning Rebellion helps bring Solo into the larger patina of the “Rise of the Empire” period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. But the epilogue of the novel goes one step further to specifically tie Enfys and her Cloud Riders to one part of that alliance in particular: Rogue One’s Saw Gerrera.
The epilogue sees Enfys deliver the Coaxium that Han gave her to Saw and his Partisans, establishing a relationship with the group...but it also brings Enfys into a chance meeting with a young Jyn Erso, just 12 years old at the time of Solo. The two acknowledge each other as underestimated young women the galaxy will one day rue for doubting—but perhaps beyond this meeting, there’s more stories to tell of Enfys and her connections to the different cells of the Alliance to Restore the Republic.