One of the most essential publications that goes along with each Star Wars movie is the visual dictionary, written by Pablo Hidalgo of the Lucasfilm story group.
In these visual dictionaries there are a ton of interesting tidbits and factoids that are shared that add to our understanding of the movie and of the universe it is set in, so there’s a lot to digest and learn from. The visual dictionary for Solo: A Star Wars Story is no different, as there’s a lot there that adds to our understanding of the context, setting, and universe of the very fun and fantastic film.
To celebrate the home release of Solo, I’ve put together twelve tidbits from the book that I found particularly interesting, but I strongly recommend picking up the visual dictionary for yourself to read much more!
1. Clarifying the timeline
The movie itself actually does a pretty good job of putting forth the timeline for the events, as we know that there’s a three-year jump in-between Han’s leaving Corellia and the rest of the events in the film. To better add to our understanding of these things, however, Hidalgo has a timeline at the beginning of the book (8-9) that is based on the Kessel Run (i.e. using “Before Kessel Run” as the basis for determining dates). We learn that Han was born around 22 BKR, which obviously makes him 22 years old when he set the record. We also learn that he was around the age of eight when he first joined the White Worms gang on Corellia, and that he was 19 years old when he escaped from Corellia and joined the Imperial Navy. We also learn that Qi’ra is 18 years old when we meet her as a part of the White Worms at the beginning of the film (making her 21 during the rest of the film’s events), and Qi’ra had risen to the rank of “Head Girl” in the gang (25).
2. Han’s lucky dice
Many people were surprised to see Han’s lucky dice at the very beginning of the film, as they had long been rumored to be the dice he used to win the Millennium Falcon. The movie changed that, however, and so the visual dictionary explains the significance of the dice: they’re Han’s good luck charm. Hidalgo writes, “As a good luck charm, Han carries with him a pair of aurodium-plated chance cubes. They are used in the Corellian Spike variation of sabacc, where a roll of doubles triggers card shuffles. They soon find a home on the landspeeder’s windshield” (19). That’s certainly a change from what was expected, but we now have the answer as to why they mean so much to Han: they’re his good luck charm.
3. Tarkin’s influence
Grand Moff Tarkin is one of the Empire’s most influential figures, so while he doesn’t appear in the movie he does have an influence on the universe the movie is set in. Tarkin, who was the regional governor of the Outer Rim territories, ordered that “all regional governors must increase production in the factories, mines, and shipyards within their sectors, to help fuel the Imperial war machine” (39). This has a significant impact on Mimban (among others), as regional governor Moff Bin Essada “demands that all resources be stripped from bountiful Mimban” (19). The planet has “deep mineral deposits” that have attracted miners throughout the years, but the locals protest (38). So that gives us an idea as to why the locals are revolting against the Imperial forces on the planet. So even though we don’t hear about Tarkin in the film, it was his decree that led to Mimban being stripped of their mineral resources and, consequently, led to the locals revolting – and led to Han being assigned there as a member of the Imperial infantry.
4. The Imperial infantry
As we saw on Mimban, there were plenty of Imperial infantry soldiers fighting alongside stormtroopers. If you wondered why there were Imperial infantry soldiers who weren’t stormtroopers, the visual dictionary has an answer for you. Basically, as soon as the Galactic Empire rose to power “The Empire [began] its military expansion, phasing out clones for patriotic recruits and turning civilian shipyards into military factories” (9). That happened right away, but it was a gradual transition. And nine years later, that transition was still ongoing. Hidalgo writes that, “Many soldiers in the Imperial Army were members of local planetayr forces who took up arms during the Clone Wars and have since been conscripted into Imperial service. The Imperial Army is gradually being upgraded and replaced with stormtrooper ranks, but for now, regular infantry fight side by side with stormtroopers” (44). That’s where Han finds himself after getting kicked out of the Imperial flight academy, as the Empire didn’t want to have wasted money on him so instead sends him to fight in their infantry. But the reason he doesn’t just become a stormtrooper is that the Empire hadn’t yet made the total transition and were still relying on infantry soldiers to do a lot of the dirty work alongside stormtroopers.
5. How Chewbacca wound up on Mimban
We know that the Empire took control of Kashyyyk and took Wookiees captive to use as slaves, as we saw Sagwa and other Wookiees in the Spice Mines of Kessel, for instance. But that’s not what happened to Chewbacca. He wasn’t captured by the Empire nor was he used for slave labor; instead, he was betrayed by a bounty hunter. As Hidalgo reveals, “Betrayal by a greedy bounty hunter has landed Chewbacca in Imperial custody on Mimban. The local Imperial officers there have neither the resources nor the inclination to process the prisoner and send him back to Kashyyyk. Instead, they keep the filthy, famished Wookiee shackled in a mud-filled pen” (50). That is a significantly different backstory than what perhaps many presumed, as Chewie wasn’t enslaved by the Empire and rounded up like so many others of his people. Instead, on the run and not welcomed on Kashyyyk, Chewie befriended a bounty hunter (probably working with him or her), but didn’t anticipate said bounty hunter betraying him for profit.
6. Chewbacca’s mission
When we find Chewie in Solo, he’s obviously captured and is imprisoned by the Empire on Mimban. But he’s also on a mission, one that is important to the survival of his people. Hidalgo writes:
“Wookiees from the forest world of Kashyyyk have been rounded up by the Empire for use as slave labor. Tribes are broken apart as Wookiees are taken to distant star systems, far from their homeworld. Chewie has escaped this fate, but is now a fugitive, looking for his scattered people. In the process, he has once again found himself a prisoner of the Empire.” (50)
What we learn here is that Chewie is on a mission to try to find his people and reunite them. This informs his actions in the Kessel mine, as he temporarily leaves Han to go to the aid of some other Wookiees. After helping them, however, he returns to be with Han. It also adds weight to Chewie’s decision to stay with Han and not leave with the other Wookiees, and it makes the whole story of Han and Chewie’s fight to liberate Kashyyyk a decade later even more satisfying.
7. Rio’s Backstory
One of the most beneficial things about these Visual Dictionaries is the opportunity to learn more about some of the secondary characters in the films, like in this case Rio Durant. The four-armed Ardennian serves as the pilot of Beckett’s crew for the mission to Vandor, but we learn more about him here. We know that he, along with Val, makes up Beckett’s core crew, but we learn here that he has actually “carried out dangerous operations alongside Beckett since the early days of their criminal careers” (57). So Rio goes way back with Beckett, which makes it even more tragic when on the same mission Beckett loses both Val and Rio. But we also learn that Rio actually fought in the Clone Wars, as he was a part of the Freedom’s Sons, which was “an independent army that assisted the Republic in the Clone Wars” (57). One thing that I had never really considered a whole lot is that during this time period there were surely plenty of veterans of the Clone Wars, just like there are veterans of wars here on earth, living and adjusting to the modern climate. We don’t think about that a whole lot in Star Wars, but especially during the period that Solo is set in, it probably is quite prevalent. Most people were probably affected by the war at least somewhat, and many likely took up arms to protect worlds or fight in the war.
8. Learning about coaxium
The McGuffin in the film is coaxium, a very rare and precious resource that is highly-coveted. So what exactly is it? The Visual Dictionary helps bring more clarity, though the movie did touch on it. We read that “It is an essential fuel for hyperspace travel. A thin coating of coaxium lines a ship’s hyperdrive reaction chamber, and when energized allows for transit into the dimension of hyperspace” (62). That’s helpful in making clear just what exactly coaxium is – but the Visual Dictionary also discusses its origins, and the answer is sure to make any fan of Star Wars: Rebels interested. In the show we were introduced to the purrgil, a species of space whales that could travel into hyperspace, and which we learn were crucial in helping the early pioneers first discover hyperspace travel. As fans of the show know, the purrgil play a very crucial role in one key moment of the series finale in particular. But the secret to the purrgil is this: coaxium! As we read in the Visual Dictionary, “Ancient spacefarers discovered coaxium in the organs of purrgil – huge space-traveling creatures. The purrgil inhale space gases containing traces of the gas Clouzon-36, which they metabolize into a hypermatter fuel. This enables them to jump into hyperspace” (62). I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a very reasonable and cool answer, but it’s also really cool to see these relatively minor connections between Star Wars storytelling that are made much more significant by other stories. That’s really awesome.
9. The Falcon’s history
What we know of the Millennium Falcon so far: Lando Calrissian owned the vehicle before losing it to Han Solo. But what about the ship before Lando? Well, it’s seen in Revenge of the Sith briefly, but we know nothing about the ship before Lando took over. The Visual Dictionary does tell us a little bit about the modifications that Lando made and the vision he had for his ship, however: “Calrissian saw how powerful its frieght-pushing engines were, so he convereted the ship into his own speedy sports vessel. Lando modified the two cargo mandibles at the front into an auxiliary ship launch, turning the plain freighter into a unique starship” (94). So we know that Lando has made plenty of special modifications to it himself, but how long has he owned it? To be fair the book doesn’t directly state it, but it at least hints that Lando may only have owned the ship for two years, as we read: “After two years of modifications and customization, Lando now considers the sleek and stylish Millennium Falcon his crowning achievement” (94). So has Lando only owned the ship for around two years? The book doesn’t specifically say, but that’s certainly the implication.
10. The Kessel Run
One of the most helpful things that these Visual Dictionaries provide is maps. There’s always a map of the galaxy with relevant planets to help readers understand where in the galaxy planets like Savareen, Kessel, Corellia, Mimban, and Vandor are located, especially relative to other planets that we’re familiar with in Star Wars. But this Visual Dictionary also had another map that proved helpful: a map of the Kessel Run. It was explained in the movie, but the map also helps to visualize how Han saved so much time in his record-breaking Kessel Run.
So as you can see, there’s a standard route for getting to Kessel through the maelstrom, which surrounds the planet. This is the route that the Falcon takes in the film on the approach into Kessel, as they cruise through these tunnel-looking pathways. That’s the safest, standard route. Typically, this route takes travelers around twenty parsecs, but if one wants to shave off some time from that number then they must brave some of the maelstrom and attempt to take some shortcuts. But Han Solo decided to not just cut some corners but to simply take the most direct route, flying right through the maelstrom and encountering a summa-verminoth (a creature of legend) and the maw. This map helps visualize Han’s daring and record-breaking Kessel Run.