When Han Solo meets Qi’ra after three years, she is working for the Crimson Dawn. Her past remains mysterious for the most part, and she never tells Han clearly what was it she had done since their separation on Corellia. The film “Solo” never tells explicitly any details, and the audience is left as much in dark as Han is.
There are enough clues that show broad outline of what Qi’ra had been through. She is now Dryden Vos’s “top lieutenant”, he had taught her in the martial art of teräs käsi, she seems to have no problem with killing sentient beings. Her general disposition seems to be to do what needs to be done to survive. Even Beckett evaluates her that way, as a survivor. It is clearly manifested when she decides to side with the Crimson Dawn, after some visible deliberation.
Yet Another Innocent Girl Becoming A Victim?
There is one element of Qi’ra’s story that has been causing some discomfort to at least some of the fans. It all stems from her relationship with Dryden, where she is clearly in the role of a victim. Yes, she ultimately frees herself from him, through an act of her own will, but it still poses questions otherwise. The main objection I have encountered is – isn’t Qi’ra’s story yet another stereotypical tale of a girl who becomes a victim of a dominant, abusive man – maybe becoming his victim, abused also sexually?
Surely there have been more than enough stories like this in films, books and TV. Think how often you have encountered the trope where an innocent young girl ends up as a helpless victim of a “bad guy”. It doesn’t matter whether she ultimately frees herself – the “happy end” does not undo the psychic and perhaps also physical damage she has received. It does not make up for the large part of the story where the heroine remains in a passive role, as the helpless victim.
Does “Solo” Break The Stereotype?
One could argue that “Solo” does not show this part. When Qi’ra is on screen, she is the active proponent of her own destiny. And she definitely handles her situation brilliantly. She actively helps Han and Beckett’s team, she convinces Dryden to give them a chance, saving them from certain death; she saves Han again by killing Dryden. She decides to become a lieutenant of the Crimson Dawn. Maybe she is choosing from options limited by her situation, but she does choose, not passively wait for someone else to determine her destiny. She is neither a princess in a tower waiting for Han in shiny armour to save her, nor a suffering, helpless slave to a crime lord.
But the hints are still there. Thankfully, there is no sob story, no flashbacks to cruel scenes from her first encounters with the Crimson Dawn. Nevertheless, Qi’ra still tells Han that he “could not look at her the way he does” if he knew her recent past. Is it really any better? Many of the audience will imagine Qi’ra being picked up from the streets of Corellia by Dryden according to the old, too-often-repeated archetype: the evil, abusive man posing as a saviour to a girl who has nowhere else to go, so she has no choice. Of course she does whatever he wants – often also becoming his lover – because the other option is starving to death or being thrown into the mines on Kessel.
If this is the story of Dryden and Qi’ra – then we definitely have a reason to frown at the storywriters for picking up such a cheap and overused cliché. What more – for all the attempts to give more space to female characters, to make them “cool” and interesting role models, the entire effort is brought down to nothing by pushing the lead female into the role of a victim (possibly sexual victim as well), even if it’s only in her past.
Is It Qi’ra, Or Is It Us?
I would like to give the filmmakers and screenwriters the benefit of doubt – at least in certain aspects. In the worst possible case, Qi’ra’s story is that of a street kid, “saved” by Dryden Vos who forced her to become his henchwoman and probably also a lover against her will (in other words, who raped her), and all the boasts about being Dryden’s “top lieutenant” is just a condescending, but purely nominal label based on Dryden’s whim. Siding with Maul in the end might have been only trading one kind of servitude for another (hopefully without the sexual aspect, at least).
But what is the best possible case? Well, there is nothing that would prevent us from interpreting Qi’ra’s life in the best possible light. We can’t avoid the part about her being the victim, but can we at least avoid making her the victim of sexual abuse? For such a grave topic, this trope has been over-used and treated as a cheap plot device too often.
It may be that many who had imagined such elements in Qi’ra’s past have unwittingly succumbed to the existence of the trope itself, and expected it where it was not necessarily present. The way Qi’ra talks about her past does not necessarily indicate anything of sexual nature. It seems to be the tendency of people, when a woman hints at “terrible things she was forced to do in the past”, to assume something of sexual nature. But, seriously, why? If Qi’ra were a man, it would probably not have crossed our mind at all.
So What “Terrible Things”?
There are many other things that might have made Han “never look at Qi’ra the same way again”. Imagine if, while working for the Crimson Dawn, she had to coerce debtors by threatening to kill their children. Isn’t that more fitting to the definition of something “terrible” one had to do?
Besides, at least as far as Dryden Vos is concerned, when Han asks “are you with him?”, Qi’ra denies (and there is no reason not to trust her). Now we may ask what does it mean – they may not have an official relationship, but it does not rule out anything else. In the best case, Dryden’s all-too-friendly behaviour towards Qi’ra may be just a condescending attitude towards a female employee (objectively, not much better, but still a huge difference from him actually forcing her to his bed).
Whatever the case, Qi’ra’s and Dryden’s relationship and the gray area of Qi’ra’s past remain something the film could have handled differently. If only to avoid the all-too-often repeated trope, but more importantly, to avoid trivializing abuse and victimization of women in general. Whenever such a thing appears on-screen, I can’t but ask myself the question: Is this really necessary?