Okay, so here's the thing- I really, really love Qi'ra. She gets overlooked a lot (Solo in general does), but I think she's a really compelling character. She's so interesting and mysterious, and definitely a character I'm dying to see more of. So, I thought since the anniversary of Solo was just this past week, this was a good chance to write about her.
On the odd chance that people do talk about Qi'ra, one thing I notice is how many people seem to be lost on what her motivations are. Particularly with the very end of her story in the movie, she seems to have so many conflicting ideas and do actions that appear to contradict each other, it's really hard to make out what she's thinking and honestly, who she even is. Maybe the novelization clears it up (I haven't read it, unfortunately) but I'd like to offer my own thoughts on Qi'ra and the end of Solo. In my view, all of her actions perfectly make sense with the way I interpret it, but I of course would like to know what other people think about it.
I think what some people see Qi'ra's actions at the end of Solo is a betrayal of Han. She leaves Han out on his own after she promises that she'll gather wealth for them, calls Maul and becomes a new Crimson Dawn leader to replace Dryden Vos. On the surface of it, it does seem like she's taken a cruel, selfish action, and only spared Han because of her soft spot for him.
But I don't see it like that at all. Instead, I see what Qi'ra does here as incredibly selfless. In one of the earlier scenes, Qi'ra tells Han (despite his protests) that he's "the good guy." Han has a heart too kind for the criminal underworld, and he's too ignorant about what that life entails. In the elevator before their confrontation with Vos, he talks about how they're going to win- though Qi'ra says that it's not that kind of game. You don't win, you just survive for as long as you can. She doesn't say this out of anger or frustration with him, she just seems... sad and resigned. This is the life she knows, and because she loves Han, she doesn't want him pulled into it.
Qi'ra's past with Crimson Dawn is pretty mysterious. We know that she's had to do horrible things, just not exactly what they are. But whatever they are, we know that they're enough to make her too ashamed to talk about, out of fear that it will completely change Han's view of her. We also know that she's been branded by Crimson Dawn, almost like she's more property of them than she is her own, autonomous person. She doesn't relish in the life she lives, she doesn't find it to be an exciting adventure filled with opportunity like Han naively seems to. At every chance, she tries to discourage Han from getting too involved, but it doesn't work. So, her actions at the end of Solo are her last effort to push him away from getting involved in the world of crime syndicates. She's in too deep, but at least she can save him from her fate.
But still- why take over Crimson Dawn and join with Maul? Why not go with Han so she can continue to encourage him to lead a more honest life, run away and live quietly together, hiding for safety?
Well first- Qi'ra feels stuck. Whether she could realistically escape whatever bounty hunters would be sent her way doesn't matter in terms of her motivations, what matters is that she feels she has no choice. She's been branded, she's done whatever range of awful things that make her feel too ashamed to go elsewhere. Qi'ra doesn't feel like she has- or deserves- a place in the rest of the galaxy without Crimson Dawn. To her, leaving with Han just wasn't something that could happen. It was an unrealistic dream, but not a real option for her.
Second- taking over Crimson Dawn was protecting Han. If you watch that last scene, she doesn't seem happy at all or excited about her prospective power. She doesn't have the genuine smiles she had with Han, she doesn't get the starry-eyed expression she had when she first saw the coaxium in the movie's prologue. She just seems, like she was in the elevator, sad and resigned. This isn't about power to her, this is about how she can protect Han. And this is the best way to do so. If she ran off with Han, then Maul and whoever he hired would hunt for her, and him by association. Dryden dead and Qi'ra missing isn't a good look, and I find it doubtful that Crimson Dawn would give up. By taking the lead herself, Qi'ra can steer Maul and anyone else away from Han, focus them on other issues and make sure that Han is safe and left alone.
She's not happy. But she's doing this so Han will be. And to me, that's incredibly selfless of her.