I’m late to the party I guess, but here are some assorted thoughts on Solo: A Star Wars Story and more general Star Wars musings.
- Solo is fine. We’re fine. We’re all fine here, now, thank you. How are you? It’s a movie that doesn’t need to exist and maybe Star Wars should be more than just fine, but that’s where we’re at. Even the stuff I don’t like is mostly fine.
- When Solo was announced, the general consensus was that it was a pretty dumb idea and that no one really cared about, but then they went and hired Phil Lord and Chris Miller, people who have literally made their career out of taking the dumbest ideas ever and making good to great movies out of them (I mean, 21 Jump Street wasn’t a movie anyone thought would work, and they made it good, then made 22 Jump Street and it was still good. Also: The Lego Movie.) For some reason, Disney let them get to like 3 weeks before filming was scheduled to end, then fired them and hired Ron Howard to reshoot 70% of the film and make it safe or something. As mentioned above, the result is cromulent I guess, but I’d still be really curious to see what Lord and Miller’s version looked like. A comedy heist Star Wars flick could have been a ton of fun. I feel like the version we got was toned down, with any edges shaved off. But who knows? It’s really easy for us to second guess the decision, but it’s actually quite possible that Lord and Miller had finally reached a breaking point and failed to convert a bad idea into a good film. Their reputation is good and they probably got out of this better than if their film was actually released because now everyone is questioning Disney’s decision.
- Maybe I should talk about the actual movie, eh? Spoilers aho! So we start off on Corellia with Han as basically a street urchin doing the bidding of
FaginLady Proxima, but he’s just stolen a valuable bit of merchandise and hopes to escape with Qi’ra. Of course, things don’t go as planned, Qi’ra is captured and Han only escapes by joining the Imperial Navy. After flunking out of pilot school, he becomes an infantryman and during some battle or another he runs into Beckett and immediately figures out that he’s a criminal of some kind, but gets thrown into jail and fed to some horrifying monster that turns out to be Chewbacca. Naturally, they hit it off and eventually catch up with Beckett and participate in their planned heist, which does not go well thanks to a rival crew lead by one Enfys Nest. Beckett goes to his boss, who tells him he needs to get some space fuel and fast, so another heist is planned. Oh, and it turns out that Qi’ra is working for Beckett’s boss, that’s convenient. They recruit Lando Calrissian and his droid L3-37 because they have a ship, the Millenium Falcon. Then they go to Kessel, resulting in the infamous Kessel Run. Once they return, they get another runin with Enfys Nest and things come to a head with Beckett’s boss. Betrayals and intrigue, etc… It’s all fine.
- I know that there was an aesthetic choice to forgo the opening crawl in the non-numbered Star Wars Stories, but this movie literally starts with multiple screens of textual introduction and it’s like, why not use the already established Star Wars convention of a crawl to accomplish that? This is a quibble to be sure, but the crawl is one of those things that is so distinctly Star Wars that it seemed weird to avoid it in this case (the lack of a crawl didn’t bother me too much with Rogue One, so it’s not like every movie has to have a crawl, but it seemed appropriate here).
- Alden Ehrenreich is fine as Han Solo. He doesn’t really remind you of Harrison Ford, but that actually kinda works in this movie’s favor. He’s perhaps not as charismatic as Ford was in the originals, but that’s an impossible comparison, so I’d say he’s charismatic enough. There are some interesting relationships here which kinda lead to the Han Solo we know, though the character arc in this movie feels incomplete and a little incongrous with the original film. When we first met Han Solo in Star Wars, he was kinda selfish and cynical, but his arc in that film is to be convinced to care again by Luke and Leia and to hop onboard with the Rebellion (an arc that continues throughout the original trilogy). When we meet Han in this film, he’s kinda naive and optimistic. He’s got a girl and things are looking up. Even once that falls through, he’s optimistic that he’ll be reunited with her. And he is! There’s some interesting stuff there too, as we’re not really sure what Qi’ra’s been doing since they’ve been separated, but Han seems excited to be around her again. Beckett keeps telling him he’s a fool for trusting anyone, which makes for another interesting relationship. The end of Solo works well enough, but it leaves too many loose threads with respect to Han’s arc. Beckett’s betray is probably the best portrayed, and that bit about Han shooting him first is one of the few pieces of fan service that actually works really well. You can see Han hardening a bit with Beckett. Qi’ra’s relationship is left a little unclear, and one of the problems with the movie is that it’s clearly setting up for a sequel where Qi’ra more thoroughly breaks Han’s heart. As it is, Han actually supports the Rebellion at the end of this film, which means that while he’s hardened a bit, he hasn’t quite reached the cynicism that we know he’ll reach by Star Wars. I would much rather this have been a self-contained film where we see all of this, because the result, while fine, is not quite as satisfying.
- Lando is great and Donald Glover does a good job walking the line between doing his own thing and utilizing the affect of Billy Dee Williams (particularly the way he talks). Lando’s droid L3-37 is one of the more entertaining bits of the film, but also one of the more confounding characters. She’s got this whole droid rights thing going on which is actually a kinda interesting thing in the Star Wars universe because droids are legit treated like slaves, but it’s all sorta played as a joke? Then she’s killed and uploaded into the Millenium Falcon (against her will?) Still, I liked the interactions between Lando and L3 and thought many of this worked reasonably well. I’m not sure I’d actually want to see a Lando movie with Han Solo as a side character, but I suspect that might have been more original and interesting than the film we got.
- The fan service bits were mostly terrible. I know that Han Solo’s dice was a neat little detail in the set dressing from the original film (supposedly a reference to American Graffiti, a film in which Lucas and Ford worked previously) and I guess it made a bit of sense in The Last Jedi because Han was gone and we needed something to remember him by, but man, we don’t need this much of the dice. Similarly, we absolutely do not need a scene where Han gets assigned the last name Solo… it’s a pretty cringe-worthy moment. I guess it was nice to see Sabacc being played, but it’s a difficult thing to film and it mostly only works because we see Lando cheating. I didn’t really need to see the Kessel run either. Fans had long since retconned the whole “made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” mistake (and it definitely was a mistake), so seeing it onscreen didn’t really add anything. Similarly, we’ve always known that Han won the Millenium Falcon from Lando in a game of chance, so actually seeing it play out isn’t that exciting. None of this is actively bad (well, the name thing is pretty terrible), but it’s all the sort of thing that’s probably better in our imaginations than it was on screen.
- The film does have a couple of heists that are pretty entertaining. I mean, no, it’s not going to stand up as one of the best heist films or anything, but it adds a nice bit of flavor to the Star Wars universe. The first heist with the train is a bit confusing in conception (why is this stuff on a train? Why does Val have to die?) but it’s a well executed action sequence. Despite not needing to see the Kessel run, it was also well executed and I liked seeing unexpected stuff like a giant, tentacled, Lovecraftian space-monster being thrown at our heroes. The post-heist machinations had some good bits of business too, with Beckett’s betrayal and Han’s anticipation of such, and so on. Again, not going to be the first heist flick I reach for but… it’s fine.
- Enfys Nest is kinda interesting, but again suffers from what I assume are some sequel setup issues. The character design and costumes are great. How she keeps getting the drop on Beckett and his crew is unexplained and a little weird. The reveal when she takes off her mask is well shot, but leads you to believe that something of major import is being revealed, but really we’re just supposed to be surprised that it’s a girl with freckles? At first I was curious if we were supposed to already know who this person is (and I know some have made some connection between Enfys Nest and Saw Gerrera, but that’s stretching it), but no, it’s just playing the reveal of a female as a surprise. Further, she explains that this criminal syndicate that Beckett and Solo are working for is supporting the Empire and she’s part of a sorta Proto-Rebellion. This makes no sense though, since Beckett and Solo were stealing from the Empire. I dunno, maybe they were doing the Heat thing where the Empire gets their stuff stolen, gets pain insurance, then buys back their stuff for half price or somesuch? Or maybe Enfys Nest is lying and we’ll find out in a sequel and that will be one of the things that leads to Han’s disillusioned cynicism? Either way, it doesn’t really work in this movie.
- So there’s a cameo at the end that was completely unnecessary and I’m sure confusing for some folks. Yes, Darth Maul is the head of the crime syndicate and Qi’ra is working for him, but the scene was just so blatantly angling for a sequel that it really left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s also the first time Disney also implied that you needed to know more than the films to understand what’s going on… (Maul survived his bisection in Episode I and came back in the Clone Wars and Rebels TV series) This all feels like a mistake.
- Solo has done incredibly bad at the box office. This is likely due to a multitude of factors, such as being so close to the last Star Wars film, having so much competition from similar blockbusters all around it, and perhaps even a follow-on effect of some whiny fans that didn’t like Last Jedi. The loss of Lord and Miller couldn’t have helped either. I mean, obviously I saw it, but my enthusiasm was lessened.
- Speaking of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I revisited that film in preparation for Solo, and I think it mostly still holds up. A few additional thoughts on that film: It strikes me as being the first modern Star Wars film that’s as conversant with cinema in the same way as the original Star Wars. Johnson is clearly making references to Kurosawa here, this time Rashomon (Luke and Ben’s version of the same stories) and Ran (the striking use of red in a battle sequence) rather than The Hidden Fortress (R2-D2 and C-3PO bumbling through the series) in the originals. Even the Canto Bight sequence has this dolly shot that is clearly inspired by Wings, and it’s a very nice shot. I do still think that Canto Bight sequence is poorly conceived and executed, but the nuts and bolts filmmaking still works (and there’s lots of other cinematic references too). Poe Dameron’s story and the whole fleet escape plot has waned a bit in my estimation, though it’s still functional and entertaining enough. I like Poe’s arc here, but it could have been better illustrated. The more I think about it, the more annoyed I am that they killed Admiral Ackbar the way they did. Laura Dern’s a great actress and I like her in this movie, but it would have been more resonant to use a character we knew in that situation, and the whole Holdo Maneuver thing would have been more effective coming from Ackbar. Instead we’re simply told that Ackbar was among those who perished in an offhand manner. Annoying. The Luke, Rey, and Ben/Kylo sections are still my favorite parts of the movie. Johnson actually does a really good job editing these three plotlines together, even if one of them is redundant and unnecessary (again, nuts and bolts filmmaking chops are present here, even when something isn’t working). Ultimately I still enjoy the movie quite a bit and I’m really thankful that Johnson has cleared the path to do something new with the series. Will Episode IX actually fulfill that potential?
- I’m still waiting, Disney. Pristine HD/UHD 4K transfers of the originals please, and none of that special edition bullshit. You had Han learn to shoot first in Solo, please restore that (and dozens of other things) in the originals. Some people have mentioned that there are some legal things that need to be worked out with Fox, but I’ve also heard that they’ve held back from releasing the original movies because George Lucas doesn’t want them released. I guess that’s honorable in its own way, but come on. It’s clear there’s a desire for these things. Solo isn’t making much money, so if you want a little boost going into Episode IX, this is a surefire way to get it. Search your feelings, you know it to be true!
So there you have it.
Update: Added a couple of thoughts. I knew I forgot something..