Solo is the Star Wars movie I was pretty sure we didn’t need, and I knew I didn’t want. Now that we have it though, I am pretty pleased. Basically, I went into the movie with little to no expectations, and came out happy with the latest addition to the Star Wars lore. The film is by no means perfect, but overall, it was enjoyable and fun.
Solo takes place roughly ten years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, and follows the escapades of a young Han Solo (played by Alden Ehrenreich). In the beginning of the film, Han is a scumrat, completing small time jobs for Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt) and her crime syndicate (which basically runs the Corellian underworld). His plan to pull a double cross and escape off world with his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), ends up going south, when he is able to escape, but she gets caught and taken back to Lady Proxima.
Han joins the Empire as a way to learn flying, but ends up getting kicked out of flight school for not playing by their rules, and is a grunt soldier in the infantry, stuck on Mimban, aka the worst planet ever in the history of the galaxy. This is where he meets two key figures, his future loyal friend and companion, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Beckett and his gang are trying to pull a job here in the middle of the warzone, and Chewbacca and Han end up joining up with them.
When a major planned heist goes south, Han and Beckett end up meeting with Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), leader of Crimson Dawn. To make up for the lost goods (refined coaxium) Han and Beckett agree to steal more to pay Vos back. They need a fast ship to pull off this new job, and that leads Han and Beckett to Lando (Donald Glover) and more importantly, the Millenium Falcon (the single greatest ship in all of Star Wars). In the end, however, Han doesn’t find it as easy as he thought to simply do the job and get paid. Han finds himself stuck between the money and doing the right thing.
Overall, the story here is pretty fun. The whole thing is good old fashioned heist movie, similar to an Ocean’s 11, and I enjoy those types of movies. So, I was on board. There wasn’t anything that really turned me off to the story or the events happening. Nothing that felt out of place. Everything fit well together and felt like it belonged in the Star Wars universe we all know and love.
On the other hand, nothing really challenged me either. It all felt really safe. I think that is exactly what Lucasfilm wanted when they fired Lord and Miller and brought in Ron Howard. They wanted a film that was safely Star Wars. I’m not saying that what Lord and Miller would have put together would have been earth shattering, or way outside the box, we’ll never know. I think, though, based on their previous work, it would have been more off the wall humor and more risks. Like a scene, where Han is clearly holding a rock and tries to pass it off as a thermal detonator. He doesn’t even fool the other characters. That’s Lord and Miller. More of that would have been nice.
I guess for me, the whole movie felt like a checklist. Like they sat down in a room and said, “What do we need in a Solo movie?”
We clearly need to see how he met Chewie- Han gets thrown into a pit on Mimban with “the Beast,” which turns out to be Chewbacca, gains his trust-check.
What’s next? We need to see him win the Millenium Falcon- We always knew it was in a card game with Lando- so easy- done.
Next? We need to see the famous Kessel Run- becomes the whole point of the story. Next? I wonder how he got his last name (said no actual Star Wars fan ever). Well, when he signs up to join the Empire, he’ll need a family name, but we will say he doesn’t have one- the officer will give him the name Solo because he’s all alone.
And the list goes on.
One of my favorite things about The Last Jedi is that it challenged a lot of our pre-conceived notions of what a Star Wars movie should be. I left the theater wondering about these characters I loved and thinking about them in a whole new way. For example, I’ve talked before about how much I loved Luke’s story arc. I love his struggle with the Jedi order- should it end? Are they just as guilty as the Sith in thinking they control the force? These are some deep questions, and they challenge the fans.
We get none of this in Solo. It is a straightforward, albeit fun, story that simply says here is in visual form all the stories you have heard about Han. It doesn’t challenge you as a fan, and instead gives you everything you could have wanted in a Solo movie. The story itself is fun, but it could have just as easily been about some random group of characters. There was nothing inherently Star Wars about it.
One of the toughest things when making a prequel is finding new actors to play established characters. Especially established characters as iconic as Han Solo. There’s two schools of thought, basically. One is to find someone who can mimic and act and look just like the original characters, and try to imitate them. The other school of thought is what I call the James Bond theory or method. Different actors, playing the same characters and bringing their own style to the characters.
I prefer the James Bond method. And, fortunately, I feel like this was the approach used in Solo. Ehrenreich didn’t try to imitate Harrison Ford as Han Solo. He made the character his own. Yes, there were some of the mannerisms, little reminders to show us this was the same character, but it was different, in a good way. He didn’t pull off the Harrison Ford sideways smile. No one could, so he did his own smirk, and worked brilliantly.
This all worked well with the Han we saw in the film who lacked a lot of the confidence we see in A New Hope and later. As we watch Han trying to escape in the speeder on Corellia and he tries to shoot the gap, and doesn’t make it, it reminds us he’s not the same cocky, confident Han we see later. Obviously, some of the confidence is there, or he wouldn’t have tried it, but he falls short. In fact, througout the film, he falls short, and messes up. Watching him trudge through the swampy battlefield, running away from the blasters, we see he wasn’t always the run toward blasters, shoot first hero we see on the Death Star in A New Hope. As we see him awkwardly try to approach Qi’ra on Dryden Vos’s yacht, we see an awkward, barely not teenager, instead of the smug, nerfherder we see in Empire Strikes Back. We are seeing an emerging Han Solo.
One of the things I like about Han’s character is that he is the good guy. When Qi’ra says that to him, that she might be the only person in the galaxy who knows who he really is, that he’s the good guy, she nails it. As much as he tries to be the smug, lone wolf, who only cares about himself, he really is the good guy. I think it is much more apparent in this youthful Han, who hasn’t quite learned how to hide that all away. And I like it.
The main supporting characters are highlighted by Donald Glover’s Lando and Joonas Suotamo’s Chewbacca. Both of these roles are played to perfection by these new actors. Glover gets the Lando character. He understands it. When we first see him, and Han says he wondered if what he heard about him was true, and Lando smoothly replies that everything he’s heard about him is true, it is perfection. It is Lando. I loved every minute he was on screen. Could not get enough. Chewbacca as well. This loveable wookie has always been one of my favorites, and I am so glad they introduced him early in the film. I love the moment, when Han asks him how old he is, and when he responds that he 190 years old, and Han’s simple, “No, you look great.” The bond between this new Han and this new Chewie is incredible.
The one area I feel this film fell short was in the development of the female characters. This is something that the newer Star Wars films have done so well, and it was almost completely missing in this movie. The only female characters that get any decent screen time are Qi’ra, who is constantly the vitctim, and L3-37, who is strong and independent, and then silenced before the end. I just felt like the positive, strong female role models I could point to in other recent Star Wars films were completely missing. There was no Rey or Jyn Erso, or Leia, or Rose. My girls only really had Qi’ra. Even Val, played by Thandie Newton, felt like a waste. She seemed so cool, being part of Beckett’s gang, leading the way with her smarts as she figured out the explosives on the bridge and stared down imperial droids, just to be shot down so quickly. Unfortunately, I felt like there was so much more they could have done with her character. The only female character who almost saves it is Enfys Nest, and you don’t even know she’s a girl until the end.
The music in this was pretty good. There were a couple of times where some of John Williams’ themes could be heard, like when Han is signing up to join the Empire. That’s always a nice touch. I am getting more used to the idea of Star Wars movies that don’t feature Williams’ scores. The music still felt right and appropriate. Even the weird song being performed as they enter Dryden’s yacht. You know, the one with the two singers. Yeah, it was weird, but I kind of think alien music would be weird, so for me it fits.
Most of the visuals were fine. It is another big budget, CGI fest, but I am coming to expect that from my big films, like Marvel movies and Star Wars and Star Trek and anything else that’s a big deal. It doesn’t bother me anymore, as much as it used to, anyway. What did bother me in this particular film was how dark so much of it was. I get they were going for gritty. I understand that was the look they wanted. There were times, though, where, it was so dark, I felt like I couldn’t see. Like somebody needed to adjust the HDTV because their blacks were too dark. It happened when they were on Corellia, and again on Mimba and on Kessel. It just kept happening, and I felt like I was missing something because of it.
What do you want from a summer action movie? If you are looking for a perfect film, with a great script, incredible directing, and Oscar worthy performances, then this film is not for you. You may also not really understand what a summer blockbuster really is. If you are looking for a movie that doesn’t really make you think, but is fun and entertaining with plenty of action and lots of fun, then this is just right. I enjoyed this movie, I came out with a smile on my face, especially after that awesome cameo at the end. That’s all I expect from an action flick like this. It wasn’t perfect, and maybe they could have stretched and done more with the story and the characters, but it was still a good movie. And really, for the summer time, that’s all I ask.