Movie Review - Solo: A Star Wars Story
The sound of indifference. The sound you make when you don’t necessarily want the time you just spent back…but you could think of a few better ways you could’ve spent it. It opens the door for so many avenues of ‘damning with faint praise’.
And for me, it should never be the sound coming from me as I exit a Star Wars movie.
Yet…here we are.
Now, to be fair, with all of the behind-the-scenes drama Solo: A Star Wars Story had, comparable only to Justice League…and even though I liked that film, the more I watch it…the more it becomes a bit of a mess…it’s amazing Solo actually achieved the rank of ‘meh’. From switching directors to the question of could Alden Ehrenreich even act…much less take on a role that the great Harrison Form made…well…great and everything in between…this movie for all intents and purposes should’ve been an amazing dumpster fire. That fact that it isn’t is a credit to Ron Howard, the director brought in to save the day…as well as the aforementioned Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca and definitely Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. The movie fails in its writing…which is something I never thought I’d say about a Lawrence Kasdan written film…but there it is. Sadly, it feels more like a chain of events shot together…a checklist of what we want to see a young Han Solo accomplish…than any sort of narrative. With predictable beats and parts of a cast that shine while other parts that are overwhelmingly average, Solo never manages to rise above mediocrity…which is troublesome, given the Star Wars fatigue I already have setting in.
Now let’s take a more in-depth look at why this film just really doesn’t resonate with me.
The story in and of itself isn’t original…and in some ways, given the way the history of the character has already be laid out, it’s not fair to expect it to be. We start off the movie with a runaway Han and Qi’ra, played by Emilia Clarke, in the streets of Correlia trying to run away from what is probably the closest approximation we’ve seen cinematically to Granny Goodness’ Orphanage on Apokolips in the DC comics, but for those of you that don’t speak comic book, it’s a collection of abandoned children and runaways that Lady Proxima uses as a crime network…pickpockets and whatnot. The pair decide to flee for the stars…but only Han makes it as Qi’ra is captured by Imperials. In order to try and get back and rescue his girl…Han signs up for the Imperial Navy. And here’s my first problem. When Han signs up, he doesn’t know his last name. Since he’s alone, the Imperial Officer gives him the last name ‘Solo’.
Does that sound stupid to anyone else? Or is it just me?
Skipping ahead in the plot some, when Han is talking with Lando in the cockpit of the Falcon about the YT-1300 series of modified freighters, Han points out he’s familiar with the ship because he recalled his dad used to work on them. Well, if you knew your dad…then, dammit, you SHOULD know your last name!
Okay, let’s get back into the narrative. Han finds himself in the Imperial Infantry and during a battle comes upon a group of smugglers that have infiltrated the ranks. Not surprisingly, never being one for conformity, Han forces his way into this group. And here’s our next stop on the checklist: Han meets Chewie. The meeting and rescue was enjoyable…but again, and this might be the problem with the movie…is that you end up seeing this coming a mile away. Still, the performances of new-Han and new-Chewie really pull this scene off well, so I can’t knock it too much. From here, we quickly find ourselves in a typical Han situation: a job gone bad…and the need to recover lost money to a fairly kill happy crime boss…this time, thankfully, not the Hutts (although they’re alluded to) but Crimson Dawn headed by Paul Bettany’s Dryden Voss. The job that went bad? Trying to heist a load of hyperfuel from an Imperial Depot that ends up being ruined by Enfys Nest and the associated band of raiders…in what ends up becoming a role almost too similar to Rene Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark…also written by Kasdan.
From here we get to Lando and the Falcon…and then to the Kessel Run…the prerequisite betrayals along the way and then some resolution. I mean, you’ve seen the movie in condensed form in the trailers and if you have any knowledge of Star Wars lore, this movie is chock full of non-surprises. This ends up harming the one genuine surprise in the film by making it feel like it was something just tacked on at the end to get audiences talking as they walk out of the movie. But even THAT isn’t much of a surprise if you follow any of the Star Wars animated shows: Clone Wars or Rebels.
In discussing a lack of surprises, let’s circle back around a bit. First, let’s start with Kessel. The sequence there, before we start the infamous Kessel Run, is sooooo much Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Well, no, there’s no Mullah Ram or heart-ripping…or chilled monkey’s brains for that matter…but between themes and visuals…ho boy. I was about to accuse Kasdan of ripping himself off again, but it turns out the writers on Doom were the same folks that brought us Howard the Duck. Yeah, no further commentary there. Then there’s Enfys Nest and the associated band of raiders. Now, this is rife for potential spoilers [Already had to correct an earlier sentence. – Ed.] so I’ll simply say she goes from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome…and that’s not a good thing. Not a good thing at all…because I’m not talking the bits of the movie in Thunderdome or Barter Town…no…we’re talking that other part of the movie. The part that…well…kinda sucks.
Let’s talk cast and characters. As I’ve already said, Ehrenreich does a fine job as a young Han Solo. To his credit, he doesn’t go through the entire movie doing a Harrison Ford impression but instead seems to get the character and plays on the rogue-ish charm, know-it-all attitude and ability to think on his feet that makes up Han Solo. The best thing I can say about Joonas Suotama’s performance as Chewbacca is the sheer fact that it doesn’t feel like someone else is playing him. It feels like Peter Mayhew and as such, feels just like Chewie. The first thing you’re going to notice about Donald Glover’s Lando is he is spot on with that voice. But, like Ehrenreich, he doesn’t succumb to the temptation to simply impersonate. No, this Lando has elements of what Billy Dee Williams brought the role, but it’s just as much, if not more, Donald Glover. Most reviewers came out of this moving singing his praises and interested in a Lando spin-off…you can count me among their ranks.
So long as there is absolutely ZERO L3-37 in that spin-off. Look, I’m not going to go so far as most on the internet and say this is the worst Star Wars character EVER [Actually, there are some corners of the 'net that actually love this abomination. Go figure. - Ed.]…but it did end up being a character that I just absolutely hated. Part of that might be personal bias…as I live in the Seattle area and the whole Social Justice Warrior thing is just…ugh…tired of it. But whether the writers (Kasdan and his son Jonathan) meant this character, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, as a political commentary or as comic relief in the tradition of most Star Wars droids…well, either way…EPIC FAIL.
Rounding out the cast we have Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra and Woody Harrelson as Beckett (leader of the smugglers I mentioned earlier). Both actors play their roles fine…but unfortunately, the roles aren’t written all that well, given how predictable each of the characters and their arcs end up being. The fact that Harrelson’s Beckett is incredibly likeable in spite of that is a major compliment to the actor. As for Clarke…look, can we agree to keep her as a brunette? I mean, she visually annoys the hell out of me as the dragon lady on the HBO…but having seen her with darker hair in both this and Terminator Genesys? Yowza. Maybe I WILL start watching Game of Thrones…but only if I can get an eyeful of…ahem… [Yeah, that’s right buddy, let’s try and keep it clean for the PG-13 reviews, huh? – Ed.]
It merits saying again, I’m starting to succumb to Star Wars fatigue. So it’s possible that’s impacted my review…but I’m not alone in this, as other reviewers I’ve watched, read or talked to have had similar feelings about the film. Solo: A Star Wars Story is indeed better than it has any right being…given the chaotic process that brought this film to cinema screens. Unfortunately, that ends up being damning with faint praise. With a story that feels more like a checklist than an actual narrative and a cast divided into 3 camps: those that shine throughout the picture, those that almost singlehandedly ruin the picture and those that are just kinda there…Solo fails to live up to what I personally have come to expect from the Star Wars brand and might be a signal of the degrading quality that my Star Wars fatigue seems to be so desperately trying to warn me about. That being said…I don’t hate the movie…but I can’t exactly recommend it either.