For as long as I’ve been hearing about the second Star Wars anthology film, Solo, I’ve been pretty doubtful about the whole thing. And then when I began to hear about all the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, with the film’s directors being fired and replaced partway through, and leading man Alden Ehrenreich apparently needing an acting coach because the producers weren’t happy about how things were coming out…well, at that point I couldn’t help to wonder how this movie could possibly be any good.
But, nonetheless, I went to see it in the cinema, because of the confluence of three things:
1. It was just my birthday
2. The Incredibles 2 doesn’t come out for another week
3. I didn’t want to break my record of seeing all the live-action Star Wars movies in the theatre
So what did I think? Let’s ask myself and find out! Spoilers ahead!
So, self, what did you think of this movie? Was it as terrible as you imagined?
No, not at all, really. Truth be told, it was reasonably enjoyable experience, with a story that never made me say, “Wow, that’s incredibly stupid.” Of course, that’s a pretty low standard to impose upon the film, but often it’s the best we can hope for these days. And if we limit ourselves to that standard, the movie is way better than The Last Jedi.
Really? It’s better than The Last Jedi? But that was the movie which the transcended the limits of the saga and brought the story to new places for the first time since The Empire Strikes Back!
Err, no, that was a film that got bogged down in its own story idiocies so badly that it lost whatever goodwill it could have enjoyed and has thus just turned into a dark blemish in my memory.
Well, that’s a bit of an overreaction
Maybe. Truth be told, there were things in The Last Jedi that I liked, and those things are better than anything in Solo. But there are so many things I don’t like, and those things are waaaay worse than anything in Solo. Where The Last Jedi takes many risks but suffers for it, Solo takes few risks and thus never reaches any great heights.
But The Last Jedi and Solo are products of the same generation of Star Wars in a couple of ways, namely that thanks to these two films, Han Solo’s dice are suddenly very meaningful (when prior to that, I didn’t even know they existed) and they both have a big fixation on space-fuel, something we never worried about anymore.
What The Last Jedi tried to do was bring Star Wars into some new arenas, like the whole idea of that casino planet where the people are not actively evil, but living off the fruit of all the evil of the Emp–er, the First Order. The problem is that the story had to engage in a bunch of clumsy narrative acrobatics to get us there, and once we arrived, nothing interesting happened. Solo actually accomplishes a similar thing–showing us part of the Star Wars galaxy that we’ve never looked in on–without the awkwardness. We visit this whole seedy underbelly of smugglers, thieves and gangsters, without the awkwardness.
Anyway, enough about The Last Jedi, are we actually saying that Solo is a good movie?
Whoa, hold on a minute there, let’s not get too excited there. Solo isn’t bad, but I can’t quite bring myself to say that it’s actually good. It’s serviceable, it’s functional, it provides a bunch of continuity fan-service. But it’s not actually good. Or not great, anyway. Have you ever really wanted to know how Han Solo met Chewbacca? Or how Han Solo met Lando Calrissian? Well, now you know. Let’s move on to other things.
What about Alden Ehrenreich? Can you believe he is actually Han Solo?
Sure, he’s fine. He’s got some of that same blowhard quality that we’re used to, but a bit more earnestness, which you’d expect in this younger version of the guy.
But can you believe that he’s Harrison Ford?
Not for an instant. But obviously, that was never going to happen.
But does he make you forget Harrison Ford?
Um, no. He’s fine. He brings enough life to the character to keep us engaged. But he also makes us sad that a grumpy Harrison Ford and some modern day filmmakers who seem to be determined to kill the past have led to the sad death of this iconic character years later in his personal timeline.
Okay, so maybe long-term fans who aren’t so invested into the whole series, or who aren’t part of the whole “only the original trilogy is any good” brigade might not be bothered by that as much?
Yeah, that could be. Like I said, the plot is fine, the characters are fine, and the action is fine. It’s all by-the-numbers space-western, but perfectly enjoyable to watch. One of the people I saw it with isn’t invested into Star Wars at all, and she liked it. And at the same time, fans who really are interested in seeing “the origin of Han Solo” will have a whole shopping list of continuity-bits to look out for.
Oooh, like what?
Well, let’s see. Other than the first meetings with Chewie and Lando, we got
• The dice that I mentioned already
• Han winning the Millennium Falcon from Lando, fair and square
• The origin of Han’s blaster
• Chewbacca learning holographic chess
• Chewbacca ripping someone’s arms out (a major missed opportunity from Force Awakens, in my opinion, in the scene where Han dies). It’s not as gruesome as it sounds.
• Lando’s odd pronunciation of Han’s name
• The origin of the Millennium Falcon‘s battered appearance (and notched front)
• How Han wound up wrapped up in Jabba the Hutt’s business
• What doing the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs means, and why it’s impressive
Actually, it seems like explaining that that last one is sort of the rationale for making the movie at all. Kind of like how Rogue One seemed to be all about explaining how the Death Star could be blown up by a single shot. Now we just need someone to make a Young Princess Leia movie in which it explains how Leia knows what her mother looks like.
And that’s not even getting into all the regular easter eggs, like stuff with Lando’s cape or references to Bossk the bounty hunter, or the fact that John William’s Imperial March actually exists within the Star Wars universe.
Is that it?
Well, I didn’t mention maybe the biggest one, which is the whole thing of “Han shot first,” referencing the controversy caused when George Lucas digitally changed that scene from the original Star Wars where Han and Greedo face off in the cantina. The relevant scene in Solo definitely speaks directly into that.
Indeed, it’s been said that the whole story is about Han learning to shoot first, and that’s not an unjustified comment.
So, is that all the film is? Just a bunch of easter eggs and fan-references thrown into a routine space-western story? Is there anything in the film particularly relevant to the larger Star Wars mythology?
Um, sure. Let me just stick a “Spoilers” tag up at the start of this conversation.
OK, let’s see, first of all, the movie seems to purport that Han Solo had a major role to play in the formation of the rebellion in the first place.
That’s right…the Rebellion. The one that Mon Mothma, Admiral Ackbar and Princess Leia Organa herself were all part of. Well, maybe “formation” is the wrong word. Rather, it’s more like he helped to give the Rebellion legs to stand on.
It feels a little unlikely, given the character that we see in the original Star Wars (I just can’t bring myself to call it “A New Hope”, I’m sorry).
Also, in the movie’s big surprise cameo, Darth Maul–from The Phantom Menace–shows up. Significantly, he’s not dead, and is also a leader of an underground criminal organization. And in case you don’t recognize him by his face-paint, he sports his familiar double-bladed light sabre as well. Star Wars fans who are well-familiar with the movies but not at all familiar with the animated TV series will likely find this a shockingly effective twist.
Given all that, is Solo a standalone story, or is it part of a new sub-saga of Star Wars tales that we can look forward to?
Well, it’s definitely a standalone story. Most of the internal plot-threads are wrapped up by the movie’s end, and Han’s arc is more or less complete.
But having said that, there’s definitely room for sequels, as Han and Chewie have ten years more adventures before they meet Luke and Obi Wan in Mos Eisley. And there’s obviously untold stories about Kira–er, Qi’ra and her involvement with Crimson Dawn and Darth Maul that we could get into.
Now, whether we’ll actually see any of this is unknown, especially given the movie’s underwhelming box office performance so far. But of course, with more Star Wars anthology films in the works, it’s always possible that some of these things could be picked up somewhere else.
Now what about those new characters? Were any of them really great or memorable?
They were fine. I guess I liked Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra, and would like to find out more about her and what she’s been through. It wasn’t surprising that she ultimately betrayed Han, but I was pleased that her betrayal was more plausible than a simplistic “She was evil all along,” sort of idea.
Woody Harrelson’s Beckett was fairly interesting as well, and is clearly meant to be the mentor that Han learns many of his philosophies from, even with him proving to ultimately be a disappointment to him. His name, though, seems to me be one of the least “long time ago / galaxy far way” that I have heard.
And all the other people that we run into along the way were engaging enough.
But wasn’t it strange having people like Woody Harrelson or Paul Bettany as characters in the Star Wars universe?
No more strange than it was having Liam Neeson or Samuel L. Jackson. Maybe even less so, actually.
What about Donald Glover as lovable scoundrel Lando Calrissian? Did he do a good job bringing the beloved character to life?
Yeah, he was fine. His recasting is probably less distracting than Han Solo’s himself, simply because the character is less iconic.
Could you tell from watching which bits were directed by the original team of Chris Lord and Phil Miller, and which parts were by Ron Howard?
No, not really. Obviously the bits with Paul Bettany were by Ron Howard, since he cast the guy after the original actor was unavailable for reshoots. I’ve heard that Lord & Miller’s take on the film was more comedic, and there’s this one bit at the start where Han Solo pretends that a rock is a thermal detonator, which has a goofy quality that wasn’t in most of the rest of the film, so I wonder if that might have been part of the original shoot.
So in the end, what was your favorite thing about the movie?
In the end, it’s hard to pick anything out. The whole movie is amazingly consistent in it’s standardness of quality, never fluctuating too wildly from a general baseline of “reasonably entertaining”. If I had to pick, I guess I’d say the actual Kessel Run was a fun action scene, and the bit where Han and Chewbacca first meet works pretty well.
And your hopes for the future of Star Wars anthology films?
I find it really hard to imagine that I’d care particularly for a Boba Fett movie, although I wouldn’t mind revisiting the character in some fashion. I feel the same way about a Yoda or Lando Calrissian movie. The idea of Kenobi featuring Ewan McGregor has some appeal.
Honestly, I just want them to be good. Or great. Rogue One wasn’t a perfect film, but it reached higher heights than Solo.
Also, it’d be nice to see something that didn’t take place between Episodes III & IV. How about something from post-Return of the Jedi? We’d probably need to wait until after the current main trilogy is well and truly behind us before we go there.