Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Directed by Ron Howard

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I don’t think Solo is actually as bad as I first believed when I walked out of the theater.  Yes it’s too long, and yes the beginning is a little clunky, but the movie still has its moments.  It’s still a Star Wars film, complete with the sense of adventure, idealistic young hero with absent parent issues and the charming, snarky robot.

So it’s fine, really.  There are enough cute moments, enough somewhat thrilling action, and the characters occasionally have a nice back and forth to make the movie-going experience an all around pleasant one.  Still, it has about eight too many endings, somehow even more misdirections and double crossings, and the movie makes a fan favorite badass into another blank slate hero.

Solo does with Han Solo what The Lost World: Jurassic Park did with Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm.  In the first Jurassic Park, Malcolm is off to the side.  He provides running commentary during the course of the movie, providing both comic relief and the movie’s theme, “life finds a way.”  He’s probably the most engaging character in the entire movie, but part of that is because he has less weight to carry.  In the movie’s sequel, Malcolm becomes the hero, and he goes from looking like this…

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…to this…

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Gone are the glasses, shortened is the hair and in comes the stubble.  For gods sakes look at the smolder.

In the sequel Malcolm becomes a much more watered down version of himself.  He must be an empathetic hero, so the snark is toned down to make sure the audience likes him, but the snark and wit is also toned down just because there’s more of it, meaning Malcolm’s attitude wears thin as the story goes on.  Breaking it down, I think Malcolm is a better character off to the side.  The less we know about him the better because we can simply fill in the blanks on our own.

The same goes for Han Solo.  This origin story answers questions relating to how he got his name, how he and Chewbacca met, how he got the Millennium Falcon, something about Lando Calrissian, etc. but it doesn’t answer how Han Solo became Han Solo.

The character we meet at the beginning of Solo is just about the same as the one we know at the end.  That character is cocky, accomplished and an all-around good guy.  The problem is that the supposed arc he experiences here is the one he experiences (much more thoroughly) in A New Hope.  In that original Star Wars film, Han Solo learned to look out less for himself and to join the rebellion.  Right?  Isn’t that what he learned?

Solo is an outlaw, a renegade, always looking out for numero uno.  You get it.  So in this prequel, Han Solo should end the movie where he begins A New Hope.  And to some degree he does… but he’s already so much of that character at the beginning that it doesn’t feel like any kind of growth.

In Solo we see how Han Solo gathers all of his Solo things, but we don’t see him put on the mask, so to speak.  Whatever confidence and skill he has, he’s already got it by the time the movie begins.  He’s an ace shooter with a blaster, an ace pilot, and he knows how to play some kind of card game like a pro.  But we never see him learn these things, he’s just amazing at them already.

I get why the tiny independent studio behind Solo wouldn’t want to start with Han as a meek, quiet little man.  Even though that would provide the most arc, the appeal of a Solo-centric movie is to indulge in all of Han Solo’s witty antics.  We want to spend time with this character, that’s the idea.

I can get onboard with that, and I think the movie had the right idea to make this a kind of film noir.  Han is an idealistic young man who wants nothing more than to return to his childhood love, Qi’ra (Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke), and based on the narrative flow, you get the sense that this will play out like the end of Chinatown.  Not to spoil it, but if you’re reading this you’ve already seen the movie, so I’m kind of going to spoil it.

The Han Solo we meet in A New Hope is brash and jaded.  In other words we can be sure that he’s been hurt before, and with that in mind we know that Qi’ra exists to hurt Han.  So Han’s arc is to go from a young and in love wannabe pilot to a jaded, cocky smuggler.  Alright, I’m in.

Still, the movie ends on a forced, upbeat note.  Han has reason to be jaded, but then he quickly rebounds, and the movie ends with him and Chewie striding up the hill with the unspoken promise that they are about to join the rebellion.

It’s all fine, and what does it really matter anyways?

Solo, like other big franchise movies, is about protecting an investment.  That’s why Ron Howard was famously brought in to fix whatever mess might have been created by directing team Phil Lord and Chris Miller.  Those two are known mostly for writing/directing comedies like 21 Jump Street22 Jump Street and The Lego Movie.

Their improvisation-centric approach likely didn’t vibe with the Disney team, but it seems a good idea in theory for a movie about a character like Han.  With Lord/Miller’s hiring, and the commitment to depicting Han as a cocksure marksmen, you can envision what the studio was going for.  Solo should be a fun heist movie with shades of a noir.  The story likely would’ve made Han more of a masculine fool then Disney wanted, and all in all this would and did act as a kind of fan fiction about young Han and Chewie.

Again, the movie has its moments, and the best of them might be when Han and Chewie meet.  The scene moves quickly, like much of the first thirty minutes of the movie, but it works nonetheless.

Other moments don’t work so well.  The beginning feels forced, with us jumping from place to place before we know it, and it’s easy to get lost in the plot.  What are they searching for, unobtanium?  Or is it some other sci-fi juice?  It didn’t matter, they were just after something.

Another sequence of the movie involves an enjoyable enough break in to some kind of mine which will recall similar sequences of earlier heist films.  The characters formulate a plan, one or more characters hide in plain sight whether as Stormtroopers or prisoners, and then we watch the plan unfold.

This sequence also deals with the idea of enslavement, something which is in and around the plot as a whole but mostly feels glossed over.

I guess there’s just a lot going on, and that’s why there are eight or more endings and misdirections.  There’s a good movie somewhere in Solo, and it might involve cutting out forty minutes of the runtime.

I haven’t talked about Lando or the snarky robot, but they’re there, and they’re fine.  Donald Glover feels like he’s playing an SNL version of Lando, which works well enough for his brief screen time but which similarly would wear thin were he to be the protagonist of the film.

Closing thoughts… Solo felt somewhat disappointing.  It’s the only one of the new Star Wars releases to feel less like an event and more like the lesser noteworthy Marvel movies.  But that’s ok!  Not every movie is going to hit (Solo is considered a box office disappointment), and Marvel has shown that it can certainly withstand the less well-received movies like Thor: Dark World or Iron Man 2 or even the first Captain America?

Solo shows that Star Wars is human, but not in the way it wants to be human.  Also, I thought Alden Ehrenreich was good.  I quite like him.

Up Next: First Reformed (2017), Cul-de-sac (1966), Deadpool 2 (2018)

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