When Star Wars captured the box office in 1977, it seemed obvious that George Lucas intended Luke Skywalker to follow the hero’s journey. Plus, Luke had a lightsaber, and damn, that was cool! But wise-cracking, swashbuckling, screw-you-I’m-gonna-shoot-first-if-I-have-to Han Solo became the bad-boy we all wanted to be. He came for the cold hard cash: “Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution, and I’m not in it for you Princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.”
But we all knew he stayed because of the heart. Han was a good guy with a code and the need to do right. As a character, Han Solo was pretty fully realized and motivated. Director Ron Howard’s new film Solo does nothing to change any of those feelings, and takes the opposite approach to 2016’s Rogue One. Where the first Star Wars anthology film retconned history and sought to explain some big holes from Star Wars ‘77, Solo doesn’t look to fill gaps or make any big statements about war. It’s an adventure film, yes. But by-and-large it just straight up tells us more details about all the shiit we already know without adding context or imbuing additionally meaning. It is a certain kind of fun I guess.
The effects and action set-pieces are all good, but unremarkable. The first big set piece comes in the form of a futuristic train heist which looks cool, but felt cooler and more exciting when Firefly did it on TV in 2002. To me, Howard showcased his “get the job done” journeyman director chops, and adds virtually no particular flair or distinctiveness. And the same thing happens again later in the film where a second heist, occurring inside a mine, reminded my of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows fantastical trip through Gringotts vault. But Harry Potter did it better — way better.
Solo is essentially a couple of action heist movies jammed into one, with rescue and lost-love arc’s thrown in for good measure. The result is a film that feels rushed, and incomplete. One of the Heist sequences involves the infamous Kessel Run (you know — the Millenium Falcon is the fastest ship in the galaxy, it did the Kessel Run in 12 Parsecs.) The movie leaves out one of the best parts of all heist stories, which is where they explain how they will pull it off, and then after they explain how the did it. Rarely is such straightforward exposition ok, but in this sub-genre it’s a must. At the risk of spoilers, they get the shit, some characters die, Han and Chewie live. Lando lives. Sequels are hinted at. Ugh whatever.
There are a few bright shining bits in this summer popcorn adventure. John Powell’s score delights … fun in all the right places and he makes excellent use of classic John William’s music. Powell has a ton of fun repurposing old musical themes in this movie. The Imperial Theme actually shows up inside the movies world as part of a recruitment ad for the Empire. A self-aware and super-fun moment!
Donald Glover, Thandie Newton and Paul Bettany all have small but exceptional performances. These fine actors bring life and charm and joy (or menace in Bettany’s case) to their characters. I should also say that Joonas Suotamo excels as Chewbacca. While it’s sad to see Peter Mayhew finally hang up the Wookie pajamas, Suatamo admirably fills some very big furry slippers, perhaps giving Chewie his best performance since The Force Awakens. Plus Suatamo looks a lot more like the Chewie we know than Alden Ehrenreich looks like Han Solo. Just sayin’.
Now, I’ve spent the better part of a week trying to write this review. I wanted so badly to like this movie and it pains me that I do not. A bunch of my online friends have suggested that I need to just enjoy it for the fun, for the action, for the look. they suggest that having more Star Wars stories is a good thing in and of itself, even if not all are of equal quality.
As someone who grew up seeing A New Hope in the theaters in 1977 (before it was known as the title!) I am very happy to be getting a lot more Star Wars. I read all the Timothy Zahn books back in the day and a few of the other continuing saga books. I guess I feel a bit spoiled because I really loved Force Awakens, Rogue One and The Last Jedi and have now been disappointed for the first time in this new modern run of Star Wars. I am glad others liked Solo, and seriously hoping for a Lando movie with Donald Glover! And also hoping they “find” L3-37 inside the Falcon in a future Star Wars episode. I think it would be great to have that character back screaming about robot rights from inside the Falcon!
That said, Solo does not need to exist. It offers no twists or surprises. In many regards it is paint by numbers, and very much a “give the people what they want film.” Han grows up, Han get’s his last name (does anyone really care about this, and he literally has the name given to him by a random character — so dumb,) Han meets Chewie, Han meets Lando, Han and Lando play cards for the Millenium Falcon, Han learns how to smuggle, Han tangles with gangsters, and so on. These are not spoilers — the original trilogy made it clear all these things happened. The entire experience felt like it was totally pandering to the fans, and with nothing of consequence to say or add to Star Wars as a whole. In short, my biggest problem with Solo is that it’s just an excuse to get us in the theaters, and does not further Han’s character journey.
I also believe anthology stories should contribute to the entire canvas. And all stories should contribute to my human essence. But the studio needs to make shit-tons of money so pander they will. Sadly, Solo’s early box office free-fall (a meager $234 million global gross after 10 days in release) would seem to indicate audiences either don’t like it or don’t care. This film has steadily gone down in my mind since leaving the theater over a week ago. Perhaps on the way out the multiplex door I would have given it a 6 out of 10, but now with a little time to sit with it…
I stand by a solid 3.75 Parsecs out of 10 Coaxium explosions.