Movie Musings - Solo: A Star Wars Story

Updated: Jul 7



What Solo: A Star Wars Story gains as an entertaining, swashbuckling take on the Star Wars universe, it loses in its failure to capitalize on the mythos of Han Solo’s character and by falling into the pits that overstuffed blockbusters often find themselves in.

While it’s a bit early to tell, the early struggling box office returns for this Star Wars movie may best be summed up by the advice that Harrison Ford gave to his replacement in this 2018 anthology before it was made: “Don’t do it.”

Is Solo a solid action flick? Sure. Did it live up to its potential? Not really.

Below is a list of things I liked or didn’t like about this film, in no particular order. Like, share and comment with your own thoughts.

As always, spoilers ahead!

LIKES

1) Callbacks

This film was all over the place in this regard, so take this point with a grain of salt. I’m about to obliterate it later on.

However, the movie finds nice ways, every so often, to hearken back to the original trilogy or establish how some things came to be. Showing Han hugging Lando after greeting him with hostility makes their encounter on Cloud City years later a nice full-circle moment.

Showing how Han met Chewie, both of them in dire straights and needing to escape captivity, created a decent (albeit fairly rote) way to establish their bond of friendship early on. Han speaking Shyriiwook to get Chewie’s attention was. . . fine.

The best example, though? That Han’s uniquely-shaped and iconic blaster is actually just the stock of a high-powered laser rifle given to him by his mentor, Tobias Beckett.

2) Character performances

Yet again, a point that I will undermine a little later on in my review. That said, I liked Alden Ehrenreich’s job as Han Solo and Donald Glover’s hand in re-creating Lando Calrissian. It’s clear that both actors studied closely the work of their predecessors, with Ehrenreich nailing the crooked smirk of the film’s namesake and Glover nicely mimicking Lando’s interesting speech patterns and smooth-talking ways.

Where they thrived in revisiting iconic characters from Star Wars, other actors took on new roles that were performed well. Woody Harrelson as Beckett and Thandie Newton as his lover Val were both steadying influences on an otherwise young cast.

DISLIKES

1) Where’s Greedo?

And I don’t just mean this literally.

While the story captures a lot of the heist-driven action we expect out of a Han Solo film, it made the mistake of trying to do too much. It gives us too many new characters and new plots that we didn’t have a vested interest in seeing.

I don’t mean that they can’t introduce new characters -- they absolutely should! But this movie was sold on the back of it being an origin story for Han Solo, yet it trudged more new ground than old.

With 2016's Rogue One, like it or hate it, the filmmakers threaded the needle between new and old well. It was a story that made sense to have a host of new characters (because they all die) and it provided ample opportunities to place original characters and stories in the film (even if done with CGI.)

The issue with that approach to Solo is that, well, this is a motha’fucking HAN SOLO movie. If you weren’t going to show us pieces of his past that have already been hyped for decades, why make the damn thing?

The film completely glosses over his time in the Imperial Flight Academy, reducing the whole thing to a lackluster line of dialogue (“I was kicked out … for having a mind of my own.”) Showing us that could have highlighted Han’s natural gift with flying or his hatred of the Empire, both of which are just supposed to be taken for granted here.

They also leave the entire backstory of his servitude to Jabba the Hutt to our imaginations (or the upcoming Boba Fett movie, at least two years out) and they give Han an unnecessary new romance arc that never finds its space legs.

By flat-out ignoring these parts of his backstory, we never see Han interact with many of the characters he’s supposedly built up a rapport or grudge with over his years as a swindler. No Greedo, no Boba Fett, no Jabba. The result is that the new characters and origin stories, no matter how well-developed (which they largely weren’t) were just boring or at the very least, uncalled for.

I am by no means one of those fans that screeches when a Star Wars movie doesn’t give me exactly what I expect it to be. This is still, you know, not MY movie. Filmmakers get to make some decisions and leave their own stamp on it (see my review of last year’s The Last Jedi for an example of how to do it right.)

But with Solo, just about every plot decision screams either A) “We don’t know why people actually went to see this movie.” Or B) “We don’t want to box X or Y character into this plot for future movies, so we won’t go there at all.”

Either way, it’s a disappointing lack of vision.

Solo got a few things right, but even in the plot points they nail, they overlook basic storytelling tropes that undercut the effectiveness of visiting those scenes in the first place.

2) The Sabacc Showdown

This is the clearest area where the movie showed us what we wanted to see: Han winning the Millenium Falcon from Lando in a high-stakes game of Sabacc. They still managed to mess it up.

What it did right: I love the plot mechanics of both card-playing scenes. They set up a nice way of slowing things down a bit amid all the action going on in this film. We also get character development for Han and Lando in both scenes, not to mention showing new ways that these lawless con artists play each other. It’s not all blasters and lightspeed jumps, people.

What it got wrong: Just about everything else.

Why, why, WHY would Lando bet his ship the second time? I get that he’s cheating and therefore assumes that he will win, but we literally never grapple again with the emotional stakes of Lando uploading his love-robot’s mainframe into the Falcon. They took all that screentime to hammer us over the head with Lando’s (romantic?) relationship with this robot, the emotional stakes of putting her into the ship, a dramatic line of dialogue about how “She’s part of the ship now," and then . . .

That’s literally it. They gave the most iconic spaceship in the history of film a backstory nobody wanted and then undercut that story within the same movie.

Han never presses Lando about it later, after he places the Falcon and, by extension, the ‘soul’ of his favorite robot, on the line for the second gamble. Lando never even fakes having to grapple with that choice the second time around (undercutting both characters’ bios as brilliant con men.)

We’re left with a repeat of the first scene that has completely stripped away all of the stakes we had in the first game of cards. We already know Han is going to win this time, that Lando’s card trick won’t work out and that the Falcon will go off into the sunset to accomplish great things (and apparently never address the robotic consciousness contained within again. . . )

3) Charisma fatigue

Sure, there may only have been one character NAMED Han Solo in this movie, but just about every character was him in some way or another: Smooth-talking, exuding an air of coolness, charismatic. Even the villain, played by Paul Bettany, was this same archetype in many of his scenes.

Pretty bland for such a large galaxy far, far away.

Now, you could definitely argue that I need to lower my expectations of character writing in big budget cash-grabs. That’s fair. BUT! I haven’t gotten to the real crime in these overlarge brush strokes yet.

The good performances that are a highlight of this movie get lost in the sea of charm when competing for space (literally) amongst so many other characters with similar personalities.

One might also argue that this was the point: to show that both of these young men are shaped by the culture around them. In that case, I’d say that every other aspect of the film already did that. And even so, we still want our heroes to shine, right?

4) Merchandise Mayhem

While the acting was by-and-large pleasant, we still didn’t need all these fucking characters in this film.

The problem with huge cinematic franchises is that they make most of their money on merchandise, not the production itself. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my figurines as much as the next fan, but the problem is that in the effort to make as many new characters (and therefore new toys) as possible, the films themselves become overstuffed and exhausted.

There are too many characters in this movie, ones that I certainly didn’t care enough about for their amount of screentime. Emilia Clark is cool and all, but I didn’t care one lick about her or her relationship with Han. I mean, we already know it’s not going to work out so. . . why so use so much of it?

Yes, there needs to be emotional stakes and yes, it makes sense that the lady's man in Han would be fighting for a girl. But, seriously, I didn't care. That's what it comes down to at the end of the day.

Ditto to the four-armed pilot dude, the unnecessary robot character (a part so cookie-cutter forgettable I won’t bother to look up her name) and the young pirate crew leader that they needlessly gave a face and a backstory in the last act of the movie. That ginger-haired teen (with remarkably white teeth?) may well be a character in later films, but that doesn't mean they had to introduce her here.

It’s not just characters either. The trap that most big-budget tentpoles fall into is trying to pack too much plot and explosions into one movie. In Solo, we’ve got about five different climaxes in the story arc and more villains than we know what to do with.

An example: I wanted to see the Kessel Run, sure. But did I need a tentacled CGI monstrosity thrown in the middle of an already tense chase sequence? No. . . why would I?

There’s been lively debate about it for years, but the general consensus is that CGI, while cool and expanding what special effects can do, sucks audiences out of the movie if done poorly or too often. In this case, it was the latter. I was completely fatigued with action and effects by the time we even get to the REAL climax of the film, when all the betrayals start to go down and they take on Dryden Voss.

I’m not saying to take all the special effects out of all blockbusters. They have their time and their place. But let the story speak for itself every once in a while.

5) A Maul-ignant Cameo

Sure, the concept of Darth Maul heading back to the silver screen makes me thrilled. But there’s just SO much wrong with how they executed this.

They reveal him at the end of the film as the shadow villain, who’s been tugging the strings of the criminal underworld from the beginning. Very cool. Very Star Wars. So why does it feel so tossed in at the last minute?

My guess? It was.

Nothing about that scene feels like it was planned out from Day 1. Even Qi'ra’s (Emilia Clark) reactions felt like they were recorded in response to something else that was cut and then spliced into an interaction with a hologram of Maul after the fact.

Seriously, go back and watch the scene again and tell me if she looks like she’s talking to a bionic Sith lord. She’s. . . distraught, sure. But afraid? Surprised? Certainly not enough, if so. That could be Clark’s acting, shitty directing or worse planning.

The production woes on this film are well-known by now, with Hollywood heavyweight Ron Howard called in last year to re-shoot and recraft most of the entire movie. This ballooned the budget and left a noticeable lacuna between where the vision of this film started and the product we ended up getting.

I couldn’t have been alone on thinking Maul was forced into the plot, because rather than the usual “oohhs” or whoops during exciting moments of a Star Wars movie, the auditorium I was in went dead silent when Maul came on the screen. Everyone was like, “Okay. . . ?”

Still need convincing? The filmmakers even knew Maul came out of nowhere because they had him ignite his double-sided lightsaber for no reason other than as one more reminder of who this dude is, 20 years after he first appeared in 1999’s The Phantom Menace.

Which brings me to my last point. When will filmmakers stop throwing in endings that are ONLY interesting as cliffhangers?

I am fortunate enough to have seen Maul’s reveal coming because I’ve watched the Clone Wars TV series and bits of Star Wars: Rebels.

In those shows, it’s made a fact of the cinematic universe that Maul survived his slicing by Obi-Wan Kenobi on Naboo. He goes insane in exile for years and has to construct a prosthetic lower half of his body from salvaged metal junk. Eventually, he becomes the leader of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate -- you know, that group they reference a billion times in Solo and expect you to recognize as something bigger with vague lines of dialogue. . .

Do ya see how much time even that (cursory) catch-up on his character took? How much of that was said in Solo? The answer: NONE of it!

And this isn’t a post-credit scene we’re talking about here. This is the actual ending of a plotline in the actual runtime of the movie. Why -- again, WHY -- did no one in the editing room or at the writer’s table not care about alienating an entire swath of their audience by not explaining any of that?

Again, I’m not saying you can’t have Maul in the movie, but do the work!

Just because you want to tease the next film or leave some things off the table doesn’t mean they have to come out of nowhere. You’re still obligated to make everything fit into the story you’re telling. That’s what storytelling is. There’s a reason why none of the great writers end their tales with, “I guess you had to be there...”

———

What did you think of the movie? Do you agree with our take? Let us know in the comments section. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more reviews of new and old movies.

#musings #ourmusings #hansolo #solo #starwars #starwarsstory #Lucasfilm #Disney #AldenEhrenreich #DonaldGlover #Lando #Chewie #WoodyHarrelson #EmiliaClark #RogueOne #film #movies #moviereview #moviemusings