Feels great to talk about a Star Wars movie without having to deal with family legacy, the qualities of The Force, or the great arc of the universe. Solo – or in full, Solo: A Star Wars Story – is just a fun film that does decent enough justice to the franchise. // small spoilers here…
I saw the film on a preview screening Tuesday night for the RobinHood charity. Luckily, a few stars were on hand and young Lando himself, Donald Glover, was on hand to introduce the viewing.
To answer the big questions - Alden Ehrenreich is fine; he’s not Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, but he’s a scruffy rogue and easily allies with scoundrels. By the end of the film, you’re fully engaged with this version of the character. And Glover’s Lando almost steals the show - almost. Like much of the film, the Solo-Calrissian bromance never gets much beyond the simmering stage. Might be interesting to see some of the original director’s more improvisational/comedic takes on the pair.
Chewie is fine too, though not the huggable sidekick of 4-6, here he’s more of an action figure, fighting, screaming, and, yes, arm yanking. He’s a very hard character to write for, given that his howling needs constant interpolation from other characters. It’s a mystery how Peter Mayhew imbued that wookie with so much emotion and character; new actor Joonas Suotamo manages the athleticism well.
Ron Howard’s direction and the script by Kasdan father and son puts most of the emphasis on adventures, chases, and battles, and the slightly long film flies by. I’ve thought that Howard is veering off in to Peter-Jackson type style over substance in some films, like Da Vinci code (which admittedly has almost no substance). This film balances Han, Lando and Chewie’s growth, such as it is, with the frenetic chases pretty well. And most important, the action is honestly thrilling, with the train heist and Kessel Run earning their place in Wookiepedia lore (if not the Jedi Archives). (Good reading about the problems with production here.
The film has a golden, dusty hue to most scenes making for a rather drab viewing, though the CGI is often spectacular. The music is a good remix of familiar themes, including a nice reprise of the Falcon’s asteroid run in TESB. The new Marauders theme is a standout. I’m pretty sure the whole Marauders/Enfys Nest characters are a take on the Mad Max The Road Warrior costumes and train heist; even the twist to the stolen hyperfuel is pretty much the same.
Meanwhile, there are many shout-outs to Star Wars trivia throughout the film, including the famed golden dice. (Wait, they should be still lying about in Luke’s abandoned hut on Ahch’To, right)
The first question I was asked by friends the day after was, Where do I rank it among all the films?, which is not my favored mode of exposition. It’s certainly not a great film, in no way pathbreaking or original, neither of which is necessarily negative. And unlike Rogue One, there’s no real integration with the Star Wars universe (save the characters of course). So to some extent this is the least essential film of the franchise.
There is a tacked on bit near the end that abruptly brings in an recognizable adversary and some connections to the rebellion, but nothing that matters much to the story. Maybe we’ll see more of that if there’s a Solo-2 sequel - like more ‘imperial entanglements’ and Han’s hardening cynicism.
- A little surprised at how central Woody Harrelson’s Becket character is - he’s the scoundrel father figure for Han. Not sure that the ultimate scene between the two needed to blatantly repeat the infamous question of the Lucas ANH re-edit, though the scene fits this film’s more “Western”-vibe. (I read that Christian Bale was up for the part which would have made for a more (too?) dramatic relationship.)
- Paul Bettany is serviceable as the evil honcho; might have been nice to have this be a creature character rather than just another face-painted human. Otherwise, I’m just hoping Bettany is keeping up with his cello lessons for a Master And Commander sequel.
- Odd decision to open 5 months after SW:TLJ. I always liked the May opening dates, but can’t deny the fun of seeing TFA and TLJ in December. Why wouldn’t Disney just keep with the new tradition of December releases? Some fear about the comparison to Rogue One? And is Episode IX going to get a May release too?
- Still not happy with Lucasfilm’s inability to figure out how to start these standalone films. George Lucas’s opening sequence, from Fox fanfare, to quiet fairytale, to smashing orchestra, thrilling music and setup crawl, followed by a visual fx set-piece, was unmatched brilliance. Now, the standalones open with just “A long time ago…” and dissolve to a dull sci-fi shot, followed a minute or so later with the films title logo appearing out of nowhere. …Oddly, this one opens with additional setup sentences, but not delivered as a text crawl but just additional blue-on-black lettering. Some sort of change from the ‘true’ Skywalker franchise is fine, but creative types really should have come up with something - new fanfare, new logo, etc. I think it was Clone Wars (or one of the other shows) that did a good job with stentorian voice-over and pics to set up the episode; could have worked.
- Not that anyone would care, but I met Lawrence Kasdan back at the University of Michigan when he came back to give a presentation on his films. When introduced, I said I was the Arts Editor and film reviewer at The Michigan Daily, at which point I think he lost interest in talking to me. See https://digital.bentley.umich.edu/midaily/mdp.39015071754720/581