Solo: A Star Wars Story and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Ron Howard
Well I guess we were destined to get one of these sooner than later, and all I can say is… I’m glad we at least aren’t starting with Boba Fett. I mean it looks like we’re getting one of those no matter what, but out of all the characters to get a prequel… Han isn’t dead last? Eh… look. Han Solo is FINE, but what exactly do we need to know about him that isn’t made readily apparent the first time we see him Mos Eisley Cantina? Then again, him being a smuggler almost makes him a perfect candidate for a decent action film as smugglers tend to get in more gun fights than say… a farm boy on Tatooine, but is that enough to sustain a Star Wars movie? Probably, at least for me, but let’s find out!!
The movie begins with Han (Alden Ehrenreich), who will soon be taking the surname Solo, on the planet Corellia hustling for his meals and dodging fellow street rats to keep himself alive. The only thing that keeps him going are his dreams of owning his own ship as well as his one true love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) who is similarly stuck running con games in the back alleys of this crap hole planet, but fortune soon finds its way to them as Han finds something JUST valuable enough to get them both a one way ticket off this planet and to a new life! The good news is he manages to escape, but the bad news is that Qi’ra gets caught JUST at the last second which means that Han has to get a jump start on that whole “getting a ship and making boat loads of cash” thing so that he can come back for Qi’ra and they can live happily ever after! Hm… but what’s the best way to GET a spaceship in an Empire controlled section of the galaxy? Oh hey! Aren’t they CONSTANTLY recruiting new red shirts to take bullets and fail to hit their targets! Sounds like a good way to at least take the first step to earning a livable wage and get the training he needs to survive on his own! From there things get complicated as Han is not what you’d call a MODEL solider, and ends up with a band of smugglers (Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, and Jon Favreau) as well as a new Wookie friend of his named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotama). Funny story how they met, but I won’t spoil it here! So now that he has a crew to run with (after deserting the Empire) and a way to FINALLY make all that sweet cash he needs, he can set his sights on going back to save Qi’ra from whatever fate has befallen her in the years that he’s been gone, right? Well not exactly as things are ALWAYS more complicated than they seem, which includes a SUPER gangster named Dryden (Paul Bettany) who has a bone to pick with this little band of misfits, the ultimate fate of Qi’ra which is VERY different from what Han had imagined, and even a slick hot shot named Lando (Donald Glover) who’s always one step ahead and laughing about it the whole time! Can Han survive in this world of backstabbers, sharpshooters, and expert gamblers long enough to get his own ship and start a life with the woman he loves? Just what did the smugglers do to Dryden, and what chances do they have of ACTUALLY making it right again? How the heck do you even play holo-chess anyway!?
You all may need to sit down for this because I’m SURE it will come as a total surprise, but the latest Star Wars movie is pretty darn good! Exactly HOW good? Well it’s probably the most simplistic and straightforward one we’ve gotten so far; not containing the zeitgeist nature of The Force Awakens, the somber themes of Rogue One, or the beautifully deconstructive nature of The Last Jedi that gets all the fanboys super pissy. I’d compare it most to Ant-Man as far as how it’s placed within the greater context of its own franchise, and like I said all those years ago that’s not a BAD thing! Ant-Man still manages to be one of my favorites in the MCU due to how lean of a story it is and just how much fun they have with a superhero film that’s basically outside the greater continuity and doesn’t have stakes much higher than industrial espionage. This is basically the same thing and I enjoy it for those same reasons. I wasn’t sitting in the theater trying to figure out what nuggets of continuity goodness they were gonna dole out as part of the greater Star Wars puzzle, and I never felt like what we were watching was THAT much more important than how it affects the people involved. Sure, both of those things are certainly in there and the film handles them quite well, but this is kind of what we should be doing with the A STAR WARS STORY sub-branding; self-contained stories that can be about more than the fate of the galaxy and the legacy of the Skywalkers. It’s not perfect by any stretch as I’ll get to soon enough, but it’s nice to visit this galaxy that’s far far away and not have the weight of forty years of history weighing down on you; even if it’s still kind of fun to pick apart the little references and callbacks throughout.
Like with Rogue One, what works about this movie is that it’s something we haven’t seen before (at least on film) being done within the context of this beloved franchise while also still feel nostalgic to the type of films that we grew up with, and it’s actually a brilliant extension of the original idea of Star Wars which was a revival of the old sci-fi serials. With Rogue One we got a classic war film like the Dirty Dozen set within the Star Wars universe, and now with this film we get an old fashioned gun slinging western being told with laser pistols, robots, and space ships that can take us to the furthers stars! Basically, it’s like Firefly only I don’t have complete and utter apathy for it! Sorry, but any story that starts with WE TRIED TO CURE CANCER BUT SOMEHOW MADE CANNIBALISTIC ZOMBIE MONSTERS is gonna have a real uphill battle for me, and THANKFULLY that’s not an issue in this movie. Instead, we’ve got an amazing train robbery sequence, fragile alliances between crooks, hustlers, and professional bad guys, and an awesome break in at a mine to steal valuable gold… I mean Hyperspace fuel; all of which keeps this movie going along at a very brisk pace which thankfully keeps you from feeling the SOMEWHAT bloated runtime. It’s really what we should be expecting from Star Wars at this point only on somewhat smaller and more intimate scale which is a nice change of pace to THE GALAXY HANGS IN THE BALANCE kind of plots we’ve gotten in the past.
Character wise, it was always kind of a challenge to do character specific prequels mainly because we’ve already seen their biggest and most important arcs in the FUTURE movies so things have to stay at least restrained enough so that it makes sense that they still need to go on that journey later on to change into that person we love. For Han specifically, he’s a smuggler who has no connections and doesn’t pick sides until Luke comes in A New Hope, so trying to give him TOO much of a heart would feel disingenuous to his starting point but going too small with it would potentially make for an uninteresting character. I think they stumble a bit trying to do both as this is a story about Han going FROM heartfelt to jaded, but still feels a bit subdued in execution. His humanity is tied directly to his love for Qi’ra who is the only person he fights for in this entire movie… until he finds another reason to fight for something… but not really. Yeah things get kind of unfocused at the end in regards to this specifically, but the character as he’s portrayed by Ehrenreich is still a huge amount of fun to watch and has some really great and challenging moments to pull off that he pulls off with aplomb. Everyone else as well does great with their roles and have the freedom to not be tied down so heavily to future stories; including Donald Glover as Lando who MAY show up in future films but has a lot more room to improvise and add layers to his role. Same with Chewbacca who’s still fun to watch (Joonas Suotamo is still just fine in the costume) and has some great interactions with Han that cements their friendship. The ACTUAL newcomers here including Woody Harrelson’s Tobias Beckett and Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra equip themselves well to their roles even if they feel a bit clichéd (Harrelson is an old hand crook and Clarke is THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY), and they manage to give us possibly the best droid in the ENTIRE series in the form of L3-37 played by Phoebe Waller-Brdige. She’s witty, crude, and takes no shit from anyone; including Lando who is TECHNICALLY her owner but never lets him forget who’s REALLY in charge there, and the chemistry between them is phenomenal. It may not feel like it fits COMPLETELY with Star Wars and there are bits here and there that suffer due to the attempt, but this is a great cast and an amazing world that I would love to see explored even future in subsequent Solo sequels, which may not be the GOAL per se as they’ve got plenty of other A STAR WARS STORY movies planned, but even a TV show set in this timeline with these characters would be something I’d get behind. Rogue One did a great job of telling a Star Wars story outside of what we typically expect from the franchise, but it’s also inexorably stuck in the middle of the rest of the films. This one works outside of all of that and feels like an even fresher start than the new trilogy. It’s maybe not as GROUNDBREAKING or as SPECTACULAR as those films have been so far, but being so much its own thing counts for a lot.
Now there is a problem with this movie, and while it’s REALLY the only thing I could genuinely find fault with it IS kind of a big issue and dampens my enthusiasm more than I would have hoped it would. The way that female characters are used to advance the story feels out of place and like a throwback to older MANLY movies that became outdated for a reason. Sure, the movie feels like an old fashioned cowboy film in a lot of ways which works considering the kind of character we’re dealing with, but this is one area of that archetypal story that needed to be updated. More than once, a female character is hurt, killed, taken away, or whatever else as a way to motivate the male character in the story. This wouldn’t be SO bad if it were just once and if there was say a male character who was used similarly (they even used this trope in both Deadpool 2 and Infinity Wars), but this happens THRICE (once for each of our main leads) and it’s VERY noticeable whenever they do it. So why is this a bad thing? Well what it means is that our female cast is pretty much disposable as the necessities of the plot are rather frequently finding ways to take them out of the story entirely, so while there ARE some great characters in here that steal the show whenever they’re around, they’re just not around for long enough and never feel like we’re supposed to be focusing on them. The camera is always aimed SQUARELY at our heroic dudes with heroic dude motives, and the women are there to HELP but not much else. Even the low bar that is The Bechdel Test isn’t met in this movie, so intentional or not it feels like MEN are in charge of advancing the plot and making MOST (not quite ALL) of the key decisions, and there was really no reason for that to be the case. The closest one to escape that role is Qi’ra who has a pretty sizable subplot and set of motivations that inform her character greatly, but even the conclusion of that storyline doesn’t feel like it has much impact because the movie is so squarely focused on what this story means for Han Solo. Her decision at the end SHOULD be a major event in its own right outside of how it matters to Han, but the only thing that the film makes clear from that decision is how much it affects HIM specifically. It’s his story to be sure (and to a certain extent Lando’s and Chewie’s as well) but it wouldn’t have taken much to make the sidelining of secondary characters feel so specifically gendered and therefore out of touch.
Is this the best Star Wars movie? No. In fact, of the new ones, this is PROBABLY the worst simply by being really good if not groundbreaking to some extent. Still, in its own way it manages to be very unique and stands out from the rest in a way that we’ll hopefully see in future A STAR WARS STORY movies where they try new things and worry less and less about being part of the greater continuity. It’s a big universe out there, and while this may not be a BIG step considering we’re still dealing with one of the most integral characters in the franchise, it’s an important one. I would absolutely recommend going out to see this film whenever you have a chance, and I’d certainly like enough people to enjoy it so we can get a sequel in the works. You could say… I want this Solo movie to not be so solo!
Sorry about that.