Film Reviews

Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story is the Least Essential Star Wars Movie I’ve Ever Seen

This is a spoiler-lite review, meaning I discuss the basic shape of the plot but none of the twists or big surprises. 

Here are we in a pop culture landscape increasingly dominated by old ideas, whether it be sitcom revivals on TV, surging ticket sales for nostalgic rock tours, yet more old movies being adapted into Broadway musicals, and a summer blockbuster schedule again packed with sequels, reboots, revivals, and whatever the heck Skyscraper is (a Towering Inferno meets Die Hard rip-off?). To be a pop culture fanatic in such an age is to learn how to cut through the bullshit and tell the difference between that which you must see and that which you can happily ignore. Solo: A Star Wars Story, sad to say, falls into the “ignore” pile.

This is the least essential Star Wars movie I’ve ever seen. That doesn’t mean it’s the worst, although it’s certainly close in my book, but its contribution to the canon is miniscule in comparison to the prequels or even Rogue One, which at least gives us force sensitive characters and explains away one of New Hope’s biggest plot holes. By comparison, apart from one surprise cameo Solo doesn’t take many chances. It rarely dazzles and only intermittently entertains. You walk away from it having gained no real, new profound understanding of Han Solo, who is stuck being the least interesting character in his own movie. Chewbacca, Donald Glover’s 70s cool version of Lando, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s mo-capped “Equality now!” droid L3-37 steal the spotlight through superior writing, acting, and the fact they’re simply the more compelling characters.

The story, credited to Lawrence and son Jonathan Kasdan, tracks Han’s evolution from a street hustler stuck in a kinda Fagin’s army – except here Fagin is a bejeweled, aquatic creature with a light sensitivity – to a smuggler with his own ship and Wookie. This version of Han is roughly nine years away from his Mos Eisley meeting with Obi-Wan, Luke, and the droids, meaning he’s close enough to the character we already know that his transition from a romantic dreamer into a hardened cynic is never as dynamic as the film thinks it is.

At the start, Han (a never fully convincing Alden Ehrenreich) is an already-talented pilot with plans of whisking away his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, better served here than she ever was in Terminator: Genisys) and leaving their life of servitude behind in pursuit of love and adventure. A long chase scene and tense border crossing later, Han is left separated from Qi’ra, vowing to someday return and rescue her, no matter the cost. This leads him into briefly serving the Empire, but after three years of that and no closer to returning home to rescue Qi’ra he runs into Chewbacca for the first time (I won’t spoil how as it is one of the best moments in the film). They quickly glom on with a group of smugglers led by Woody Harrelson’s Beckett – a very non-Star Wars-y name, btw – and anchored by an underused Thandie Newton.

What proceeds from that point forward, at least in terms of character, is kind of like a movie length version of that Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade’s opening sequence with River Phoenix as a young Indiana on the run from tomb raiders. Beckett is the “You lost today, kid, but you don’t have to like it” guy, the enemy turned impressed mentor, and Alden Ehrenreich’s Han is very much the River Phoenix Indiana picking up all the traits we commonly associate with the Harrison Ford version. Except Phoenix was playing a much, much younger version of Indiana. Not so much with Ehrenreich and Han.

Plot-wise, Solo’s apprenticeship with Beckett plays out as a series of heists, an endless game of trying to appease a high-ranking member (a scenery-chewing Paul Bettany) of something called the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate. Of course, as with any good heist they have to first put together a team, which is how Lando and L3-37 enter the story and how Qi’ra re-enters the story (the idea of Han needing to go home to save her falls away surprisingly fast). They fail, they die, but the universe keeps on trucking, which counts as low-stakes in a Star Wars movie.

Director Ron Howard, subbing in at the last minute for Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and reportedly refilming most of the movie with just a week to prepare, does a workmanlike job with the heists, particularly one atop a moving train which changes its axis at every turn. These sequences are never particularly exceptional, but by modern blockbuster standards, they’re certainly watchable.

That might be the best word for Solo: “watchable.” It takes forever to get going, never fully comes together, and, maddeningly, never fully finishes its story since this is clearly meant to be the start of a new Han Solo trilogy. But, it’s not exactly terrible. It’s in no way a truly memorable blockbuster, but it’s a watchable one with adequate action and a decent twist or two. This is what a micromanaged Star Wars movie looks like, and the end result is something perfectly fine but also perfectly skippable.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Think of it as Blah: A Star Wars Story.

RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS

  1. Favorite scene: Qi’ra gleefully trying on one of Lando’s many, many capes like a little girl playing dress up because, seriously, who could resist?
  2. We learn how Han got his last name and I found it almost as eye roll-inducing as Phantom Menace’s “the force is just midichlorians in your bloodstream” crap.
  3. Solo oddly splits the difference on the Rogue One “Where’s my opening crawl!” controversy. Rather than pull a Rogue One and abruptly start the story right after the iconic “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”, Solo treats us to a couple of lines of text establishing where Han lives and who he serves. However, this text doesn’t crawl down the screen to John Williams-scored fanfare but instead flashes by without much ceremony, not unlike Blade Runner, Running Man, or the countless other 80s movies which start with blocks of unnarrated text on the screen. I found the effect slightly off-putting.
  4. Bradford Young’s cinematography in this film is uncharacteristically dark and grimy for Star Wars, but it does lend certain scenes, such as one on a darkened battlefield, a surprising amount of heft.
  5. John Powell’s music compositions are serviceable but never really feel like Star Wars. Everyone’s just following John Williams lead, of course, but Michael Giacchino was far better at that on Rogue One than Powell is here. Powell also does the Creed thing of refraining from using any of the franchise’s iconic scores until the film feels like it’s earned it. So, for example, the Star Wars theme is held back until when Han and Chewie first pilot the Millennium Falcon together. It’s a frustrating, but sometimes rewarding waiting act.
  6. Spoiler: After Solo, you’ll never look at the Millennium Falcon’s navigational maps the same again
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11 comments

  1. “…is kind of like a movie length version of that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’s opening sequence with River Phoenix as a young Indiana…”

    I think you mean Last Crusade 😀 But great review though. Couldn’t agree more with the idea that the whole film felt kind of pointless.

    1. Right you are. Probably a Freudian lip. I’m in the middle of watching The Trouble with Apu and that doc’s Temple of Doom reference clearly stuck with me. Like, I legitimately thought I typed “Last Crusade.” Obviously, I didn’t. Fixed it now, though. Thanks.

  2. Gotta disagree with you in many significant ways on this one. I flat out loved it; the most outright fun and, even, joy that I’ve experienced in a movie theater in a long time (probably since STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS which plenty of people irrationally “hate” whereas I think both it and SOLO are genuine pieces of true “pop art”). Read my review on FB (and coming soon, today maybe? to my Website The Damnedest Thing You Ever Saw).
    – Jai Dixit

    1. I’m glad you loved it. That you lump it in with Star Trek Into Darkness, another film I see as being “watchable” but not entirely capable of justifying its own existence, indicates that, hey, at least we’re consistent here. Don’t love ST:ID or Solo, but you do I’ll have to track down your review now.

      1. Thanks for the good-spirited reply (something I’m not used to; ST fan pages hate me for even mentioning anything I like about JJ Abrams’ vision). I just posted a reworked version of my review on my wordpress page (but I suddenly can’t impost my own photos? What am I doing wrong all of a sudden?). Anyway, if you do read it, I’d enjoying engaging in a similarly respectful and good-humored dialog.

    1. Just to be clear, the point about nostalgia wasn’t that it’s inherently bad, more that when pop culture is awash with rehashed ideas, as it is now, you have to develop a bit of a bullshit filter and decide what’s just a passionless nostalgia cash-grab and what’s actually something worth paying attention to. Solo, even with Lawrence Kasdan co-writing the script and longtime Star Wars fan Ron Howard behind the camera, feels more like it sounded good on paper and ticked the right boxes for a corporate boardroom as opposed to being a project with a good enough idea to justify its own existence.

      Also, I’m with you on Stranger Things.

  3. This is an excellent review that greatly encapsulates the central problem with Solo.

    I think that Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fascinating inversion of the burgeoning adolescence theme of the saga. Unfortunately, in execution, the theme has no emotional resonance due to a deficient central performance. But, the film picks up the slack with its world building and cinematic craftsmanship.

    You can find out more by reading my review below.

    https://sgsonfilm.net/2018/05/25/review-solo-a-star-wars-story-2018/

    If you find the piece to your liking, then please comment and follow.

  4. *shrug* I liked it. Is it the worst of the modern Star Wars so far? Probably, but that didn’t stop it from being enjoyable to me. It was exactly what I expected it to be. It’s like the Ant-Man of the current Star Wars cinematic universe. It doesn’t have galaxy shattering consequences and it doesn’t necessarily NEED to exist (does any movie though?), but I don’t see why either of these things detract from a work.

    That said, I fully realize that it had its flaws and was far from perfect, but I think it turned out remarkably well for having such a troubled production.

    1. It’s cool if you like it. Obviously. It’s not exactly getting torn apart on RottenTomatoes and the audience reaction has been divided, leaning more toward meh than excitement or hatred. But, like I argued, it’s a watchable movie with decent enough set pieces and occasional moments of pure fun.

      “t was exactly what I expected it to be. It’s like the Ant-Man of the current Star Wars cinematic universe”

      And I’m cool with a Star Wars movie with such low stakes, ala Ant-Man. The difference is the personal stakes in Ant-Man resonated with me. Even though the script, really, really beats home the Scott/Hank’s heroism being tied to their need to be better fathers to Cassie/Hope, I still found it effective. The personal stakes in Solo, however, just don’t do much for me. I get what they’re going for with Han’s evolution from romantic to cynic but it feels a bit lost in the reshoot shuffle and a tad too telegraphed. It also doesn’t help that I never totally connected with Alden Ehrenreich’s performance.

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