Review: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY, A Mixed Shot
Han lives an Oliver Twist-like existence on Corellia 8, stealing and scavenging for a local ganglord to eke out a meager existence. Together with love interest Qi'ra, he yearns for a way to get off planet and start a new life. After double-crossing the ganglord Han and Qi’ra get separated at a security check-in and Han joins the Imperial Navy to evade capture.
Three years later, Han is now part of the ground forces, his rebellious spirit getting him kicked out of the Navy, and doing him no favors on the ground either. He runs into Tobias Beckett and his crew on the battlefield and Han immediately recognizes them for gangsters impersonating Imperial soldiers. Seizing the opportunity to convince them to take him into the gang Han joins them on their next job, robbing an Imperial supply train of the universe’s most precious commodity, Hydrofuel.
Thus begins Han’s career as a smuggler, scoundrel and eventually the reluctant hero. When that first job goes wrong Solo and Beckett find themselves indebted to crime boss Dryden Vos. To pay back what they owe Solo suggests that they go to the source of Hydrofuel, the mining planet Kessel, and bring back the fuel in its unrefined form. Thing is, this raw form is highly volatile and explodes when it reaches a certain temperature. Hence, the gang has to get out of Kessel faster than usual. See what screenwriters Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan did there? Solo: A Star Wars Story is a tale with twists and turns, a story of betrayed loyalties, of events that begin to form the character that we have come to love since his first appearance in Episode IV.
Solo is essentially the Han Solo origin story set loosely against the framework of western genre tropes. You have your great train robbery at the beginning, which is the best action set piece of the entire film. You have your gathering of your gang in the second act, where Han meets Lando Calrissian for the first time. Then you have the great heist in the third act followed by a series of betrayals and back stabbings. These are swindlers, smugglers and gangsters after all.
As with any origin story we learn how Han gets his full name. We see how he meets Chewbacca, another great bit early on in the film. Every Star Wars fan worth their salt knows how Han gets the Millenium Falcon from Lando. And Solo adds its own opinion to one of the most hotly contested changes George Lucas made to his original trilogy when he reissued them back in the 90s.
Probably the most important question of al is, how do Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover do with the roles of Solo and Calrissian? You know what? They do a pretty good job. Never once did I get hung up on Ehrenreich’s portrayal of Solo. Glover occasionally enunciated with that Billy Dee Williams baritone as well. Never to the point of pantomime, you just hear it now and again.
Visually this is unmistakably a Star Wars film. As always, I tip my hat to the production design team for the worlds they create, the creatures they design, and the sets and the backdrops. Everything looks awesome... when its not black and bleak and shrouded in darkness. That is the first major hang up. It is exceptionally frustrating is how dark, bleak and poorly lit the first couple acts were filmed. I get it, visually this is suppose to represent how dark the early years of Han Solo were but it really is too dark to the point of being indescribable action.
But boy of boy, I do get giddy when there are new troopers as well. The Range Troopers from the train heist set piece are pretty sick. There are the Mud Troopers as well which look dragged from the trenches of a 20th Century world war. The classic troopers appear in the first act but the Empire is pretty much out of the mix after Solo and Beckett`s crew split to meet Dryden Vos..
The creators of Solo had the unenviable task of trying to wow audiences with what is already one of the most familiar and popular characters in the entire Star Wars universe. When Lucasfilm and Disney first announced that the second stand alone Star Wars film was going to be a Han Solo film many fans wondered why. Do we need an early years Han Solo standalone film? It felt like a safe bet for the studios. Make a film about something familiar than take a risk and create a bevy of new characters, or explore another unexplored arc of the Star Wars universe. Therein lies the problem. There is no such thing as a sure bet. American playwright Neil Simon once wrote, ‘If no one ever took risks, Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor’. Solo sticks very close to the floor of the Star Wars universe chapel.
I am just going to come out and say it. Solo is the lesser of all Star Wars movies. It is the least spectacular of all Star Wars movies. All in all, Solo feels very rushed after the crew gather themselves together after that botched first job. The story moves along at such a rapid pace you would be forgiven if you thought that someone replaced all the screenplays on set with a Cliff Notes version. I kept expecting a small pop up to come on to the screen, something like, “Would you like to know more about the Kessel Run? Click here.” One cannot help but sense that we are missing out on crucial or more important character work here.
About that infamous Kessel Run - as much of a big deal that Solo makes of it in other chapters this movie hardly touches it. Twelve parsecs? Big fucking deal. I am more than a little disappointed that this is hardly a footnote in the film, glossing over the material that the self-promoting Solo sold himself on in other chapters.
Already the lesser of the first two stand alone Star Wars films I dare say that this is the least spectacular Star Wars film of all. Yes. Rogue One had the same handicap as Solo does, being wedged into an existing storyline whence we pretty much know the outcome of each story. And there were some pretty unforgivable moments in Rogue One as well. The Bor Gullet anyone? Unlike Solo though I will go back to moments in Rogue One and rewatch them over and over again. That Raid on Skeriff? The bombing run on Eadu? I will watch those scenes over and over and over again.
There is less of a sense of grandeur and scale in this Star Wars film than any other chapter before it. We wondered and pondered on how a Dirty Dozen style Star Wars film would work in Rogue One and it worked pretty damn good. Now we are looking at a Western style Star Wars and does it work? Not as well. When every film leading up to Solo, despite their faults, are at the very least ambitious and grand in their story telling, Solo feels like a bit of a letdown. Even a surprise character return at the end of film does not resurrect Solo from the dullness.
Please believe me when I tell you all that I do not delight in sharing this news with you. I am a Star Wars apologist through and through. I have stood by every film that has ever come out, despite their faults. Yet Solo feels so plain and dull when held up to any of the others. The worst thing I can say about Solo is that I probably will not have to go back to the cinema to see it again.
I`m not so much angry, as I am disappointed.
(Adenndum: The author still ordered a Black Series Range Trooper this morning despite his feelings about the movie overall)