By Tanner Kinney
The revival of Star Wars under Disney, led by producer Kathleen Kennedy, has been much more turbulent than expected. Despite the first two films, The Force Awakens and Rogue One, being overall solid action flicks, the two most recent films have left fans and critics at odds. The Last Jedi was a well-executed film that perhaps went too far in the direction of subverting expectations, which left critics content, but incited a rebellion among fans that has so far carried into the reception of their future products. The first of which is Solo: A Star Wars Story. Fortunately for Star Wars fans, Solo is a comfy blanket of nostalgia that doesn’t try to change too much of what they know. For anyone else, the film just blends too well into the crowd of run-of-the-mill action blockbusters to be worth noticing.
An origin story with the personality of a plastic cup
Solo: A Star Wars Story tells the tale of a young Han Solo, played by Some Guy™ (Alden Ehrenreich), who is involved in crime on a planet named after something from a throwaway line said during A New Hope. After almost escaping but getting separated from his love Qi’ra, played by Emilia Clarke, Han decides to join the Empire in an effort to become a pilot and rescue his love, despite their lack of chemistry, from their dead-end planet. After some hijinks, Han meets Chewbacca, and the two join a smuggler named Beckett, played by Woody Harrelson, who serves as Han’s father figure and mentor of sorts. Han is then launched on a heist greater than anticipated, and the only advice he has is to never trust anyone.
The biggest problem with the story of Solo is that it does nothing to really make a general audience member care. People who aren’t already fans of Star Wars, or people who aren’t invested in the plastic cup of a character that is Han Solo get absolutely nothing out of the story. Scenes aren’t connected by anything more than hard cuts and the overall heist narrative. Due to the fact this is a prequel story to the original trilogy, there’s no real threat for the main duo of Han and Chewy. It became more of a guessing game to figure out which of the new characters would get killed in an attempt to create emotional impact for an audience that doesn’t really care. While it is structured well, it isn’t anything too special.
The acting is pretty solid overall, though it’s very clear that Alden Ehrenreich is playing Harrison Ford playing Han Solo. Donald Glover puts in a good performance as Lando, and Emilia Clarke does her job sufficiently well. Woody Harrelson seems to phone in a couple of line reads, but it isn’t too much of a problem. The writing given to the characters in the film, however, is inconsistent. While Han and Chewy have pretty great chemistry and a few good moments, the rest of the cast of characters aren’t given much. Lando essentially appears as a glorified cameo, disappearing from the plot as fast as he entered it. Beckett and his relationship with the smuggler group Crimson Dawn seems interesting at first but is watered down to a simple good guy/bad guy dynamic. Even Han Solo himself shows no real growth over the course of the film, other than learning to shoot first. That’s it. That’s the character arc of Han Solo during his entire little origin story, and it amounts to a Star Wars reference.
This is not even touching on the droid, named L3-37 (yes, like “LEET GAMER SPEAK”). Phoebe Waller-Bridge is given possibly the most poorly written character in the entire franchise (yes, including Jar Jar Binks), to the point where it almost seems like Disney is making a parody of her character archetype. L3 is a droid obsessed with “droid rights,” and that is her only defining character trait. On watching the film the first time, she’s relatively entertaining as a comic character, but it seems bizarre that Disney would make a character that mocks the whole “social justice warrior” character. Which then means L3 was written to be played completely straight, and that makes her character so hamfisted and cringey it’s laughable. Aside from one good scene with Emilia Clarke and L3, where L3 leaves a passing mention that she and Lando are getting it on, the character seems like a carry-over from a completely different movie. Perhaps she is, considering this film’s production history. L3 is a good summary of the film itself: unnecessary.
Great action ruined by terrible direction
Solo had a number of cool action sequences. The spice mines of Kessel served as probably one of the coolest parts in the film, with the robot uprising providing a mood that actually got close to feeling like Star Wars. The final action sequence was also very minimal, which felt perfect for a small story like this one. Even the action sequences that seemed like they were part of a different film, like the car chase at the start or the train-heist that’s shown in the trailers were still entertaining enough for what they were. Sure, the music has to over-compensate for the more underwhelming action sequences, but it still provided a fun diversion from the dark-brown mush that is the rest of the film.
For some reason, Solo is a very dimly lit film. It’s like Zach Snyder directed it. The first planet, the non-action sequences on the train-heist planet, the mud planet where Han is stationed as an imperial soldier, and even parts of the Millenium Falcon seem like there was a lightbulb out on set, but they were already over budget so it couldn’t get fixed. There are some scenes that are more reasonably lit, mostly the action sequences that weren’t in the spice mines of Kessel, but the rest of the film just seems overly dark compared to the goofy tone of the film. Speculation is that these scenes were carried over from the first directors of Solo, but that just makes this film feel like two different films pulling in two different directions.
Speaking of which, the pacing in this film is pretty terrible. There’s more than one action sequence in the film that hard cuts from blaring Star Wars music and fast-paced action to dead silence, complete with a wide shot of Han wherever he is at the time. It feels like someone choppily edited two different terrible films together, and the result is a Frankenstein’s Monster of a film that at least makes people smile at times. Despite the fact it jumps from one scene to the next with reckless abandon, the film also feels like it ends the third act three different times. Traditional film structure seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the line, possibly during the copious reshoots the film went through.
An obsession with the past plagues Solo
A problem Solo has, at least from the perspective of a general audience member with no connection to Star Wars, comes from its obsession with the past. A number of lines in the film exist to either be direct call-backs to the original trilogy, or explain things that didn’t need to be explained in the original trilogy. Some moments felt like the writers actually just did a Wookiepedia search on “Han Solo” and copy pasted moments word-for-word. Han Solo’s dice, how he got the Millenium Falcon, why he gave Chewbacca a nickname, why he uses a blaster, almost every part of Han Solo’s character is given an explanation. The only elements they missed were explaining where Han Solo got his boots, or the trademark red stripe down the side of his pants.
This is all well and good for the Star Wars fans. After Rian Johnson brutally murdered what they loved in cold blood while telling them all their fan theories and extended universe fan fiction was absolute trash, they need a caring voice reminding them about the good old days. But The Last Jedi is infinitely more interesting as a film because of the risks it took in bringing Star Wars to a new place. Solo just brings it right back where it always was: a boring place where every little detail is explained. The only acceptable reference to old Star Wars is the confirmation of Chewy’s family as canon, meaning the entire Star Wars Holiday Special is canon. Lumpy is canon, and really, that’s all that matters.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
'Solo: A Star Wars Story' has a lot of problems. Its writing is inconsistent, it’s too visually muddy, it needed to be about 20 minutes shorter, and it needed to have its own legs to stand on. Despite all of that, there are enough great action sequences and good character moments that the film can’t be written off as completely terrible. It can, however, be written off as bland and forgettable. Much like Han Solo himself, the film is enjoyable, but flawed and ultimately unimportant.
Tanner is a Film and Media Studies major and a Digital Media minor. His Neo Yokio review won a second-place CSPA Golden Circle award for the 2017 semester. He enjoys playing JRPG’s of any variety, regardless of how obscure and strange it is. Tanner is also the host of Byte at the Movies, the premiere movie discussion live-stream.