Warning: Spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story ahead
The Force is not with Solo: A Star Wars Story, and that appears to be by design. There are no ‘hokey religions’ or ‘ancient weapons’ driving this film. And while the Empire is omnipresent and the reason so many smugglers and black markets exist, it’s not “force”ing itself unnecessarily into parts of the film where it doesn’t belong.
The change in tone is intentional, and likely what drove a wedge between the writers and the original directors, who were fired, before Ron Howard was brought in to save the day. We’ll never know how much he ‘saved,’ but the Imperial Commanders at Disney/Lucasfilm seem to be happy with the result.
While not as terminally unentertaining and pointless as The Last Jedi, the film never grabs you by the throat and the heart.
Solo is at its best when it’s filling in gaps and explaining the origins of throw-away references from other films. Example: in the original trilogy Han references ‘the big Corellian ships.” This movie opens on Han’s home planet, the ship building planet of Corellia. We also learn how he gets his name, how he formed his bond with Chewbacca, and it fills in the details on how he wrested ownership of the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian.
The Best is Saved for Last
This movie lacks heart until the end. Han’s quest to become a pilot, his true love for Qi’ra, refining his instincts to fly and talk his way out of trouble, they all seem pro forma. Yes, we see Han as idealistic and optimistic about the future, which is something we know will be sucked out of him over time.
But the first two acts serve mainly to quench our thirst to learn more about a young Solo (and to be honest, we weren’t that thirsty to begin with) and dazzle us with CGI chase scenes and fight sequences.
The movie finally ponies up plot twists of consequence in the last 30 minutes or so. The problem with an origin story like this is that we already know that Han and Chewy (and his gold dice) are gonna survive and the Millennium Falcon will always be ambulatory.
When marauders reappear to claim (steal) the coveted Coaxium, the go-go juice that drives everything in the galaxy, we learn they’re not profiteers, but a band of misfits fighting the Empire and helping a nascent rebellion coalesce.
And while the requisite betrayals come at a dizzying pace, they are engaging and finally move the greater plot along.
And then there’s this guy:
A Trip to the Maul
This was easily the most WTF moment of the film. The last time we saw Darth Maul, he was being bisected by Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace. But he’s popping up as the puppet master for the guy Qi’ra was working for. Once she offs him, she decides to take his place and contacts Maul.
It would make sense that this means Solo is set before Phantom Menace. However, fans of the TV series and games and books know that Maul somehow survived, went crazy, and managed to carve out his own little fiefdom in the galaxy before Darth Sideous finally finished him off (how very Days of Our Lives). Lawrence Kasdan said this film set about ten years before the cantina scene in A New Hope, and it’s interesting to note that the role was credited as Maul, not Darth Maul, suggesting that he’d lost his title and been replaced at this point.
And if they’re gonna bring back any character from Episode One, we much prefer Maul to Jar Jar Binks. That would be a deal breaker.
However, the reemergence of Maul and the secret identity of Qi’ra suggest that this prequel will get sequels. And if you read variety.com with any regularity, you know Alden Ehrenreich has signed on to play Han in up to three movies.
What? You don’t get Variety in your RSS feed? That’s okay, we do so you don’t have to!
Solo: A Star Wars Story tries, and mostly fails, to build the film on relationships. At one point he mentions he doesn’t have family, and we’re thinking: if we get one more Star Wars protagonist with Daddy Issues, we’re out. Luckily this well-worn device is avoided (for now).
Han and Chewy were always a dynamic duo with chemistry. This film succeeds in fleshing out their start and why they are so devoted to each other. They are easily, and appropriately, the strongest relationship of the movie.
Unfortunately, the next best relationship is between Lando and his robot companion, L3-37. L3 is a droid with a social conscious. She works to free those oppressed, including fellow droids enslaved at the mines on Kessel (ones that C3-PO fretted about being sent to in Episode Four). When she meets an untimely end, Lando is clearly moved. However we’re not sure we’re buying it.
(And while we’re thinking of C3-PO, unless we missed it, this is the first Star Wars film that hasn’t at least had a cameo of him & his counterpart R2-D2)
The obviously overt point is that love is love is love. We couldn’t agree more. But even in the environment of Westworld where reality and consciousness is relentlessly explored, this still felt contrived, overwritten, and over acted. And it had only minimal emotional consequence, since she was easily downloaded to the Millennium Falcon’s main computer.
All other relationships were built on convenience, which is fine, since that’s the way most relationships in the galaxy are at this point in the canon. But that leads to the problem we alluded to earlier: betrayal is expected, and aside from Qi’ra having an association with the dark side, none of it really surprises us.
This week it was announced that Boba Fett would get his own origin story. He was seen as a child in Episode Two, and as an adult in Empire & Return of the Jedi. The timing of the announcement makes us wonder if a Solo trilogy will bridge the timeline to the Fett movie.
It’s also been suggested that Han will be moving on to Tatooine, where he will no doubt get mixed up with the Huts. It could be interesting to learn more about that slug-like tribe.
And as we write this, we wonder if we’re excited for more stories, or just stories that fill in the cinematic gaps in the canon. Because at this point, a Star Wars movie every six months to a year is starting to water down the novelty of the whole thing.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Brandy. Han & Co. request it when they get their stolen goods to the refinery planet of Savareen. They never get to enjoy their beverage. May the Force be with you as you go to the bar.