Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Based on the trailer, I assumed we were going to get the story of how an optimistic hot-rodder (“I’ve got a really good feeling about this”) becomes the cynical anti-hero we all loved in “Star Wars” (I’ve got a bad feeling about this”).
Instead, we get the story of how an orphan from the tough streets of Corellia...
- escapes from his home planet even as his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, the Mother of Dragons), is captured
- winds up with a rag-tag team of bandits, led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who keeps betraying him; and,
- is reunited with Qi’ra, who, it’s implied, has been enslaved and fucked over in ways we don’t want to imagine, and who also winds up betraying him
And yet for all that, our hero, Han (Alden Ehrenreich), never loses his general optimism and ebullience. The guy who said “I ain’t in this for your revolution, Princess, and I ain’t in it for you. ... I’m in it for the money”? That guy? We don’t begin to see him here.
Should’ve known. My imagined path implies bad shit happening that we feel. And not feeling, just getting into and out of near-death scrapes, is the whole point of the “Star Wars” saga.
Plus, taking us up to the fateful meeting in the Mos Eisley cantina implies a kind of closure, which means closing off potential revenue streams. And keeping potential revenue streams open and flowing is the whole other point of the “Star Wars” saga.
Ehrenreich was better than I anticipated but I was still bored. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a series of perilous entries and last-second extractions from:
- The military
- The botched train robbery deal
- The debt to gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, overacting)
- The battle with Dryden Vos. Or Tobias Beckett. Or maybe even Qi’ra
Yes, “Star Wars” was also a series of difficult entries and last-second extractions, but it felt different. Maybe because I was 14 when I saw it? Maybe because what was new in ’77 feels done-to-death now? Maybe because the original characters felt fun and engaging and these feel ... not?
The most interesting new character to me is Rio Durant (voice: Jon Favreau), a bemused multi-limbed alien and member of Beckett’s crew, but he dies early. I also liked L3-37 (voice: Phoebe Waller-Bridge of “Fleabag”), a tall, gangly, and vaguely suffragist droid, who foments a revolution on Kessel. She buys it, too. Beckett? Always fun to see Woody. Gone. Han shoots first.
Some of the reveals aren’t that revealing. Early on, Han is thrown into a pit with a “monster.” Chewie, right? Right. Too much is avoided—namely everything Qi’ra went through. Not to mention the insane coincidence of simply running into her at Dryden Vos’ place. You ever run into a friend in the same city? You do a double-take, right? How about running into a friend on the other side of the world? That happened to me once: I saw a Minnesota friend in a nightclub in Taipei in 1987. Now imagine that but with the galaxy. That should’ve been the double-take of all double-takes. Not to mention it was the love of his life to whom he was doing everything to return. But in the movie, it barely registers. There's no human moment. It’s sort of like, “Oh, that problem’s solved, and now we’re onto the next thing.“ Whoosh. The roller coaster keeps rolling.
Maybe the worst reveal involves Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman), the leader of the fierce Cloud Riders, who kill Rio Durant and Beckett’s love, Val (Thandie Newton, wasted), while attempting to steal the coaxium that Beckett’s crew stole from the train. Guess what? She’s a freckle-faced girl. It’s a bit “Full Metal Jacket,” isn’t it? Also they’re not pirates; they’re the beginning of the rebellion. And Han is all in. He’ll do anything to help. Rio who? Val who? Already forgotten. Already swept under. I”m not in it for the money; I'm in it for your revolution, Princess.
We get greatest hits. There’s Chewbacca grumbling over hologram chess. There’s Beckett wearing that odd helmet with the built-in reverse handlebars that Lando wore in “Return of the Jedi.” There’s young Lando (Donald Glover) cheating at cards. We get to go on the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. And is that ... Darth Maul? It is. Apparently they’re delivering nostalgia for fans of the prequels, too.
The one thing that goes unmentioned is the very thing that binds this universe together. There’s no Force here. Both ways.
Goodbye gray skies, hello blue
I keep coming back to the nostalgia. That seems key to the whole thing.
“Star Wars” was borne out of George Lucas’ nostalgia for the Saturday matinee movie serials of his youth, and we’re now nostalgic for the feeling we had when we first entered his universe. We want that feeling back again. The movie tries to help. Too much.
“Solo” had a rough birth. Its original directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were apparently overwhelmed by the project, and were replaced by the old pro, Ron Howard, who has his own connection to both Lucas and nostalgic enterprises. When “Star Wars” was released in May 1977, he was the star of the No. 1 TV show in America, “Happy Days,” which was nostalgic for a “simpler time” before the turbulence of the 1960s. And while “Happy Days” was based on a 1972 episode of “Love American Style,” it probably only got greenlit because of the success of Lucas’ previous film, “American Graffiti,” which starred Howard. Also in a key bit role as a hot-rodder? Harrison Ford, Han Solo himself. That’s where he was born.
Have we just gotten tired of it? Them pressing our nostalgia buttons? All of those perilous entries and last-second extractions? Because “Solo” didn’t do well with the critics or at the box office. If you adjust for inflation, every major “Star Wars” release grossed between $476 million and $1.3 billion, domestic, but this one is just struggling over the $200 million mark. Every major “Star Wars” was the No. 1 movie of its year—save “Clones,” which finished third—but I doubt this one makes the top 10. It’s already No. 5 with an anvil.
What happened? I'm sure Disney/Lucas execs are trying to figure that out. Here's a clue. In the documentary “The Making of American Graffiti,” George Lucas talks about the difficult of getting “Graffiti” made. It was just too different. No exec could see what it was. But audiences could. Here’s Lucas:
I think one of the reasons it was as successful as it was is because it was different from the standard fare of the time. ... “Star Wars” suffered from the same fate. People don’t realize with these movies that have become very successful ... it’s because they’re fresh and different and experimental that people like to watch them.
A long time ago. In a galaxy far, far away.