Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Written by Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan
Directed by Ron Howard (well 70%, Phil Lord and Chris Miller for the other 30%)
A long time ago in a galaxy far away, lived a young Dickensian orphan named Han who was under the thumb of an alien Fagin. He and his sweetheart Kira plan their escape from the hell of the shipbuilding planet Corellia, and sadly, only Han gets out while Kira is taken by their masters. Feeling lost and alone in the world, the young man joins up with the Galactic Empire with hopes of becoming a pilot. Along the way, he meets Beckett and his crew as well as befriending Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, and getting to fly the Millenium Falcon. They all get entangled in debt to the Crimson Dawn cartel that involves a heist which will, of course, go awry.
Solo is such an unnecessary movie. Honestly, you could say that about most movies, but Solo just brings nothing to the table when it comes to fleshing out or understanding the themes of the Star Wars universe in any way. In fact, Solo actively undermines the traditional character arcs of Han in the original films in a way that is incredibly frustrating. There’s an argument made that this film is just plain old good fun. This could be true if the story didn’t quickly devolve into the same recycled cliches I was hoping Star Wars might shift away from. Instead, we get a bunch of needless fanservice in place of an exciting and smart story.
The elephant in the room is the abrupt firing of original directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller by Kathleen Kennedy. You can google the nitty-gritty details, but the short version is that she objected to the incredibly silly tone they were infusing the movie with, particularly their emphasis on improvised moments. I go back and forth on improvisation in film, I am a huge fan of this type of comedy when it comes to stage and skit performances, but it rarely works on the big screen. However, why would you hire these two directors if you didn’t want them to bring their particular style to the work? I have grown to love this directorial duo’s 21 Jump Street movies for their very pointed meta-commentary and silliness, realizing that making a film about a long-defunct 1980s high school cop drama in an inherently goofy thing. I honestly feel that a silly heist movie in the Star Wars universe would have been a hell of a lot of fun.
What we do have is an overlong film that started to bore me about midway through. There is Han fighting alongside his Imperial allies, but we barely get any of that, which I think would have been an exciting portion of his life to explore. That is tossed aside for his crime career to begin working for Beckett. Then Kira shows back up so that plot thread can be developed. Lando shows up and is fun, but seems to vanish into the background when the action kicks in. The heist is the most extended sequence, and I felt myself get lost in the mix at a certain point, just too much sound and fury without much meaning.
The place Solo goes off the rails is in its desperate attempt to give Han a hero’s arc. In the original Star Wars, Han is a complete scoundrel doing everything for money and helping nobody but himself. In this movie, they shoehorn in a third act plot twist that causes Han to help someone else and eschew his portion of a payoff. But is Han is already an altruistic smuggler with a heart of gold then his turn in A New Hope loses its emotional weight. I think it would have been much more fascinating to see young, naive Han take a dark turn away from emotional connection with others, emphasizing what a transformation he goes through when he finally joins the Rebellion.
There are lots of visual easter eggs, musical cues, and other fanservice but not much substance. It’s very apparent that Disney wants to toy with a Solo trilogy or series of films and I would hope if they do they have more to say about this world. I am in the camp that loved The Last Jedi because it continually surprised me with where it was going and felt like it had something to say, something to critique about the status quo of this world. I find myself anticipating Episode IX much more than whatever Disney decides is its next Star Wars Story.