August 13, 2020
Solo: A Star Wars Story – US, 2018
I get Disney’s thinking on Solo: A Star Wars Story. The company was three films into their incarnation of Star Wars, and thus far, the results had been impressive – three films with box office grosses over a billion dollars. A film about the series’s most iconic character must have seemed like a sure thing. Their resolve was undoubtedly strengthened by the recent reboots of Spider-Man and the Hulk, as well as the fact that no live-action Star Wars film had ever lost money. I doubt Marvel’s aborted attempt to make origin films ever entered their minds, but if it had, they might have noticed similarities between Solo and X-Men Origins: Wolverine that would have given them reason to pause.
Wolverine had one major disadvantage: its core narrative had already been told – fully in comic books and piecemeal in the first two X-Men movies. Just why 21st Century Fox thought audiences wanted to see it again is beyond me, but then again we’re talking about the company that decided it was wise to remake the Dark Phoenix saga rather quickly. Thankfully, Solo contains a relatively novel storyline, yet it never overcomes the second flaw of films in its genre – mainly, it never justifies its existence.
This may sound harsh, but think of other prequels – films like Dumb and Dumberer, Red Dragon, and the animated Clone Wars movie. They were hardly essential viewing, and seeing them did not add much to your understanding of the films whose success they were meant to piggyback on. Disney had gotten lucky with Rogue One – audiences were still jazzed by the return of Star Wars and they were curious as to how exactly events hinted at in the first film actually went down. And despite the fact that nothing in that film seriously impacted the audience’s understanding of either the original series or their prequels, they were generally pleased with the experience. Solo wasn’t quite as fortunate. It was released just five months after The Last Jedi, a film which wasn’t nearly as popular as its predecessor, with some detractors even calling for a boycott of future Star Wars films. In other words, there was a lot for Solo to overcome.
Solo is essentially an origin story. We meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich) on a planet whose inhabitants have been forced into a life of crime by ruthless slug-like overlords, and we follow him as he tries to escape the planet with his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clark), (only he makes it out), joins the Empire briefly (a say-what? moment), meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) in a scene eerily reminiscent of one in Return of the Jedi, reveals that he speaks Wookie (which makes you wonder why he never did in the later films), and joins up with a band of pirates led by Woody Harrelson so that he can earn enough money to return to his home planet to rescue Qi’ra. At some point – don’t ask me when - Han learns how to fly a spacecraft better than anyone else in the galaxy.
As the film progresses, we get answers to questions I doubt Star Wars fans ever really had, such as how Han and Chewbacca became a team and just what exactly the kessel run that Han ran in 12 parsecs was. The film also includes a few tidbits that I never even thought to ponder, such as how the rebellion was financed, and, like The Rise of Skywalker it includes the return of a character long-assumed deceased - without any explanation whatsoever as to why he’s walking around relatively unscathed.
Despite all this, Solo is still moderately successful. While it takes too long to find its rhythm, when it does, it can actually be quite fun. It looks like a Star Wars film, and it is hard to fault the admirable efforts of the cast. Sure, no one will ever be able to replace Harrison Ford, but Ehrenreich brings energy, heart, and a certain degree of fun to the role of Han Solo. He and Suotamo establish a realistic rapport, and there are some rather clever interactions between Han and Lando, here played by Donald Glover.
That said, the filmmakers made a billion dollar mistake – they included a storyline that audiences simply will never invest in. I’m speaking here of Han’s relationship with Qi’ra. After five films in which we have rooted for and been dismayed by the apparent collapse of Han’s relationship with Leia, it’s hard to care much for the collapse of a relationship that we know doesn’t last. It’s like watching a film called When Harry Met Helen, and asking us to invest in his attempt to woo the woman that eventually unceremoniously dumps him. And after what Han goes through as a result of Qi’ra, it is hard to imagine that she would have become such an afterthought. I guess that’s what happens when films are made out of order and not enough thought is given to continuity.
Much has already been written about the making of Solo, but it bears mentioning that the film underwent a directorial change mid-production, resulting in a real shift in tone. I say this because it shows. Long stretches of the film – many of which involve a rebellious android called L3-37 and her quest for the emancipation of her fellow robots - were clearly intended to be part of a comedy, while others – in particular, the film’s finale, have a much more serious tone. A few scenes try – somewhat unsuccessfully - to find a middle ground. For example, in one scene, our heroes are in serious danger of being eaten by some sort of space octopus while also being pursued by tie fighters. One would expect a serious demeanor, yet there Han is joking about Chewbacca’s age. The film never truly overcomes this imbalance.
It seems clear that Solo was intended to be the first in a series, for several storylines are left unresolved. The film does not establish a strong relationship between Lando and Han, at least not the kind that would make Han think he could go to him for help in The Empire Strikes Back. A big job is hinted at toward the end of the film, one which would have undoubtedly brought Han face to face with Jabba the Hutt. We’ll likely never know for sure. On top of the film losing money, Ehrenreich has said that he would have a difficult time returning to the role, and after the uproar over his casting, I can’t say I blame him.
I’m not suggesting that I’m clamoring for a sequel or that I had a burning desire to see a Han Solo movie in the first place. In truth, I probably would not be inclined to see a follow-up even if it were made. Which brings me back to Wolverine. Without a narrative to continue or better explain, the film just screamed cash grab. The same charge can be leveled at Solo – not that there’s anything wrong with that, provided that the final product is sufficiently entertaining. And Solo is marginally that. I’d even go so far as to award it the bronze statue. Yes, I am aware that may not seem like much of a compliment to some of you, but hey, it’s something. (on DVD and Blu-ray)
2 and a half stars