One of the most vague, fascinating, and headache-inducing franchise tentpoles of all time has finally stopped being built up to and has hit the theatres for those of us who hadn’t been able to attend Cannes. I’ve mentioned multiple times that Star Wars is my favorite franchise. Hell, it’s one of my favorite things period. The original trilogy taught me idealism, that good and evil exist in the world, and that family relationships are super complicated (I don’t have a sister to make out with like Luke, so I never learned that particular hard lesson) while the prequels taught me that good and evil exist in shades of grey with many odd outliers, that obsession and love are two different things, that anyone can fall, and that movies can be bad (there’s an age when you learn that).
When the sequels came around I had evolved. I learned the value of money, I learned how to critically look at storytelling, and I learned that opinions differ vastly among even those who know what they are talking about (my opinion on The Last Jedi changes from scene to scene at times despite me ultimately liking it). It’s a more complicated time in the franchise’s history to say the least.
Enter Solo: A Star Wars Story and all of its oddly decent acceptableness. When announced I was enraged – a young Han Solo movie!? How dare they!? How dare they mess with the vague history of this, the character I love the most in film, and dare to not use a man in his 70’s instead of attempting to cast younger!? Until maybe March there were many of us that were pissed and bracing for failure, casting of Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian aside, and it was only when that full trailer came out and gave us a better look at the film that we eased off and begrudgingly admitted that this might not wind up sucking.
And it doesn’t. That’s a cold, hard truth. The movie doesn’t suck. It’s just not as special as a Han Solo film should be. Shall we begin?
Let’s start with Harrison Ford, who is maybe the best definition of a “movie star.” While he never enjoyed the character to a great degree he brought a lot of wonderful charm to the it in that he could instill Solo with sexiness, charm, angst, aggression, dumb luck, and the swaggeriest of swaggers all within the span of a few minutes (you don’t believe me, just go rewatch The Empire Strikes Back and get with me after). He has “it,” that thing that can’t be taught and can’t be learned. It’s a thing you just have to have and very few ever fully realize it.
Alden Erenreich doesn’t quite have it He’s got the shades of it, these very pretty bits of his dialogue delivery and appearance that give a feeling I can describe as “feverish” – hot on the outside and ice cold on the inside. He’s worked with both Copolla’s in the business, with the Coen Brothers, with Chan-wook Park, and with Woody Allen. He’s impressed great directors, endeared himself to audiences with some of his goofy charm, and even pulled critics to his side. His issue is that he brings very little of this to the table of Solo. He mumbles a lot, he’s focused on telling us just how smart and charming and arrogant he is rather than oozing those qualities (a fault of the script, but he could have pulled it off) and focuses more on convincing the audience that he’s a wee Harrison Ford instead of owning the role and making it his own. When we have Chris Pine out there earning frustrated but earnest praise from the Star Trek community for playing Captain Kirk as a Solo-esque maverick there is no excuse for not being able to do this.
And yet this performance isn’t quite a failure. Towards the back half of the film there’s a lot to love. Some awful moments from the trailer have been rightfully exercised and Erenreich’s Solo is given a good enough line to follow that we can have just enough reason to root for him, at moments even drawing this obsessive fan into feeling like he really could one day be a Han Solo (hell we’ve got 6 Bonds, why not 2 Han Solos at this point). His scenes with Harrelson’s Beckett, with Glover’s Lando, and with Joonas Suatamo entering the Chewie costume unaided for the first time, are dynamite for the most part. In fact his meeting of the bromance of his life, Chewbacca, is perhaps the best scene in the film.
We’ll talk about some of those performances, but Emilia Clarke’s Qi’Ra needs to be something everyone focuses on. No matter how much you like the dragon scenes on Game of Thrones…they aren’t worth giving her these roles in her career. She’s now part of two iconic science fiction franchises and interacts with major things in both, with her Sarah Conner having been a warning to all that her presence in anything should be a red flag. She’s lovely and she’s charming but…she’s not a good actress.
Got that off my chest. Whew. Now let’s talk about the sexiest thing to happen to Star Wars since Billy Dee Williams first donned the cape.
Donald Glover is a bit of a cultural movement unto himself at this point. A successful comedy writer and performer, an actor who gives his all to every role he takes, and a musician that is constantly changing and evolving (not to mention a pop culture obsession, a budding director, and just an all around awesome-seeming dude) is now playing a character that can usually be described by just calling him “human silk” due to how smooth he is. His Lando has moments where he feels like he is just doing his best to emulate the former performer, but overall it’s charismatic and charming and utterly amazing. He’s paired with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who plays droid L3-37 (yes…that’s a “leet” joke), as his co-pilot. While technically her owner, the pair play more as a man and his loving but outspoken wife and their relationship is actually really sweet. L3 can grate at times, but in a relatable way that many people can look at as though a friend they know. The two steal the scene whenever they’re onscreen, particularly together, and L3’s stance on “droid-liberation” is something from the former Expanded Universe that I loved seeing make a return.
I’m lukewarm on the rest of the cast, with it being just fine but ultimately something that could have stepped up a bit more. Bettany needed more screentime, Harrelson needed more charisma, this one needs courage, this one needs a brain from the Wizard, I could go on but ultimately they’re fine.
Pacing issues plague the first act of this film. A first half hour that involves a car chase, a deadly escape, the most brutal Star Wars war scene to date, and a train heist (yes, all that happens in half an hour) should have been gripping and had me on the edge of my seat. Instead it had me rotating between checking my watch or smiling in utter delight at moments but moments only. I was nervous about the film going in and that intro did not help.
The film picks up from there and I won’t spoil it here but imagery and ideas from things I grew up loving run rampant and there was something that legitimately melted my brain to see onscreen. Many things happen here that you know are coming but few happen the way they’d be expected to. Just a heads up because this is definitely predictable and adds nothing to the franchise while at the same time opening up options for a ton of wild storytelling angles.
End of the day I’ll be seeing this again soon. Of course I will, it’s Star Wars. But unlike the last film, which had me constantly teetering on the edge of commitment, this one will be a rewatch simply because I had fun with it. It’s messy, it’s problematic, and it’s got a few things I’m not sure I like, but I had a blast. Opening night and the AMC Dolby cinema with my Star Wars-loving father probably had a lot to do with my enjoyment, the excitement of the whole theatre and my father genuinely having fun alongside me (we don’t have a lot in common) went a long way to boosting this in my eyes but at the same time I cannot deny the things it ultimately accomplished.
There’ll be a spoiler post coming tomorrow to discuss a few things that absolutely need discussed (not to mention one that will baffle all but the initiated) so look out for that and definitely make time to see Solo: A Star Wars Story in theatres.