REVIEW: Solo – A Star Wars Story is what it is and nothing else

Warning: there will be spoilers at the end of this review/discussion.

We are four movies into the Disney-produced Star Wars franchise and all but one of them have had behind the scenes drama in one form or another. Ironically it’s the most divisive one of the lot that had the smoothest sailing (The Last Jedi, which I love more every time I see it). Every other Star Wars film, some which haven’t even been released, has suffered fiascos of varying sizes.

The Force Awakens had major rewrites and delays, featuring a fired writer and leading to a seven-month release bump.

Rogue One went through massive reshoots and re-edits, with the director basically dismissed (unofficially) and replaced by the writer who restructed a huge part of the third act (which, to be fair, was the best part of the movie).

The Last Jedi was so gravy from beginning to end, Rian Johnson (whom half the fanbase seems to want to chuck out an airlock) was handed the keys to his own trilogy of Star Wars stories. They’re going to be great, give him another chance, skeptics.

Josh Trank was axed from an untitled Star Wars stand-alone movie, due to being a raging lunatic on the set of Fantastic Four and creative differences but mostly being a raging lunatic on the set of Fantastic Four.

Colin Trevorrow was fired from Episode IX due to being exposed as a pretentious hack who made the awful Children of Men and creative differences but mostly for being exposed as a hack who made the awful Children of Men. The movie was subsequently bumped from May to December—much like The Force Awakens was—with JJ Abrams back in the chair.

And SOLO…

Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy hired Phil Lord and Chris Miller—fresh off the imaginative and clever beyond measure The Lego Movie—to bring the story to life. It was the brainchild of Star Wars veteran scribe Lawrence Kasdan, who penned The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Despite the fact that few if anyone was clamoring for a movie exploring Han Solo pre-A New Hope (I mean, everything we need to know about him we learn in a two minute conversation in the Cantina), the movie was greenlit because Kasdan only agreed to write The Force Awakens (which featured the death of Han Solo) if he was given the chance to write a movie that featured the (figurative) birth of Han Solo.

So here we are.

The trouble was Lord and Miller are improv-minded directors, who love to take their time and experiment on set, playing around with ideas and seeing where sudden inspiration may go. That’s a stark contrast to the kind of ship Kennedy wants to run as a producer, not to mention Kasdan is an acclaimed writer/director himself and was probably not happy to see his words be tinkered with so cavalierly. Kennedy finally had to fire the duo when they refused to change their style.

To be fair, I would have stood my ground too. Kennedy hired them, knowing their style. Expecting them to be different directors is silly; if you don’t want an improvisational style in your movie, don’t hire directors famous for that. Kennedy was understandably upset to see the production start to go behind schedule and these Disney-franchise movies (Star Wars and Marvel in particular) have tight schedules they have to keep. So many prior fiascos probably had her fuse considerably shortened. They were fired and quickly replaced by Ron Howard.

Howard is a solid director with a few excellent movies under his belt, but he’s not really known for being flashy. He’s known as a highly efficient filmmaker though and that’s what Kennedy needed. She just happened to hire the polar opposite of Lord and Miller. To his credit, he stepped in like the vet he is and got the production back on track, filming scenes in a handful of takes that Lord and Miller might have spent a whole day working on.

In the end, the movie is 70% Howard’s with only a few select moments still belonging to the original directors.

It’s a movie few really wanted, no one grew to anticipate with any fervor and everyone seemed wary of to some degree as it drew nearer. Its box office tracking for opening weekend is the worst of the four released-Star Wars movies of the Disney era, but it’s unlikely to be a flop. It’ll probably end up a middle of the road Summer Blockbuster, making 500-750 million worldwide, numbers which almost anyone would kill for, but which will be a big step down from what we’re used to with Star Wars.

That said…is the film any good?

SPOILERS HERE

It is solid, competently made and occasionally really fun, but ultimately a little too bland. And for a Star Wars movie that’s disappointing, but for a movie focused on one of the most charismatic and *fun* characters in the whole saga, it’s really disappointing.

What made Han great in the Original Trilogy was how he was simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary. In a world where people can be in tune with a force that makes them Space Wizards, Han is an everyman. At the same time he’s a space pirate who flies an illegally souped-up smuggling ship, and is renowned as one of the best pilots in the galaxy. It’s why I always bristle when people try to say Han has suppressed force ability; that ruins what makes him great. He’s the guy who’s awesome without the force. That’s his contribution to the story; not everyone can be a Jedi, but anyone can be a hero. The fact that he’s the wise-cracking playboy character surrounded by stuffy Jedi and snooty Rebel leaders and sometimes sanctimonious princesses just makes him all the cooler.

But here? He gets a few moments to be cool, and in isolation they are cool, but the whole movie around him is really…dry. That said, there were great little moments peppered throughout, which I will now notate:

  • Both Sabacc games.
  • Han shooting first.
  • Chewie’s intro.
  • Han speaking Shyriiwook.
  • The droid rebellion.
  • The cameos big and small, especially Darth Maul who is more than just fan service. He’s become a huge and well-rounded character in Clone Wars and Rebels and this movie brings that to the big screen for the first time.
  • Lando: “I hate you
    Han: “I know

All of those moments, and many more were, in and of themselves, great. But they were islands on a sea of blandness. I went into the movie wondering if the change in directors would mean some scenes had radically different tones than others. That’s not the case here, but instead, it’s the little things in the background that retained Lord and Miller’s manic style, while the foreground stuff is paint-by-numbers.

The first two acts especially were cold, leaving me pretty emotionless. The aforementioned great moments, big moments, and would be-wow moments, were all a little muted where, in a more exciting film, might’ve landed a stronger punch.

I think the biggest shock I had coming out of the movie was how the story strongly implies Han-led sequels are coming. I went in assuming this would be a one-off story, but clearly they want more. Hopefully, the next one has less drama behind the scenes and a director hired whose vision is compatible with the story and with the strict production guidelines these sort of annual tentpoles require.

I was very vocal about wanting this movie to be bumped to Christmas of this year (the way the prior three Star Wars movies have been). Christmas with Star Wars instantly felt right as soon as The Force Awakens ended. And with only five months to digest The Last Jedi (a deeply controversial film in the Saga, whether deservedly or not), rushing into another movie that fans were divided on going into it did not seem wise. Now that it’s done, I’m relieved that we have a year and a half before Episode IX releases. We need the gap to let these things stew, to recharge our batteries and to reignite a fever pitch for the Galaxy far far away.

8/10 – SOLO is not a bad film. It’s a perfectly cromulent movie with a few genuinely bright spots, but overall it failed to really justify its existence, which was the biggest challenge it had prior to release

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