Movie Review – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story was the first Star Wars to not do so well at the box office. The final box office was a very disappointing $392 million dollars worldwide, which is less than the domestic box office for four of the other films in the Star Wars film franchise. And we don’t know the budget but there were a ton of reshoots so there’s a real good chance it wasn’t profitable. Yikes. Now this suggests that the movie wasn’t so good, but if I thought it was garbage I wouldn’t be talking about it here. If you ask me, the bad box office is a result of:

  • Being too soon – Last Jedi just exited theaters in March, and this came out on May 25. Now that’s a longer gap than between Black Panther and Infinity Wars, but Star Wars fans haven’t been operating on that kind of clock. Hell, a movie every year seemed a bit too close together for my tastes.
  • Unwanted – When it was first announced, I remember a whole lot of ‘we didn’t ask for this’. People who were all in on the new films didn’t want/need another callback to the original trilogy, and even OG fans like me had different ideas for stories about OT characters (a Western style Obi-Wan Kenobi film was a pretty popular idea in the circles I frequent). And that’s not even including those who just did not want to see anyone else trying to recreate what Harrison Ford did with Han.
  • Bad buzz – There were nightmare behind the scenes stories, culminating in the directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller being fired and replaced with Ron Howard. Lord & Miller are Film Twitter darlings so their dismissal did not go over well, and in today’s vulture media environment that kind of thing is like blood in the water.
  • The bros – A lot of dudebros were still pissed over the ‘forced diversity’ in the new trilogy and saw this as a chance to take up arms against that villain Kathleen Kennedy. Yeah, it sounds dumb to me too. But after a few laughable attempts it may have finally taken hold here.

Now I’ll admit that I was not interested in the movie much and didn’t want to see any poor sap try to step in Harrison Ford’s shoes, but I went anyway because I’m a Star Wars movie nerd so what else was I going to do? I saw it twice at the theater and have watched it on Netflix so I feel pretty ready to talk about it now. Yeah it’s eight months later but whatever.

The Good

First up I have to give a thumbs up to Alden Ehrenreich. Playing Han Solo, a character that was singlehandedly made iconic by the man who played him in four movies (Ford even ad libbed some of his best lines and threw out what he thought were bad ones written by George Lucas), was an impossible task and bound to get the man chosen for dunked on if done wrong. But he pulled it off here and captured the charm needed to make it work. Although it probably hurt the box office take, I’m glad they picked him and not some well known fan casting choice. The rest of the cast did great too, from Woody Harrelson to Donald Glover to Paul Bettany to Emilia Clarke and Thandie Newton. Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando Calrissian gets an extra special recognition here. He absolutely stole the show every moment he was onscreen. A lot of people I’ve talked to wanted a movie about Lando to start with and what we got from Glover here more than justified that preference.

I thought the tone from start to finish was just right. Solo’s adventures should have a lot of tomfoolery and highjinks, and be mostly lighthearted. We’re coming off two very serious, very melancholy films in Last Jedi and Rogue One so it was time for a change. The challenge here was to get us to a point where we can understand how Han Solo became this jaded, cynical, skeptical figure with both a wariness towards getting sentimental and a willingness to do the right thing when push came to shove. And I thought they did that here. By movie’s end Han has been mentored and betrayed by Tobias Beckett (Harrelson), loved and left by Qi’ra (Clarke), and befriended for life by Chewbacca. He’s been swindled by Calrissian and turned the tables on him. He’s seen the Empire as advertised and in reality, and has been in violent opposition to Enfys Nest before finally helping she and her band of pirates on their way once learning their true mission. There was a lot to pack into one movie and one story in order to inform us on one character’s story and I thought they got it all in nicely.

The (not really all that) Bad

They crammed a whole lot in here like I said earlier, and some of the references and Easter Eggs were a bit superfluous in my opinion. A few things about the Millenium Falcon were tacked on into the story, from the infamous Kessel Run that Han references in Star Wars to some things about the ship’s very construction. The Darth Maul cameo towards the end felt forced to me and would have been more suited for Jabba the Hutt. Beckett’s betrayal of Han, which was hinted at all along, was rushed in it’s actual execution. And Beckett’s crew of pirates that took Han in early on was dispatched way too early for my tastes. They were too interesting as introduced to just get out of the picture so quickly and their not being around took some steam out of Beckett’s turn on Han. But all in all, those things did not ruin the story being told or the movie itself in any major way for me.

The Ugly

The bad buzz that preceded the film’s release was the worst kind of behind the scenes context free clickbait kind of stuff. There were people mad online about the trailers coming as late in the game as they did, and let me say that trailer stalking is one the dumbest things to have developed over the past few years. I grew up in a time when the trailer came maybe a month or so before the movie was released and it was no big deal. Now people make predictions and go for scoops on when the teaser trailer is coming, not even the official trailer, and get impatient if it takes ‘too long’ to come out. And there was some major complaining that there wasn’t a trailer for this movie attached to The Last Jedi when it was released in December of 2017. I guess I was supposed to take that as some kind of bad omen or whatever….I didn’t. Sue me.

But it’s not just that. Reshoots happen in every major film, but they continue to be treated as a major scandal when the gossip rags sense blood in the water. Now in this case a whole character did get changed – Bettany’s Dryden Vos was originally a motion captured alien voiced by Michael K. Williams but Williams couldn’t make it to the reshoots so he got redone – but I honestly don’t see how the movie was negatively affected here. And then there was the issue of Lord & Miller being fired. It was a treated like Watergate when it happened but afterwards they admitted they were screwing it up and deserved to be let go, and a bunch of stories from behind the scenes made it clear that everyone else was happy when they got sacked and that Ron Howard was a lot easier to work for. But after firing Colin Trevorrow for the upcoming Episode XI and effectively benching Gareth Edwards during the editing and reshoot process for Rogue One a narrative has been worked on about Kathleen Kennedy and how she’s running Lucasfilm, and that narrative was applied to Solo and it’s prospects for being a good film.

And then there are the dudebros. Being angry because Kennedy is ‘forcing diversity on us’ is not a good look fellas. And when you go see the film multiple times that allegedly forced said diversity but you skip out on the film that absolutely does not do anything remotely close to that, what are you doing exactly? Or was it a strike against the woman in charge because eww women are ruining our Star Wars? There are no shortage of cavemen on YouTube railing against the evil Kathleen Kennedy and how she needs to be fired in order to save our Star Wars, and none of them are even minutely logical or coherent in their rants. And if they indeed chose to sit on their hands in the hopes that it would get Kennedy sacked, they failed because she got a new contract. Sorry suckers, you’re a bunch of idiots. You’re the people who ran Daisy Ridley and Kelly Tran off of social media, and who caused all kinds of emotional distress for Jake Lloyd, Ahmed Best, and Hayden Christensen because you didn’t like how the prequel trilogies turned out. You are a bunch of jerks and a lot of us would be perfectly happy if you found some remote corner to go to and bother each other so we can enjoy things in peace.

Final Verdict

I really enjoyed it. For me it’s the easiest of the Disney Star Wars films to watch start to finish. As much as I enjoyed The Force Awakens on first watch the degree to which it copies the OT in the final act gets to be a bit glaring on rewatches, while Rogue One and Last Jedi are good movies that are emotionally hard films to just pop in the DVD player or punch up on Netflix and watch on a whim for me. There’s a time a place for that but sometimes you need to go in the other direction like they did here. It doesn’t have the blow away wow moments like so many of the previous films but doesn’t have the worst cringeworthy elements of some of the previous films either. And it has a cleverness to it that comes from having an entire cast of characters that do not have the Force or lightsabers to fall back on. I highly recommend it to anyone and not just Star Wars fans. Final grade 5/6 (very good).

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