Wednesday, May 16, 2018

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” - Sorry, were you hoping to learn something interesting about Han Solo?

Benign.  Rote.  By-the-book.  Fine.  Adequate.  Entertaining enough.  All are applicable adjectives to the latest Star Wars movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story.  Hell, “A Star Wars Story” is probably the perfect way to describe Solo because it is generic and tells us something we already know.  In a nutshell, that is Solo - a movie insisting on answering questions we already know the answer to – or never asked in the first place – while never committing to a story worth going back in Star Wars time for.  Director Ron Howard and screenwriters Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan play the movie so safe you would be forgiven if you forgot Han was a murderous smuggler (just ask Greedo) when we first met him back in 1977.

(MILD SPOILERS ahead, but there really is not much to spoil anyway.)

The major flaw with the film is that it does nothing to make us care about anything or anyone, save for maybe a sassy droid, and never commits to anything.  Rather than take some time to develop any characters, new or old, it relies heavily on us already knowing Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and treats the rest of the cast as little more than set pieces.  The film begins with an uninspired car chase scene featuring Han fleeing a bunch of gangsters with his girlfriend, Qi’ra (pronounced like Kira and played by Emilia Clarke), in tow.  As they try to escape off the planet Corellia, they are separated and Han screams that he will come back to get her.  This seems like it will be the main plot of the film and is driven home during the first act of the film as Han is telling everyone within earshot that he intends to get back to Corellia to rescue her as soon as he has enough money.  We also quickly meet a trio of generic characters (Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, and the voice of Jon Favreau) who get the barest minimum of development because this movie desperately wanted to get to showing us the famous Kessel Run.
The most interesting character in the world.

Those three characters are a crew of thieves and you will probably only remember one of their names - Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson).  They take Han and Chewie on to their crew and attempt a train heist.  Yes, a train heist in a Star Wars movie.  While a much better action sequence than the earlier car chase, it offers little in the way of ingenuity with the exception of the train cars occasionally swiveling around the axis of the rail they are riding.  Because we know next to nothing about the heist crew and know Han and Chewie are in other movies, this scene (as well as the entire movie) has zero tension.  At this point, we are only watching for the visuals and the visuals of this scene were spoiled in the previews.  Once this scene ends, we find Han, Chewie, and Tobias on board crime lord Dryden Vos’ (Paul Bettany) ship where they run into none other than Qi’ra.  The end.

Just kidding.  The movie still has two more acts for us, but now we are left wondering “what now?”  Han’s plan of buying a ship and rescuing Qi’ra just got light-sabered by the screenplay.  Qi’ra also makes it clear that she no longer requires rescuing, so the movie is forced to pivot to another heist as the main plot of the film.  A smarter movie would have used this heist for character development and relationship building, but this is not a smarter movie.  Instead, it is only the catalyst to get us to the main event of this film - Han and Jabba the Hutt meeting for the first time.  Just kidding.

Nothing screams Star Wars like train heist.

I firmly believe that the entire purpose of this movie was fan service in the form of depicting a single line of dialogue from A New Hope - Han bragging to Luke that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.  If you are a space nerd like me, or simply paid attention in astronomy class, a parsec is a unit of distance measurement, not speed, so Han bragging about how fast his ship was by using a unit of distance was nonsense.  Luckily, some other nerds wrote out an explanation involving a short-cut and, thus, Solo had its main attraction.  Like the train heist scene, it is an entertaining scene featuring a space chase and an eerie image of a star destroyer (doing absolutely nothing including not shooting at the Falcon despite half a dozen TIE fighters shooting at the Falcon, like in every other Star Wars movie, dammit-do-those-things-do-anything-ever?!)?  Unfortunately, this scene bears far too much resemblance to the underwater chase scene in The Phantom Menace and nothing good reminds us of The Phantom Menace.

Are you not entertained?

Speaking of fan service, the other major problem with Solo is far too much time is spent answering the questions I alluded to earlier.

Did you ever wonder how the Falcon got that notch at its front (watch the previews again - the bow is a solid triangle rather than forked)?
Of course not.

Did you ever wonder where the name Solo came from?
No, why would I?

Curious about how Han obtained the Falcon?
They already told us in The Empire Strikes Back. 

Want to see the first meeting between Chewie and Han?
Actually, yes.

Okay, so that last one is actually interesting, but this movie provides a boring explanation that doubles as a borderline meet-cute.  If you want a much better explanation, read The Hutt Gambit by A.C. Crispin, even though Disney proclaimed nearly all of the previous Star Wars canon to be meaningless.  Who has two thumbs and is a nerd?  This guy.

Normally, Easter eggs or quick homages tickle me, but this movie shoves them in your face and they are neither quick or Easter eggy (again, the Kessel Run).  The Solo surname scene was especially awkward because it answered a question literally nobody ever asked and the most unnecessary detail explanation since X-Men: Apocalypse showed us how Xavier went bald.

Just Han?  Like, Madonna?

By the end of Solo, we learn nothing new about Han, Chewie, or Lando that we did not already know about them from previous films.  Putting on my movie-fixer hat for a moment, I would have cut Qi’ra from the beginning of the film and made her character much more mysterious and nuanced.  A little more Khaleesi, and a little less cardboard cutout.  Given that we met Han as a selfish smuggler only out for himself in A New Hope, the opening scene in Solo would work far better to develop that trait and the scene would need zero other changes after removing Qi’ra.  This also would have given several potential options with Qi’ra in this film and future films rather than what the Kasdans did with her.  I would also have stuck with the book regarding Han and Chewie’s initial meeting because it provided the one altruistic trait in Han (anti-slavery) that kept him from being the scum he was always accused of being, thus forming the basis of his later redemption as a hero.  Finally, I would spend more time developing Han and Lando’s relationship, which is practically non-existent in Solo.

At least Qi'ra is a beautiful cardboard cutout.

As I have said in past reviews, I love Star Wars, which is what makes Solo kind of disappointing for me.  Despite the tone of this review, I want to stress that Solo is an entertaining movie that is competently done from a popcorn flick point of view.  Perhaps the best thing about Solo is the acting, which is very good.  Ehrenreich and Glover deliver performances that never feel like knockoffs of their predecessors and the rest of the cast all hit their marks.  But the obvious comparison is Rogue One and Solo falls completely flat in that comparison.  At no point was I ever captivated during this movie, not even during the penultimate space chase from Kessel, because, again, we already knew the answer to that question.

Rating: Ask for four dollars back because, if anything, you get your Star Wars fix.

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