SOLO: A Star Wars Story: A Second Look (Review)…

Solo: A Star Wars Story poster

This is a belated review of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

I’ve only just watched the movie for the second time. I tend to prefer to see the movie at least twice or more to really get a feel for it and to let my feelings about it breathe a while.

I was a little dubious about the Solo movie even before it was released. I was unenamoured with the trailer and I also didn’t feel it was a movie that needed to be made at this point in time. Given ongoing fan backlash over The Last Jedi, I also thought it was a mistake to go ahead with the May 2018 release – particularly as it was always going to be overshadowed by Avengers: Infinity War.

That subsequently proved to be the case, with Solo suffering at the box office and receiving a very lukewarm response from both fans and critics.

Solo isn’t a great Star Wars movie. It isn’t a bad movie either. It’s kind of just there. It is what it is.

Solo feels like a good little Star Wars comic book, cartoon episode or novel: it doesn’t quite transcend beyond that to feel like a substantial cinematic entity. It almost feels like it would make a better television series, drawn out over multiple episodes, than a movie.

The biggest problem for me with Solo is that it feels so lightweight and inconsequential.

It doesn’t have any kick to it – it kind of just coasts along from from Point A to Point B, feeling like it’s ticking off a check-list: Han meets Chewie (check), Kessel Run in 12 parsecs (check), the Sabaac game with Lando (check), etc. It feels like a film without passion (both on part of the writers and on part of the characters), where people are going through the motions.

It’s the only Star Wars movie where there isn’t – as far as I can tell – any great, mind-blowing sequence or moment. That’s never been the case before: every film, from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones to Rogue One and The Last Jedi, has amazing or fascinating elements or moments that you remember and that you talk about – and that you want to rewind and watch again (regardless of whether you, overall, like the film or not).

Solo just doesn’t have anything like that in it.

Which isn’t’ necessarily a terrible thing – but it’s something I definitely noticed. The closest thing, I guess, is the Darth Maul reveal: but that’s more of a plot twist surprise than a cinematically epic or striking moment.

All of which makes you question the existence of this film – especially this early in the Disney/Lucasfilm era.

The underlying sense you get from this movie is of a project that was rushed through without enough care or fine-tuning and without enough enthusiasm or passion.

The other thing that really struck me, especially watching it the second time, is that some of those key check-list moments are really not milked properly. If you’re going to go for those moments, then one would expect it to be done with more enthusiasm and vision.

An example being the first meeting between Han Solo and Chewbacca – a hugely significant moment in Star Wars lore. This moment, as depicted in this film, kind of just happens… and doesn’t have any great weight or feeling to it. It’s not just the omission of the ‘life debt’ element. It feels like Chewie kind of just shows up and decides to tag along.

Likewise, a lot of the smaller ‘origins’ beats feel flat – like they were just being passionlessly ticked off a list. A small example: Chewie randomly picking up his famous sash and putting it on (ignoring the fact that he was already wearing that sash in Revenge of the Sith – so this actually doesn’t make sense).

The biggest example of this, in my opinion, is the Kessell Run itself. If you’re going to depict that event – an event that’s been in Star Wars lore for decades – it seems to me you would want to really get stuck into it with great enthusiasm. I didn’t get that from this sequence.

Though it was drawn out, the whole thing kind of just passed me by: and, a couple of minutes after it was over, I was left thinking “oh, okay, so that was the Kessell Run”.

Presented in oddly minimal lighting, with a murky quality almost obscuring the visuals somewhat, it feels like the filmmakers didn’t really know what they wanted to do with this sequence and were somewhat trying to just get passed it with minimal fuss.

Which is baffling. What you would expect from a cinematic depiction of something like Han, the Falcon and the Kessell Run is something much more on par with what George Lucas did with the podrace in The Phantom Menace.

If you look at the amount of enthusiasm, passion, detail and effort that went into the Boonta Eve podrace in Episode I – and then look at what they just did with the Kessell Run, the difference is night and day.

And the podrace wasn’t even an established part of Star Wars lore at that point – but Lucas really took every measure to make that sequence something spectacular and memorable. Solo: A Star Wars Story kind of just takes the Kessell Run and plays it out without any sense of conviction in it – it’s just a necessary plot point.

It’s fan service – but really lifeless fan service. It’s like a pale version of what a lazy person THINKS fan service is.

That baffles me. If I was given the privilege of making a Star Wars movie depicting a young Solo, with things like the Kessel Run to explore, I would be pouring my heart and soul into it, trying to come up with something suitable. The Kessel Run essentially could’ve been anything at this point: instead, what we get is a sequence strangely lacking vision.

Stuff like this does somewhat hurt the mythology – because it’s almost as if these things (the Kessel Run, Han and Chewie’s first meeting, etc) were better off left in our imaginations and not actually explored in cinema. When I watch A New Hope now and hear Han mention the Kessell Run, it’s a bit less cool-sounding or interesting.

But this issue with the Kessel Run sequence – although it’s only a small part of the film – is illustrative of the underwhelming nature of Solo as a whole and the lack of weight to it.

The same could be said of the characters: though I’m more charitable in that respect, as it was always going to be very difficult for young actors to come in and try to be Harisson Ford or Billy Dee Williams. For me, the young Solo character just about worked well enough for me to not think too much about Harrison, whereas the Lando character didn’t quite work for me. And that was a problem.

It’s an indicator of the film’s lack of weight or punch that the majority of people after seeing the film weren’t talking about Solo, Chewie, Lando, the Falcon or the Kessel Run, but about the twenty seconds or so we got of Maul at the end.

While I liked the surprise of that moment (and am encouraged by the willingness to go in these kinds of directions, as well as the willingness to acknowledge the existence of the prequel era), the Maul reveal didn’t necessarily sit well with me. You’d think it would – I’m a huge fan of the prequels.

My problem with Maul being here isn’t necessarily a problem with this film, but the same problem I had with the Clone Wars when they decided that Maul wasn’t dead.

While I like those Clone Wars stories involving Maul (and what Rebels did with it later) and think those stories are good, my issue was that Maul just shouldn’t have been kept alive. In my opinion, he died a pretty decisive death in Episode I (being cut in half by Obi-Wan and falling into a reactor): if you bring someone back from that, you’re undermining both the dramatic power of that scene in Episode I and the very notion of death itself in the SW universe.

I loved Maul in Episode I – but he died and that should’ve been the end of it.

While Maul showing up now in the cinematic universe offers a lot of potential for storytelling, I’m always going to be bothered with him being here at all – even though I commend Solo for having the balls to incorporate Maul into the story (again, this film has simply inherited something from the Clone Wars series).

I’m also not sure the Han/Qira love story was necessary. I know that this backstory in some form or another was already an established element of Solo’s origins: but I feel like a Solo movie without the Qira love interest would’ve probably been more fun and worked better. Something that could just be focused more squarely on Solo, Chewie, the criminal underworld and just a classic cowboy/heist-type movie. I feel likt the Qira element just gets in the way, somewhat limiting what this story is able to do.

I don’t want to be completely down on this film though.

It is enjoyable on the level of simply throwing yourself into a piece of the Star Wars galaxy for a couple of hours. Exploring the criminal underworld of the SW galaxy is fun and has a lot of room for further expansion (the Hutts, Fett and the Bounty Hunters, Maul, etc): which is implied anyway by the Tatooine/Jabba set-up, the appearance of Maul, and references to both Aurra Sing and Bossk.

What I like about this film is that it feels more like a film set in the true extent of the SW universe: in that it seems to hold hands with both the prequel lore and the OT lore – which is something the other films so far haven’t really done. It’s also the best Disney/Kennedy era film so far in terms of aliens and background characters, showing more Lucas-like imagination in its background work than the other three films we’ve had.

In particular, I really liked the odd-looking singing duo in the club, which had a nice ROTJ-style feel to it, evoking things like Sy Snootles or the Max Rebo Band.

Some of the earlier sequences too felt like proper, oddball Star Wars that was a good mix of the OT and the prequel era.

I’m not sure about the SJW droid, which may have been over the top: but I get why it’s funny and I don’t have much of a problem with it. I actually rather like the idea that that droid is essentially merged with the Millenium Falcon – it gives the Falcon even more of a mythology and it also makes some of the OT scenes retroactively more enjoyable. Which is the kind of thing a film like this should do. I actually got more of a kick out of that than I did out of seeing the now(apparently)-all-important dice being prominent.

I also think some of the supporting characters are pretty good: Woody Harrelson‘s Becket works well for me. On the other hand, I wasn’t so sure about Qira.

Solo is not a bad movie. It’s just… lacking. It feels very forgettable: and I’ve never seen a forgettable live-action Star Wars movie before. Certainly, it was the wrong movie at the wrong time. But how it ages depends largely on how this Star Wars franchise moves forward.

I was wary of the “one Star Wars movie every year for ten years” approach anyway and right from the outset: as Star Wars, to me, isn’t like the Marvel Universe and can’t be handled the same way.

Over-stretching it actually might diminish it rather than enrich it. But I also – as a lifelong Star Wars fanatic – have already found myself in the odd and unfamiliar position of being somewhat laid-back about modern Star Wars productions: I’m there, I’m interested to see what’s given to us, I like what I like and dislike what I dislike – but my sense of investment in the franchise is low compared to what it used to be.

In a weird way, that helps me to enjoy something like Solo: A Star Wars Story more than I would if I was still overly emotionally invested in everything that goes on in Star Wars.

But this is a strange era to be a Star Wars fan in. Both Good and Bad – and neither, but somewhere in the middle.

S. Awan

Independent journalist. Pariah. Believer in human rights, human dignity and liberty. Musician. Substandard Jedi. All-round failure. And future ghost.

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