Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
SPOILER WARNING!!! If you haven’t already seen the film, stop reading right now and go watch it! Otherwise, read at your own discretion…When the news of directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being fired from the project in the middle of production of Solo: A Star Wars Story hit the tabloids, I began to worry. The overall concern by Lucasfilm seemed to be the creative direction of the film and the overuse of improvisation during production. My biggest concern was whether Solo would become more like a comedy than a good homage to Harrison Ford’s iconic character. But it’s hard to not feel apprehensive, especially when the director duo’s most memorable works are 21 Jump Street and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs.
Disney later hired Ron Howard to take over the directing helm. Although I find his films to be hit-and-miss, I do highly respect Ron Howard as a director. With Academy Award-winning films like Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, it gave me a slight glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, this film won’t be a total shipwreck. But after seeing The Last Jedi back in December, the emotional turmoil of kiboshed theories and unanswered questions was enough to lower my confidence down to the prequel level. It took me a second viewing to really appreciate it, but there were still elements of the sequel that I wish would not be accepted as Star Wars canon. That being said, if you want to read my review of The Last Jedi, you can read it here.
As the cliche goes, keep your expectations low and you’ll never be disappointed – and that’s exactly what allowed me to walk out of the theater a happy man. I walked in not expecting anything fantastic, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the ride. For the most part, anyway.
Initially, I was extremely skeptical of Alden Ehrenreich’s portrayal of our beloved smuggler, especially after watching the trailers. He seemed more like a pretty-boy Han than the scoundrel Harrison Ford we all know and love. But to be fair, this is a young man in his late teens or early twenties who has yet to see more of the galaxy in his bucket of bolts we call the Millennium Falcon. In some ways, I feel like Ehrenreich to Han Solo is like Pierce Brosnan to James Bond. Both have played the part well, but it’s just not quite the level of badassery I would have liked to see. But overall, Ehrenreich did not disappoint – he was just alright.
Chewbacca’s introduction in the film at first seemed more like a comedic encounter with Big Foot in a smaller version of a rancor pit. The rescue from captivity seemed to straddle the fine line between the comic-action we loved about Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the groin-kick humor of an Adam Sandler film. To me, this is where the cracks begin to show where the film could have taken a more trivial direction in line with Lord and Miller’s vision, but luckily Lucasfilm’s directorial intervention seems to have helped to maintain most of its integrity. Thanks, Ron Howard!
Lando Calrissian was by far the most memorable character in the entire film, thanks to an outstanding performance by Donald Glover. Admittedly, part of what influenced my appreciation for his character was after watching the music video for Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America‘, it seemed to be a good preparation for watching the sly gambler’s fresh debut. His wardrobe was appropriately inspired by the 1970’s and his smooth personality was spot-on as though Billy Dee Williams himself somehow hopped on a Tardis back in time straight from The Empire Strikes Back.
Qi’ra’s character seemed rather flat, though her screen presence reminded me of a 1940’s femme fatale. Although her stylish femininity blends in well within the Star Wars universe, she is a much more downplayed character than the feisty personality of Princess Leia, but seems to compensate for that with her fighting abilities in the art of Teras Kasi. Though as iconic as she may look, her overall performance was forgettable.
Tobias Beckett, played by Woody Harrelson, is not a typical character you would see in the Star Wars universe. As a mentor to Han, he offers some very ominous advice that seems to later shape the naive spitfire into the bitter smuggler we meet in A New Hope. “Assume everyone will betray you and you will never be disappointed.” It seemed like appropriate foreshadowing for Lando’s betrayal in The Empire Strikes Back, but also heavily implied that even Beckett himself can’t always be trusted.
Val, who happens to be Beckett’s partner in crime and significant other, was very much a throwaway character. I would have loved to see more of her badass character throughout the rest of the film and I feel like she didn’t have enough screen-time to make the audience feel affected by her death. But most of us fans know that Star Wars doesn’t usually make throw-away characters. Right, Biggs Darklighter? Right, Lor San Tekka? Uncle Owen? Aunt Beru?
Paul Bettany’s character Dryden Vos was an interesting one to behold. He seems compassionate at one point and then seems to switch on a dime as though payment in blood for incompetence were more important than second chances, but it is later revealed that his motives are largely driven by fear of who he answers to. I find it hard to separate Paul Bettany from most of the roles he has played in other films such as A Knight’s Tale or Vision from The Avengers: Age of Ultron. But one thing is certain, he is a highly versatile actor who can be just as much of a virtuous hero as he can be a menacing villain.
The overall storyline wasn’t perfect, but certainly made for a fun ride. In the moments of betrayal between certain characters later in the film, I kind of wonder if these were meant to distract the audience from some issues the producers had with the direction of Lord and Miller. The action sequences were pretty engaging, especially the train heist sequence. I’ve always wanted to see the appearance of a hover train in a Star Wars movie, which seems to strengthen the film as a sort of space-western.
The Kessel run was a cool new world to behold, although felt like a callback to the asteroid chase in The Empire Strikes Back. Instead of dodging asteroids and escaping the belly of a giant space slug, we have the Millennium Falcon navigating through a maelstrom and space debris while passing between the clutches of a giant kraken-like creature and the gravitational pull of a black hole. It seemed as though Han was torn between Scylla and Charybdis, which is reminiscent to what happened in the Ancient Greek classic Homer’s Odyssey. I quite admired that parallel.
The appearance of Darth Maul towards the end of the film caught me off guard. I had already known from watching clips from The Clone Wars animated series that Maul had survived his encounter with Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace, despite being sliced in half. I don’t think anyone would have guessed that he would end up running a major criminal organization such as Crimson Dawn. It feels a bit forced (pun intended), but seeing a much older holographic version of Maul on the big screen was a pleasant surprise. It definitely leaves the film open to a possible sequel, to which I would really love to see what happens with Qi-ra’s working relationship with Maul.
The music score for this film felt like it payed appropriate homage to the nostalgic Star Wars we know and love; even the Kessel run echoed the asteroid chase theme that was prevalent in The Empire Strikes Back. A new and unique choral arrangement for Enfys Nest and the Mauraders gave a menacing feel to the scenes when they were approaching our protagonists. It felt like a more authentically John Williams inspired soundtrack for a Star Wars film than the score to Rogue One, although I have to say Rogue One is so far the superior standalone film in my opinion. My review of that film can be found right here.
It seems as though the standalone films have been receiving better reception than the sequel films so far, which speaks volumes on how much the fans really value the original saga. It makes a lot more sense to create standalone films that build up and intensify the overall saga than to take the characters we know and love and kill them off. I hope to see more films with these actors, but because of the box office ratings it’s unlikely Lucasfilm will produce another film of this kind.
Solo wasn’t the film we needed, but it was a delightful treat. In the meantime, we will all sit and hope for the arrival of the Obi-Wan, Boba Fett and Thrawn films and hope Episode IX doesn’t end up like a steaming pile of bantha fodder.