Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
I mean, was any one shocked by PG-13? Sure, at one point, a Star Wars movie with anything above a PG was considered blasphemous. But now it is the rating of choice. I mean, this one seems pretty tame. It's got some action, but it's Star Wars action. It's good-time-Charlie action. I don't see what makes this movie particularly PG-13 outside of the fact that there are bad guys in the movie. Regardless, the intended audience is pre-teens to adults, so I guess PG-13 really works.
DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
It's kind of amazing. I had more time to do these when I was actually working. I watched more movies. I wrote more. Now that it is summer, I have no time to do anything. I actually saw Solo: A Star Wars Story while I was still at work a week-and-a-half ago. If this review isn't exactly timely, I really apologize. These aren't exactly ideal conditions. But Solo is probably the movie I started out least excited about, grew kind of excited about, got less excited about, and then had a really good time at. The thing about Solo was the problem I had with the Star Wars prequels. George Lucas failed at turning a good kid into a villain in the course of three films. It wasn't interesting. How was a movie about an angsty kid turn into a slightly more angsty adult work? I don't know if I have an answer to that. But there clearly is something going on here. (Important note: It has been four days since I started writing this. I tried writing this May 24. It is now June 7. My life is very packed.) There's also all the drama behind the creation of this movie. As I established, there is something very cool about this film that is very fun and I think works. I want to watch it again. But I also was more excited about Phil Lord and Chris Miller. I love these guys. I'm a big fan of The Last Man on Earth and I was a fan of their other projects as well. I still talk about how The Lego Movie is one of my favorite repeatable kids' movies of the past few years. But they were fired from this project. Honestly, when a Han Solo prequel was announced, I rolled my eyes super hard. It was a dumb idea to me. But then I discovered that Phil Lord and Chris Miller were on this project, I actually got excited again. I was expecting this quirky take on the movie. I was going to see some subverted expectations. I mean, Ron Howard is fine. Ron Howard is a more than capable director, but he also is part of the old guard of directors and I think that New Star Wars needed to be in the hands of the new guard. Apparently, that's where Disney thought that they made their mistake. I don't know. This is a very roundabout way of saying that I really enjoyed a movie that I had little faith in.
Let's answer one of the big questions right now: How does Alden Ehrenreich hold up in the long run? I saw that trailer and said, "No!" really loudly. Okay, I didn't, but I griped about how the movie looked good except for the guy who played Han Solo. Then I read early reviews for the movie and one totally summarizes how I feel about Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. In summary, it said that you get used to him after the first half hour. That is exactly right. This is somewhat shameless, but I really appreciate a good mimic. I still give Men in Black 3 props for Josh Brolin's Tommy Lee Jones impression. I really wanted Ehrenreich to have a spot-on Harrison Ford under his belt. It is not a spot on Harrison Ford. In fact, there are lots of times where I wondered if Han Solo was even in that performance. But there is this level of plausible deniability where it could be assumed that a younger version of the character wouldn't have all of his stuff together. Maybe he was really different in his early twenties. I don't know. I mean, Ehrenreich really leans heavily into the bravado for the character. But Ehrenreich's Solo is extremely insecure. I guess that's fine, but I always got the vibe that Harrison Ford's Han Solo didn't need to be there and he would probably be fine with ghosting on that entire party if it came down to it. I think Ford's Solo probably mirrored Ford's attitude about having the part to begin with. If Ford left the set at any time, it would be no skin off of his back. Ehrenreich isn't that guy. I get the idea that Ehrenreich is really trying. That's actually kind of an interesting dynamic. A problem that I have with prequels is that the main story should be the most important moment in that character's life. I always thought that the original Star Wars was the most insane thing that ever happened to Han Solo. But apparently, the heist on Kessel was pretty darned important, enough to change elements of his personality.
There's also the weird element of namedropping stuff. I don't know how to deal with prequels and namedropping / fan-service moments. If something happened in your life that was absolutely insane, you'd be dropping references to that in situations that reminded you of that situation later on. Han mentions the Kessel Run. I kind of have beef with that. I'm not saying it is awful. But the Kessel Run is such a fan service moment that I almost feel like I didn't need to see. I have to give credit to Howard and his team that they made the Kessel Run something really worth watching. It's crazy. But I wouldn't just be talking about the Kessel Run as if it was just a race. On one part, I want my worlds to be free of retcons. On the other, I don't want every namedrop to be its own story. Honestly, I think that Solo leans more into the fan service stuff than anything else. Like, in one movie, we see how Han meets Chewie, how Han beats Lando at cards, what Lando was like before they were friends, how Han became an outlaw, Han's experience with the Empire before A New Hope, and the Kessel Run. That's a lot. It's all cool. I'm so torn about the whole experience. This movie, and I'm not really sure if this is a criticism or a compliment, is extraordinarily overpacked. This review is an exercise in both patience and indecisiveness. Here's the thing. We could have had an entire movie about how Han and Chewie met. It would have been great. I don't think that's a terrible idea. But then again, how perfect is it that Han and Chewie just meet and have an adventure together. Do we really need young seven-year-old Han Solo orphaned and raised by Chewbacca. While I'm writing this, it sounds more and more awesome, it also would have been an exercise into how to extend a franchise beyond its natural scope. I know that we're starting to deal with Star Wars fatigue. I never thought there would be a moment where we had too much Star Wars in such a limited time, but it has happened. But I'm sure that Kathleen Kennedy and the other bigshots at Disney / Lucasfilm were considering probably milking every Han Solo moment for what they could get. For all I know, there's going to be a Solo 2. It is probably less likely after failing to perform to expectations, but who knows? There are a million characters out there in the Star Wars canon that could helm a movie that it is only natural to think that this ride could last forever.
Which kind of brings us to Lando. Every review has Donald Glover as the perfect Lando. People say that Lando sells the movie. I love Donald Glover. I LOVE Donald Glover. But I also feel like Donald Glover was kind of slumming for Solo. I read that he bought a big pizza and watched Empire Strikes Back upon hearing that he would be playing Lando. People love that story. I think it might be the most natural thing to do. It's what I would do. I know that he wanted to make him mom proud with his performance. That's awesome. The thing is, he's got a great Billy Dee Williams impression. He's got the swagger, just like Ehrenreich does. I think that Glover is closer to the attitude of Lando, but there is another issue that comes with that. While his impersonation is pretty impression, it is also pretty broad stokes going on. Like, it's almost a parody of what Lando was all about. He's obsessed with capes. His swagger is palpable. He believes his own press. I always kind of saw Lando as a guy who put on a very public front because that's what got Cloud City running. SPOILER: There's actually a part where Lando is recording the video chronicles of himself. It's like it is a step too far. I loved having a very Lando-centric movie, but I also appreciate a bit of nuance. I know all this sounds like nitpicking, but it is just the consistent stuff that keeps a good movie from becoming great. There are all these elements in this movie and all of them just fall a little flat. Not completely flat. More like a stumble.
In terms of an actual movie, it does kind of hold its own. I think the movie actually works best when it forgets that it is a Star Wars film. There's a major cameo that is totally unnecessary to the movie. In fact, it is one of my least favorite elements from the Star Wars non-movie universe. (For those people who aren't really aware of Disney's deal, here's the scoop. When Disney bought out Lucasfilm, it turned all of the expanded universe (or non-film Star Wars stuff) into something called Star Wars Legends. It's non-canonical. Everything that was released after Disney bought Lucasfilm is apparently canonical.) That one cameo tries to give this movie greater significance than it really deserves. Solo thrives when it realizes that it is an isolated film. Sure, there are all these nods to the series. I'm very whatever about those nods, but when it is about the heist and Han getting out of scrapes, that's great. All the stuff with Woody Harrelson is fantastic. We get to see what Han both aspires to be and what he fears in one character. That's very cool. He's not as interesting as Han Solo, which means I don't have to wonder what that character's origin story is, but he is compelling enough to understand the template he is filling. Emilia Clarke's character is pretty good also. It does kind of put a little stain on the whole Leia thing, but not in a reasonable way. We know that we aren't rooting for her to be the female love interest for Han Solo because we know what happens in the long run (another prequel problem), but I suppose almost everyone has an ex. I guess there is no reason to demonize her. Her story is left a bit ambiguous. I don't know if this is for the sake of future movies, but whatever. Regardless, if this movie is watched as simply fun space action drama, it's a decent film. If it isn't, then...well, there might be a bit of disappointment.
Started May 27. Finished June 8. And to think I used to write one of these a day.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.