*I'm taking a break from reviewing films I own to review Solo, a movie I will own once it's released. I'll return with another article about a movie from my collection next week.
Star Wars has surprised me quite a bit in the last few years, in both good and bad ways. It’s been bad because I don’t care much for the two new main movies: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. To be more specific, I think The Force Awakens is okay, and I hate The Last Jedi, and it has made me less excited for future Star Wars films in general. Which is why I was less excited for Solo than I’ve been for any other Star Wars movie. But here’s where the good surprise comes into play: I enjoy the spinoff Star Wars movies very much. If I had to rank the movies since Disney took over, it would go: 1. Rogue One 2. Solo 3. The Force Awakens #4. The Last Jedi.
I expected the complete opposite when the new films were announced. I couldn’t wait for the continued adventures of the Skywalkers and whatnot, and I didn’t understand the need for the side stories. I think I get it now. My expectations are too high for saga movies and too low for the spinoffs (maybe not too low, but definitely lower). I expect a certain feeling from the main movies, and without George Lucas involved, it just doesn’t feel like Star Wars to me, for better or worse. And I can admit that’s on me. Maybe these movies are masterpieces that I am incapable of recognizing, but it is what it is. But with the side movies, I don’t bring that baggage. I don’t need them to feel like the old movies (prequels included); they can be Star Wars-lite. And even though Solo is about a few major characters from the originals, it still feels adjacent to the main story, and I like that even though originally I didn’t care to know Han Solo’s past.
Before I get into spoilers for the rest of the review, I’ll give my general, vague thoughts on Solo. As a standalone film, it moves quickly, is filled with great characters, plenty of action, and a lot of fun. There’s nothing groundbreaking about it, but there’s also nothing that made me wish they hadn’t made it at all. Alden Ehrenreich makes a good Han Solo, and Donald Glover is a perfect Lando Calrissian. The film takes nearly everything you may have wondered about Solo (his name, his gun, meeting Chewbacca, flying the Millennium Falcon the first time, etc.) and explains it. In other words, it’s a fun, crowd-pleasing film that most fans will enjoy. Now onto SPOILERS, so stop reading if you don’t want some major stuff spoiled for you.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of these spinoff films is that so many characters die. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of death in the main movies (RIP Han, Luke, Ackbar, Snoke, the entire rebellion, etc.), but in these movies it’s nearly the entire primary cast that dies. The folks in Solo fare a bit better than the entire cast of Rogue One, but still the death count is high. When Thandie Newton showed up I expected her to be around until the end, but she was dead less than fifteen minutes after her introduction. That’s a bold move, and I like it. Just like Rogue One, the stakes of the mission are actually high. Usually in movies like this there are plenty of warnings about the danger of a mission, but almost everyone lives (look at The Last Jedi: sure, all the no names die, but with all that death the main guys somehow make it). In the spinoff movies, when someone says something is dangerous that means every character not guaranteed to appear in later movies will probably die.
It would be easy for the screenwriters (Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan) to make the characters one-note since they all die. But I actually cared about all of them, even if I only saw them for a couple minutes. They did an excellent job of establishing character and relationships in short scenes to make their deaths matter later.
I’ll finish with the boldest move Solo makes: bringing back Darth Maul. Apparently he was resurrected on the animated show, The Clone Wars. But I always thought of that show as separate from the movies. Not anymore. Darth Maul is back, though only as a hologram at the very end. Still, I got chills when he appeared. Much like Darth Vader’s awesome scene at the end of Rogue One, this is total fan service, but it worked. I am genuinely excited for some sort of sequel to Solo so I can see Darth Maul in glorious action again. That’s the best compliment I can pay Solo: it made me excited about Star Wars again. Sure, it did it in a very manipulative way, but who cares? When’s the next spinoff coming out? I can’t wait.
The action is large and impressive at times (the train heist being a standout), but it’s largely forgettable: a lot of laser gun shootouts and explosions. Ron Howard isn’t exactly known for awesome action, though.
I'm fine with every little thing, even the last name Solo, being explained. I don't hold Solo as a special character, so this movie is very low stakes for me, but I did like the world it created, and wouldn't mind another entry, especially if Maul is in it (apparently the Darth is gone now, since he’s no longer a Sith...or something).
Actually, I take that back. Him being named Solo is pretty damn stupid. The only time he is truly on his own is during his three years in the Imperial Army. After that, he’s with Chewbacca until his death. How about Han Duo?
The Empire theme is played diegetically in a recruitment ad. I’m not sure I like that. So was that music in the original trilogy being played during those scenes, like the drums in Spaceballs?
What was the Lord and Miller version like? Because this was pretty jokey. I read somewhere that it came down to them being able to handle a big budget movie. They were doing too many takes. So Howard was brought in for efficiency. Howard has gone on record saying that the script did not change when he came on board, so it wasn’t the comedic tone of the film that got Lord and Miller fired.
They almost made a Star Wars movie without a lightsaber. I wish they would have, honestly. The reveal of Maul was enough. Why did he turn on his lightsaber, anyway? He’s a hologram!
Han definitely shoots first in this film, playing big fan service to people pissed about the Special Editions.
Truly a movie for the fans as it fixes some dialogue - parsecs were used seemingly as speed in the original, but it’s revealed that Han knows a parsec is a unit of distance (that’s fine, but I’m pretty sure Lucas thought it referred to speed when he wrote it back then), how Lando says Han in Empire (rhyming it with can instead of swan), etc. That does take you out of it a bit, but not so much that it is a problem.
It’s crazy that I like the spinoffs more than the main movies, especially since they both had very problematic productions.
I did have a few issues with it. Lady Proxima was kind of silly. Not Boss Nass silly, but still… and that singing duo was a bit odd at Vos’s place, even though its it's in keeping with classic Star Wars (Max Reebo Band). Still, those few moments when Han is looking around at the party feel much more like classic Star Wars than any of that casino garbage from The Last Jedi.
Also, the Qi’ra relationship left a bit to be desired. It was set up like he would find her near the end of the movie, but he just runs into her randomly, and they don’t really talk that much after they meet up. It seems like it would be a bigger deal to see each other. I guess it’s cool that she didn’t need saving. But after that dramatic separation at the airport(?), it seemed like a pretty big deal. Then when they see each other years later, they act like old college friends who run into each other at the grocery store.
And Woody Harrelson got over Thandie Newton’s death way too fast. I know they live a dangerous life, but come on! And wouldn’t he be a bit more pissed off at Enfys Nest at the end. “Sure, your cause is noble and all, but you did get my girlfriend and buddy killed.”