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May 29, 2018

solo star wars story poster

A little more than thirteen years ago, when we were all waiting for Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith to come out, I remember having a very specific idea of what I wanted out of that movie. I was in high school. A rather zealous Original Trilogy fan, and probably still working out some slightly more complicated feelings about Episode I and Episode II, I probably knew that what I wanted couldn’t have made any sense in the context of the prequel trilogy. What did I want? I wanted young Han. I can’t remember if I was specific enough to include the Kessel Run in my wish list, but some depiction of Han, Chewie, and Lando in their smuggling heyday was the object of my desire.

Against all odds, the Millennium Falcon AND Chewbacca actually did make it into Episode III. Needless to say, Han and Lando did not. Even with the promise of illuminating the last major shadows of Darth Vader’s past, I knew, even then, that the quasi-political mumbo-jumbo of the prequels was not exactly what I wanted.

Thirteen-plus years later, it’s pretty amazing that we now have an entire movie devoted to Han’s twenties (and possibly more to come). Now that we have Solo, here’s a quick look back at my personal hype cycle for Solo:

  1. 2005: Episode III, or: wanting Solo when I knew it was practically impossible
  2. 2005-2011: Pre-Marvel Interregnum, or: seriously considering that Star Wars might be dead as a movie franchise
  3. 2012: The Disney Purchase, or: fairly pumped, but expecting, rightly, that Star Wars would revert to a Force/Skywalker-centric episodes
  4. July 2015: First Solo Announcement, or: honestly, shockingly, kinda having a bad feeling about this
  5. December 2015: The Force Awakens, or: confirmation that Star Wars was not only back, but still good
  6. 2016: Rogue One, or: more specifically, when Rogue One became a hit, thereby validating the concept of producing a Star Wars anthology series
  7. 2018: Solo Release, or: rediscovering that Solo, no matter how many production issues it had, was exactly the kind of movie I’d wanted when I was 15

Pretty surreal. Anyway, after all that, is Solo even good? The short answer is “yes,” and the long answer is still, mostly, “yes.” Solo is a very different Star Wars movie than any that have come before. Like Rogue One, Solo offers little more than passing allusions to any of the mystical elements that drive the numbered films.

solo full poster

What we get is a myth-affirming character construction that depicts a twenty-something Han, who can’t quite keep his honorable streak from shining through, no matter how carefully he curates his rascal tough-guy image.

Solo delivers a high degree of world-building goodness, offering plenty of new stuff, and the kinds of long-awaited revelations I had hoped for as a teen. Corellia, the Kessel Run, Han’s circle of friends pre-Episode IV, and more. All of the action, combined with the Western vibes, make Solo feel a little like Indiana Jones in Space. Imagine a feature-length version of the River Phoenix-starring prologue to The Last Crusade.

Uniquely among Star Wars movies, Solo plays like a comedy most of the time, leaning into Han’s winning charm and the inherent absurdity of space fantasies, and not settling for mere comic relief. Solo mines a lot of humor from the linguistic gobbledygook that you tend to find in high fantasy and junk sci-fi. There’s a joke in there which involves Beckett (Woody Harrelson) failing in his attempts to make an analogy by spouting ridiculous-sounding verbiage about alien species that none of the other characters have ever heard of. It’s a pretty inspired bit, and far from the only one.

Lando Calrissian’s return to the big screen is massively successful. Donald Glover does amazing comic work here, but he’s more than a punch line. He is hilarious in some scenes, tender in others, and everything in between… and he always has a snazzy cape to match. In what might be the best Star Wars cast Lucasfilm has ever assembled, nabbing Donald to play Lando feels like the one of the biggest victories. I don’t know that Lando merits his own film, but if they do go in that direction, at least we can be confident that the character is in good hands.

Speaking of the cast, Alden Ehrenreich managed to put any on-set concerns about his performance to rest. If anything, the charm he appeared capable of conveying seemed under-served by the dialog at times. As more time passes since the turbulent production, this performance will probably age very well. Ehrenreich managed to put his own spin on a character that we all assumed would be a straight (and doomed) Harrison Ford impression. For that, he deserves a lot of credit.

The rest of the star-studded cast, including Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton and Paul Bettany rounded out the impressive set of acting talent. Let us not forget Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who contributed sharp comedic timing and even sharper barbs as the voice of L3-37, and continuing the series’ unbeaten streak of incorporating memorable droid characters.

Alas, it’s not all gravy, as Solo’s first act falls into a lot of hackneyed musical biopic tropes. Oh, here comes the part where they come up with the band name; here comes the part where the love interest says something that inspires the first hit song, and so on and so forth. Even if you can justify including some of these moments, they aren’t very fun to watch unless presented in an innovative way. Solo occasionally falls short in that regard. Thankfully, those moments are mostly confined to a few early scenes.

And then there’s the matter of the surprise cameo toward the end of the movie. Two things here… first, I’ll admit to being in the camp of people who was more confused than amused by the ending. Even as a lifelong Star Wars fan, I am not well-versed in the Expanded Universe materials or the animated series. It was a bit of a sour feeling to think that failing to “do my homework” lessened my enjoyment of the movie. That brings me to the second thing. I can live with the aforementioned reveal if it leads to something great, but it will be very disappointing if Star Wars ends up going full-MCU, (or The Walking Dead for that matter), spawning multiple interconnected franchises and sub-franchises. The whole appeal of Star Wars anthology films (like Rogue One) was to tell smaller, tangential stories not beholden to the ongoing episodic series. I’m not ready to say that I’d turn my nose up at a Solo sequel, but teaser at the end of this latest movie has me worried about Star Wars saturation for the first time.

A few concerns aside, I really enjoyed Solo. My tastes have changed a bit since high school, but I couldn’t help recalling my pre-Episode III ideas for the franchise as I left the theater. Solo turned out to be almost as fun as I could have hoped for, which feels like a success. It’s an adventure story with most of the trappings that can make Star Wars so intoxicating.

  1. darkdaemonpk2 permalink

    Thanks for sharing. I should also watch this movie when zi get the chance.

  2. Always happy to share. I’d love to hear what you think when you see it. Thanks for reading!

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