Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo: A Star Wars Story is an odd duck of a movie, and continues a trend started by the previous standalone film in the series, Rogue One. Namely, a lot of reshoots. The difference between these two films is that Rogue One‘s director wasn’t fired when the movie was mostly done and replaced by somebody else to shoot the remainder of the film, along with reshooting the entire rest of the film.
Despite this, Solo doesn’t come off as a movie that’s clearly been pieced together from a far different original vision. One would hope that eventually the original version of the film can be put out on home media, much like the original version of Superman 2 was. It might not be any good, but it’d make for a great special feature or something like that for the home version of the movie.
After The Last Jedi failed to capture the hearts and minds of the Star Wars fanbase, myself included, I was more hesitant than I would have normally been going into this film. Between the production issues, the fact that most of the contenders to play young Han Solo looked nothing like Harrison Ford, and the fact that it followed on from the single worst Star Wars film ever made, I was skeptical. But a lot of that skepticism was abated by the fact that the replacement director was none other than Ron Howard, a director I hold in high regard. Howard was George Lucas’s original choice to direct the prequels, and I was glad to see him take up the reigns finally. If I was someone in charge at Lucasfilm or The Walt Disney Company, my first act would have been to immediately turn the sequels over to Ron Howard. Even when working with less than adequate material, Howard always manages to turn out a decent film. And I’m happy to say that’s what he’s done for Solo.
Solo: A Star Wars Story at its most basic level is a compressed and heavily bastardized version of The Han Solo Trilogy, although by this point I’m not even remotely surprised to see plots, characters, and entire scenes lifted from the EU. This film is about as obvious with its plagiarism than The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were. Characters names are changed, and some of the fine details are different, but in the end, this movie is basically The Han Solo Trilogy given life as a film.
The performances from all involved are spot-on. Alden Ehrenreich imitates Harrison Ford’s mannerisms as the dashing rogue Han Solo without missing a beat. His voice is slightly different than I would have expected, but considering this movie is set approximately fifteen years before the events of A New Hope, that’s perfectly forgivable. Donald Glover though, manages to not only look, but sound his part as Lando Calrissian. I have to hand it to Glover, he did a damn good job as everyone’s favorite scoundrel. The only complaint is that his hairdo is a little too different, a little too much like the haircut Will.i.am has in real life. Lando has curly, slicked hair in The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. He didn’t have a right-angle cut into his hair. I don’t know why this bugged me, maybe it was the fact that it looks a little too modern to fit in with the overall look of Star Wars as a franchise. Ehrenreich and Glover reportedly both consulted with Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams respectively when researching their roles, and both of them manage to capture the essence of their characters without actively seeming like impersonators. The other actors turn in good performances as well, especially Woody Harrelson, but there’s a certain character who irritated the hell out of me and didn’t even need to really be in the film, but that’s spoiler territory.
Just listening to the score of this movie, I think it’s got some of the best music out of the series in recent years. That may be due to the fact that it relies heavily upon previous musical cues, but even putting that aside, the music flows with the scenes the way the music flowed with the scenes in the first six films. There are a couple of tracks I find a bit odd, but the music is more memorable than it was in Rogue One and more unique than it was in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. This is likely due to the fact that the composer, John Powell, was a member of Remote Control Productions, the studio Hans Zimmer co-founded, and was a frequent collaborator with Zimmer and other members of the studio. Hans Zimmer is one of a very few composers who can give original Star Wars series composer John Williams a run for his money in terms of quality, and I think that the only better choice to do the score would have been Williams or Zimmer themselves. Maybe even together.
Spoilers for the movie and the books begin here.
The most obvious details of the movie that have been lifted from The Han Solo Trilogy are Han’s backstory as a ruffian who escaped Correllia by joining the Empire, and eventually deserted to become a smuggler. The details differ in that Han’s girlfriend, Qi’ra (played by Emilia Clark) comes up with him in the underworld rather than being an aristocrat, that the reason they’re separated is because she gets caught when a corrupt Imperial soldier sells them out, and not because Han was being chivalrous, and the fact that Qi’ra is an unknown quantity with deep ties to Han, just like Han’s girlfriend in the novels, Bria Theran. In fact, if they chopped out one of the characters that shows up later in the movie, they could have just called her Bria and nobody would have blinked an eye. In fact, this is something of a trend with Disney’s Star Wars films, they tend to have too many characters. Not the way a Rolland Emmerich movie has too many characters, more like one or two extraneous characters along the way. Not unexpected from Star Wars, but at least in the past, previous films were aggressively edited and examined for extraneous scenes and characters. Yes, this did lead to a fairly important section of A New Hope being basically lost to time, but it also meant that there were never any subplots that didn’t go anywhere, or characters who could have just been removed entirely.
The next major section of the film that has been altered from its source material is the fact that Lando cheats in his first game of Sabacc with Han when the Falcon is on the line. Lando’s not exactly known for cheating, and in fact, didn’t like cheaters at Sabacc. Not to mention the fact that cheating at Sabacc carries heavy fines in some parts of the galaxy, and the death sentence in others, making it heavily out of character for Lando to risk such consequences when he’s known to only take risks when he has to, as demonstrated in Episode V when he joined the Rebellion. Why would he stick his neck out to win at a card game? In the books and previous movies, Lando was known as a man of his word, only breaking it when absolutely necessary. That was how Han won the Falcon in the trilogy, by holding Lando to his exact words. Hell, we’ve even seen this side of Lando recently in Star Wars Rebels. He’s a scoundrel, a smooth talker, a wheeler and a dealer, a ruffian, but he’s not a cheater and he never goes back on his word when both sides keep their end of the bargain. We’ll come back to this later on.
Something which really irritated me about this film was that it started off with still screens of expositional text rather than the traditional title crawl. Unlike Rogue One, I could add a title crawl to Solo without even needing to edit the film much. Rogue One started off fairly quick, and despite the fact that it could have easily had one with a bit of editing, didn’t really need one. This film on the other hand eschews series tradition much in the way The Clone Wars animated movie and series did, despite the fact that they’d greatly benefit from the added extra touch. At least The Clone Wars had the excuse of needing to communicate the setting and previous events to the audience quickly so as to fit into a half-hour timeslot, but Solo doesn’t have that excuse because the text remains on screen for about as long as the equivalent title-crawl would have. If you’re going to include text in the opening sequence to a Star Wars movie, make it crawl for god’s sake!
All of that text has to exist to explain what Han is doing and why he wants to leave Correllia. Han and his girlfriend, Qi’ra work for some kind of snake creature stealing things. Han gets ambushed while on a job for the snake and barely escapes with his life, his enemy’s speeder, and a piece of merchandise. Han manages to escape the den of thieves with Qi’ra, but rather than line up a black-market trader to get the full value for it and not having to rely on the corruption of Imperial forces, Han just trades the fuel to the Imperial official, which gets Qi’ra captured. Han joins the Imperial Academy to become a pilot, but for some reason becomes a foot soldier for the Imperial Navy due to being expelled from the Imperial Flight Academy. Okay. Not like that’s something interesting we’d have liked to see. Even if it was only ten, fifteen, twenty minutes long it would have been cool to see. All it would take is a little bit of creative writing and direction, which I know the team behind this movie can do, and the smash-cut to the warzone would have still worked. In this scene, we find out the origins of Han’s name. It’s a nickname given to him by the Imperial Recruiter since he doesn’t have a last name. Even though we find out he had parents and actually knew them.
In the warzone, Han meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who’s posing as an Imperial officer. Beckett manages to save Solo’s unit and Solo pegs him and the other members of his crew as thieves when he notices a few things wrong with them. For one thing, Beckett’s uniform is heavily damaged. The pilot, Rio Durant (Jon Favreau) is an alien, and Beckett’s wife, Val (Thandie Newton) is quick to jump the gun. When Han calls them out and tries to get them to let him join them, Beckett gets the Imperials to toss Han into a cage with none other than Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) who Han convinces to help him escape. Compared to how they met in the books, this is more spectacular, but less meaningful. It’s a lot like the Harry Potter films in that regard, but a lot better.
Han and Chewie escape the prison and join up with Beckett to help him rob a train. They mostly manage to pull the heist off, but a band of marauders try to hijack the train from them. Rio winds up being shot, so Han has to take the controls, and then Val dies blowing up the bridge and taking out the Imperial forces. Han winds up having to ditch the train car to save their necks, and gets chewed out by Beckett, since the product of the heist was promised to crime-lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) of the Crimson Dawn. Couldn’t have been Prince Xizor of Black Sun? Oh well, whatever.
Beckett apologizes to Vos for losing the fuel, while Han runs into Qi’ra, who’s Vos’s… Wife? Right hand girl? Concubine? Hitwoman? I don’t know.
Han suggests to Beckett and Vos that they steal unrefined fuel instead of refined fuel, since the fuel mines on Kessell will be easier to rob than another Imperial transport train. Since the unrefined fuel is unstable, they need to get a fast ship. Since the fastest ship in the galaxy is owned by Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) Han gets Qi’ra to front his buy-in to the Sabacc table Lando is playing at and manages to almost get the ship, but an awkward cutaway shows us that Lando used a Mission: Impossible gadget to swap out his cards. If they’d cut this shot out, and left the reveal for the end, it would have increased the impact of the final scene of the film. Then you’ve got the fact that Han basically had enough money to either buy a similar light freighter and modify it for the job, or pay Lando to rent the Falcon for the job and still have plenty left over to buy a ship. That’s part of what makes this sequence kind of dumb, on top of Lando being out of character. The other part is the fact that they didn’t show us many of the details of Sabac as a game. Han’s clearly a card-shark, so if we got a bit of internal monologue like we did in the books, we might have more context. I know I’m basically asking Ron Howard to insert an episode or two of Yu-Gi-Oh! into a Star Wars movie, but The Last Jedi was two and a half hours long. if Ron Howard had made Solo three hours long I’d have still sat through it. Even if you allowed fifteen minutes each for the three years Han supposedly spent in the Imperial Academy, and fifteen more minutes for Sabacc, the movie would only be about five minutes longer than TLJ. Hell, if you cut out Lando’s annoying droid sidekick you’d save about three minutes of the movie, maybe even more.
Lando’s droid sidekick and navigator, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is one of the single most irritating characters in the entirety of film, right up there with Sam Witwicky and Lucas Flannery from the live-action Transformers movies. And like Lucas, I was incredibly glad when she died, despite the fact that the film clearly wants me to feel bad for Lando that his friend is dead. L3 loves to go on about droid’s rights, something which nobody cares about and really didn’t even need to be in the movie. We know droids are discriminated against in Star Wars, they’ve made it impeccably clear in every single film, book, game, and audio drama in the franchise. This kind of thing should have been a passing joke made by a side character, not a supporting character who’s fairly important to the story. Not that she needed to be important to the story, since everything she does could have been done by a voiceless R2 unit, or a member of the crew. Not to mention the fact that she steals a bit of Han’s thunder when she frees all of the slaves herself, which sort of undermines what Chewie owes Han since, in the book, Solo was the one who liberated the slaves, and Chewie’s family in the process. Thankfully she’s only around for a few minutes. Compared to L3, Rose Tico is actually important to the plot. And the most prominent comic-relief character in the series, Jar-Jar Binks is downright serious by comparison. At least he was integral to the plot, at least he couldn’t have been replaced by Woody Harrelson and a better navicomputer. At least The Phantom Menace would have gone down drastically differently without him. At least Jar-Jar was funny and endearing. We already know about the plight of droids. Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, hell most of the installments in the series show how bad droids have it in a far more serious light. The punchlines suck and take away from the serious nature of the issue. Plus the character being irritating as all get-out doesn’t help her cause. I don’t even know why anyone thought this character up. One would hope that Phil Lorde and Chris Miller, the original directors of this film did something different with this character, but considering she’s in and out fast, I guess I can’t complain too much. One last strange thing about her character is that she seems to have a big crush on Lando that she’s not hiding particularly well. She seems a bit too quick to say it won’t work, and a bit too quick to say that a human/droid relationship can work. That was actually a somewhat funny joke, to be honest.
They load the fuel into the Falcon, but Lando is wounded and L3 is destroyed. Han tries to fly them out, but they stumble on an Imperial blockade. Solo takes the shortcut that lets him take the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, but they’re ambushed by a space-monster. Han manages to get the monster stuck in one of the Maw Cluster black-holes by ejecting the Falcon’s escape-pod. They plug L3’s brain into the navicomputer to chart a course out of the Maw and a drop of the unrefined fuel to boost themselves out of the black-hole. They get the fuel refined, but the Marauders from the heist ambush them and Lando abandons them. For some reason, the marauders manage to convince Han to give them the fuel, but they still have to turn something over to Vos. So Han puts together a plan where the Marauders have an empty box as bait in case someone betrays the plan, and he can take the regular fuel in to Vos. Sure enough, Beckett sells them out to Vos, but Han and Qi’ra manage to fight him off, and Han kills Beckett in the best shot of the movie. Han expects Qi’ra to join him, but she takes Vos’s ship to meet with her true boss, Darth Maul (Voiced by Samuel Witwer from The Clone Wars and Rebels, and physically portrayed by Ray Park, the actor who played him in The Phantom Menace) on Korriban. No I don’t know why Maul is here, but I’m intrigued and wish to know more. Then Han and Chewie go back to Lando, Han steals the cards Lando used to cheat, and wins the Falcon with a Full Sabacc, roll credits.
All in all, I liked this movie. I think it’s well worth the sit if you had a bad taste in your mouth after the failure of The Last Jedi. It’s kind of funny, since there are a few little things in this movie that make TLJ a bit more sensible, but not enough to redeem its failure. If you hated The Last Jedi because it crapped all over the legacy of the original trilogy, and every other film in the series that came before it, you’ll find that this film doesn’t do that quite as much. There’s only one major aspect of the film I disagreed with, but overall I found it a very entertaining movie. And to the people who said that the audience needed to lower their expectations going in, you’re wrong. This movie stands up alongside the other good Star Wars movies with its head held high. It’s a bit shorter than its older siblings, but it’s far and away better than The Last Jedi and Revenge of the Sith were. Don’t lower your expectations going in, you’ll be more than happy with this film if you’ve never read the superior books it’s obviously based on. And if you have read the books it’s based on, you might want to cut the movie a little slack. After all, the movie did have to be almost entirely reshot by a different director. Hell, they couldn’t even keep the same guy playing the villain, Vos. Michael K. Williams played a far different version of the villain Vos in the Lorde and Miller version of the movie, but the role had to be recast for the reshoots.
Despite the troubled production, this film turned out pretty good. It makes me wonder how Ron Howard would have handled the prequel trilogy, and indeed it makes me wonder why Disney didn’t immediately turn the sequel trilogy over to him. Ron Howard did a better job picking up the broken pieces of a film someone else wrote than Rian Johnson did directing a movie he wrote. So go see this movie. Bring your friends. It’s doing way worse at the box-office than it should, and I think that’s to do with the fact that it’s following on from last year’s lackluster main installment. The final score I give for the movie is an 8.0 out of 10.
Image from impawards.com, cropped from the full poster.