Movie Talk: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

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Never tell him the odds. Especially when it comes to how well this movie will do at the box office.

Another fun Star Wars adventure or has Disney sunk Solo? Dan Jensen gives his thoughts on the latest installment in the sci-fi franchise.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Directed by Ron Howard (2018)

THIS NEWEST ENTRY into the popular Star Wars franchise falls into the bracket of the anthology films — in other words, not an official chapter of the main episodic saga, similar to 2016’s Rogue One. Directed by Ron Howard, who was called in to pick up the pieces after previous directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were kindly asked to leave due to “creative differences”, this film tells the story of a younger version of Han Solo and how he became the roguish, charming smuggler we’ve known since 1977.

The basic plot is a tale of how young Han was split up from the love of his life, played by Emilia Clarke, having tried to make ends meet living on the streets of Corellia and vowing to return one day in a ship to take them away to a better life. Along the way, he is caught up in a war, a daring heist on a freight train and eventually finds himself on an adventure that leads to becoming captain of the Millennium Falcon along with a certain Wookiee co-pilot/best friend.

If you’ve been following the Star Wars saga, you already know a lot about Han’s history. Even the most casual viewer knows that his ship made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, that Lando Calrissian was the previous owner of his ship and that Chewbacca is prone to dismembering people’s arms. We just accept that Han can understand Chewbacca’s growling dialect and, mostly for the purists, know that he always shoots first. These are character traits and elements of his backstory that built such an iconic character, especially since it all developed an air of mystery about him. This movie pretty much exists solely to show us all of these things, to explain a lot of stuff we’ve heard about but never seen and to make the audience repeatedly say “ha! I understood that reference!” In other words, not all that necessary.

That’s not to say this movie was bad, it just could have been a lot better.

For starters, Alden Ehrenreich, given the near-impossible task of filling Harrison Ford’s space boots, delivers a solid performance as the title character. He somehow manages to convincingly be the younger version of Han, without doing an impression of Ford — something this film’s reputation had very much at stake. Equally as enjoyable was Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino, who has been receiving a lot of attention recently for his latest music video) as the younger Lando Calrissian. The first moment he speaks it sounds eerily like Billy Dee Williams and his overall performance was entirely believable. The chemistry between the two helped flesh out that moment in The Empire Strikes Back where they reunite on Cloud City and was written well enough. In terms of performances, however, those two were really the only ones that stood out. Emilia Clarke, brilliant in Game of Thrones, was a tad dull here and her character could have been played by absolutely anyone. Same goes for Woody Harrelson as a character named Tobias Beckett, who shapes Solo into the scoundrel we know and love, usually enjoyable and a fine actor but here given a shallow character to play. Paul Bettany appears as Dryden Vos, supposedly the primary antagonist of the story but posing no real threat to anyone.

And that was another major flaw of the film — there never seemed to be much in the way of a threat or any real stakes for our heroes. The story just had them go from one action sequence to the next with very thin threads of a narrative holding it together. The sequences weren’t bad, but nothing that had me on the edge of my seat. Everything looked pretty, from the amazing costume designs and make-up work to the stunning locations and sets. But, at the end of the day, all that eye candy wasn’t as sweet without memorable dialogue or any decent motivation for our characters to do whatever they need to be doing.

I also have to commend the film on its use of practical effects over CG. Sure, a lot of CG was present, but it was done quite well and blended seamlessly with the real elements, as opposed to George Lucas’s previous method of shooting actors against a green screen and adding everything else in post.

Probably the biggest issue I had with the film was the character L3-37, Lando’s droid sidekick, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I never thought the Star Wars franchise could produce a character more annoying than Jar Jar Binks, but he can safely hand over his crown now as we’ve been given a character purely written because it’s 2018 and time to inject political correctness into everything possible. This robot is a militant feminist, anti-racist, equal rights-loving, one-note misfire. I’m all for putting PC slants on a character if it’s done subtly, but the moment Lando is leaving the Falcon’s cockpit and asks if he can get her anything, her reply of “equal rights” really made me cringe.

For a film that carried so much potential, in the end this long-time Star Wars fanatic was left disappointed. I’ve been blind to all the criticisms against Disney milking their $4 billion cash cow since acquiring Lucasfilm as I welcomed the idea of more stories and adventures, but this is the first time I really felt like the film existed with the single purpose of making money. We should have been given a fun adventure that added to the Star Wars lore, rather than two hours of showing us things we already knew.

Again, it’s not a bad film. I wouldn’t advise not seeing it. It’s harmless enough and an okay time at the movies, but for a 41-year-old franchise that has given us some of the most iconic characters, dialogue and scenes in film history, it should have been far better than just okay.

My score: 6/10 — definitely not a bad movie, but sadly the first Star Wars film that I don't feel compelled to see a second time at the cinema.

Dan Jensen is a filmmaker and avid movie fan. You can find more of his movie reviews on his YouTube channel at Movie Talk.

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