Solo: A Star Wars Story arrives at your local Cineplex with both a troubled production history and a weighty list of fan expectations, a potentially lethal combination for which no one would hope. The fact that Solo manages to deliver on some aspects of its premise as a Han Solo origin story is possibly a minor miracle given its initial directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were fired during principle filming.
The most persistent and pernicious problems with Solo lie in its script and storytelling. The movie’s early scenes in particular do a poor job of establishing the characters and making the audience excited to re-enter this universe so many love so deeply. The tone (a problem for the movie as a whole) is extremely earnest early on as Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) attempt to make it out of their current interstellar slum. Earnest is perhaps the last adjective you would apply to the blasterslinging, wisecracking Han Solo in A New Hope (let’s dispense with numbers as Star Wars math is hopelessly confusing). Of course, in Solo you don’t see exactly that Han but, for me at least, A New Hope Han is the primary reason I’m going to see Solo—and therein lies the prequel chestnut Solo doesn’t successfully address.
Han seems to be a “Good Boyfriend” to Qi’ra and, without devoting any significant time to their relationship/coupledom, the film asks viewers to invest in their love (if it is love) for each other. Banking on this couple so hard means the film has built the narrative equivalent of a chair with wobbly, teetering legs—the existing foundation cannot adequately support all the weight the subsequent story asks it to carry.
The film’s other major flaw is the script, in many cases even at the sentence level. Although written by Star Wars heavyweight Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) and legacy newcomer Jonathan Kasdan, the script was weighed down by, at times, overwrought dialogue and, surprisingly, a great deal of clichés. (Perhaps the worst was Qi’ra’s confession that thoughts of Han make her smile. Yuck.) All that said, Solo does have some fun elements on its side.
- The film features stellar supporting performances from Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, and Donald Glover, although the greatest of these is Donald Glover. His performance echoes the spirit of Billy Dee Wiliams’ as the original Lando Calrissian but still works within the context of this new narrative (something Ehrenreich never fully achieves). My favorite moment of the entire film may well be Calrissian’s equivalent of a captain’s log which we see him recording aboard the Millennium Falcon.
- The film oscillates between heist plots and neo-Western which worked well and helped kick the plot into hyperdrive (spaceship pun: check) after the humdrum opening. The heists make sense given that we know Han evolves into a smuggler and the Western elements added another level of visual language and film tropes such as a train chase, shootouts, high-stakes card games, and desert landscapes no longer so common in summer blockbusters filled with robots and increasingly high-tech superheroes.
- The cape game was strong with this one. Lando’s closet was particularly deep and Qi’ra’s jumpsuit was another high point.
- Although there were no new breakout species a la The Last Jedi’s porgs, the new aliens featured were a fun and welcome addition to the universe. In the opening scenes, a female alien who craved shiny objects as tribute/payment was one of the few interesting characters in that segment.
- Phoebe Waller Bridge provided surprising robot wokeness and necessary laughs as Lando’s companion, L3-37, who staunchly defends the notion that robots are people too.
- The rebel leader Enfys (Erin Kellyman) appears only sparingly in Solo but I immediately wanted a standalone movie for her given the enigmatic strength Kellyman projected onscreen.
Ultimately, the relationship in the film which shined the brightest was that between Han and Chewie and seeing their initial meetcute is great fun. More Han/Chewie and less Han/Qi’ra might have been a helpful course correction in charting the film’s tone.
Until the next Star Wars universe release, I’ve put together a wish list for what I long to see in a galaxy far, far away:
- A villain without tiger stripes, black/red face paint, a giant black helmet, or golden bathrobe
- Chewbacca standalone whether it be novella, movie, or tv series
- Han and Chewie slash fiction (don’t let me down internet!)
- More robot uprisings a la L3-37
- Janelle Monae voicing a droid (she’s already the Archandroid, right?)
- The Calrissian Chronicles