Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story directed by Ron Howard
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Directed by Ron Howard
Written by Jonathan & Lawrence Kasdan
Produced by Lucasfilm, Ltd.
Distributed by Walt Disney Studios, 2018

What I find most interesting about Solo: A Star Wars Story is that it doesn’t really feel like a Star Wars movie. That’s mostly a good thing.

What I mean is: it doesn’t feel important. It’s the only Star Wars movie so far that isn’t significant. In the original trilogy, Lucas explicitly sought to create a modern myth, a la Joseph Campbell. There’s an inherent sense of weight to it. The new trilogy sought to bring the Star Wars universe back to relevance and so it has a sense of mission, as well as a similar sense of modern myth. Rogue One tells a tale of emotional, moral, and narrative consequence.

Solo doesn’t have any of that. It’s not important to the main trilogies and it doesn’t take itself all that seriously. Which makes it one of the most fun Star Wars movies I’ve seen. It’s pure entertainment. It’s refreshing.

The story is inconsequential, the script is unremarkable, and the production is polished to a high shine, with formulaic but masterful pacing. As is so often the case with what are, truthfully, vanity projects, the actors are what elevate this movie. Woody Harrelson brings dimension and humanity to his role as Han’s mentor Beckett, Phoebe Waller-Bridge steals every scene she’s in as the voice of L3-37 (as is only right and proper for a droid), Paul Bettany is always delightful when he gets to play a villain and he relishes this one.

Emilia Clarke does what she can with a character that has no depth written into it. She gives it enough that you can believe Han would do all this for her, which is an achievement.

Donald Glover is the reason everyone should watch this movie. He’s brilliant as Lando Calrissian. It’s frightening how perfectly he captures this character. There should be an Oscar category for actors who take over roles originated by other actors, and who achieve this level of uncanny accuracy.

That leaves Alden Ehrenreich in the titular role and this is where things fall short. I have issues with Han Solo in Solo.

I want to state up front that I have no problem with Ehrenreich or his performance. He does a fine job with the character as it’s written. He’s charming, funny, smart, and a joy to watch.

I had a hard time believing him as Han Solo because I don’t think he looks enough like Harrison Ford. That’s not the actor’s fault, it has no bearing on his performance, so it’s just something I need to accept and move on. I also didn’t think he had the right kind of charm for the role: Ford imbued Han with a menacing swagger, an edgy charisma. Ehrenreich doesn’t have any edges—he has a pretty boy charm, instead. He uses it to full effect but it’s the wrong kind of charisma. I can accept this, though, as a matter of the character’s youth. I suspect it takes time and experience for Han to develop edge and swagger.

In this sense, Harrelson’s Beckett is closer to Ford’s Han. Which makes sense, if Beckett is the man Han models himself on.

Where Solo fails is in how it treats its main character. For starters, Han is almost the least interesting character in the movie. Everyone around him commands more of your attention—Lando and Beckett, especially.

But more than anything else, it bothers me how desperate this movie is to sanitize Han Solo.

Han was always the most interesting character in the original trilogy. As kids, we’d fight over who got to be Han when we played Star Wars because no one wanted to get stuck playing boring ol’ Luke. Han fascinated us because he wasn’t the hero. He wasn’t a good guy: he was unpredictable and dangerous and self-serving. When you meet him in the very first movie, he’s running away from his problems, he’s gruff and mean, he shoots Greedo under the table with no warning, he’s sarcastic and cynical and cool, he’s only in it for himself, reluctant to join the cause, and you’re not at all surprised when he takes the money and runs. He’s an antihero.

When he comes back and saves the day, his redemption is powerful.

Han gets this same basic character arc in The Force Awakens: once again, he’s running away from his problems, on the wrong side of the law, looking out just for himself, reluctant to join the cause, cynical and gruff and rude. Once again, his eventual redemption is powerful.

This is the arc that works for this character. This is why he’s the most fascinating character in the original trilogy.

Solo tells us—more than once, word for word—that Han is a good guy. It tells us—word for word—that he always does the right thing in the end. It preempts the redemption he gets in the original trilogy. It takes everything that makes this character interesting and tries to retcon it all away. It wants to make him a straight-up hero—and asks us to believe that he always has been. It doesn’t redeem him. It sanitizes him.

I will never understand how anyone can think this is what the character needed.

Solo gets its main character all wrong. Despite that massive failure, I liked this movie. It’s a testament to the talent of the performers and the production team. While I disagree with their take on Han’s character, everyone involved clearly loves this universe and delights in being a part of it. It’s unapologetically entertaining in a way no other Star Wars movie has been. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and that’s its greatest strength.

I had concerns when they announced a stand-alone Han Solo origin story. I was certain they’d screw it up in some way. The litany of production difficulties didn’t bode well for the final product. My concerns proved well-founded. And yet, Solo manages to be a good movie which I enjoyed and would recommend to others.

Make of that what you will.

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