The Only Prescription is More Soy
A Film Review of Solo: A Star Wars Story
Years from now, people may regard Solo: A Star Wars Story as simply another chapter in a series of blockbuster space operas that at one point was the gold standard for cinematic entertainment. However, the current zeitgeist for the Star Wars franchise is the furthest it has ever been from a place of universal love and appreciation. We have The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy to thank for the current state of fan division represented by the down trends in sales and the higher than normal venomous contempt being slung on social media and the internet. While that film is fully deserving of the criticism it has received I can’t help but think that Solo may have endured disproportional flak for simply being the next product from the leadership at Lucasfilm and its overseers at Disney.
To be perfectly honest, Solo serves up the meat and potatoes of the Star Wars universe: familiar characters, space adventures, visual effects and action. I’d go so far as to say that Solo is as inoffensive as the Disney owned Star Wars films have been by scaling back even further on “ambitious” storytelling in favor of a by-the-numbers, regular adventure in a galaxy far, far away. Nothing extraordinary really happens. No one rewrites the rules of the universe. We just get a reasonable extrapolation for what everyone presumed was a hard knock life for Han seeing how when we were originally introduced to him in 1977, he was getting a blaster shoved in his chest within moments.
For a back story no one asked for or thought too much about, Solo is vanilla: the safe choice to appeal to as many people as possible feigning depth thorough a variety of explanations and justifications for Han as a character that no one ever needed in the first place. A similar argument could be made for Rogue One if we ignore the fact that every main character we were introduced to and meant to care about is killed off by the story’s end; something that never has, nor will be repeated in a future Star Wars film. Solo could never have explored such risky plot developments because we know exactly who he is and where he ends up in A New Hope which (spoiler alert) isn’t a far cry from who and where he was at the start of this film.
Solo is a middle of the road viewing experience even if you remove all of the social controversy that currently surrounds the franchise. It isn’t what I would qualify as summer blockbuster fun, nor is it a sleep inducing waste of time. Watching this film is slightly better than doing nothing and perhaps that is this film’s greatest sin for in the summer months of May and June, the competition for disposable funds of the masses is high as alternatives are many. The bar has been considerably lowered for a franchise that previously defined what it meant to be “an event film.” Star Wars used to infuse sci-fi with fantasy magic, giving the audience classic morality tales and heroes’ journeys with larger than life stakes hanging in the balance. Now, it’s about casual action, bland stories and average effects. Star Wars needs considerably more ambition, more flavor, more spice, more … soy. Thank you, Mr. Ethan Van Sciver.
There’s a decent amount of action in this film, but I was surprised how much it favored blaster combat on the ground to everything else. For all of Han’s talk of wanting to be a pilot, there sure isn’t a lot of space flight or combat chases to boast over. Melee combat is effective, but not pristinely choreographed.
Traditional framework bookends this entire production. The audience is also treated to a healthy amount of close-ups which close off environments and an abundance of low angle shots to exaggerate Alden Ehrenrich’s height to something closer to Harrison Ford’s frame.
I would love to know why an acting coach was on set regularly only for Alden Ehrenrich. Was the coach there to help him with acting in general or was that person there to help clone Harrison Ford mannerisms as much as possible? Either way, I wasn’t sold as Alden comes off as unsure as to what emotion to commit to in several instances while pulling off fleeting moments of actual Han Solo at his very best. His energy level feels subdued throughout as he frequently plays second fiddle in several scenes where supporting characters dictate his pace.
Woody Harrelson’s Beckett delivers the roguish charm lacking from Han Solo himself, but I would have appreciate some variance in his character’s tone to better sell his unpredictable nature. Would this film play out any differently if Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra was deleted from every scene? Donald Glover is an excellent Lando Calrissian in demeanor, facial expression and overall charm, but he’s only tertiary support in this movie. I was glad to see Joonas Suotamo give Chewbacca the physicality we’ve never seen, but always heard about in previous Star Wars lore. Paul Bettany did the best he could with his shoe-horned antagonist and precious little screen time.
John Powell’s original music is fine with an appropriate variety of familiar, melodic tones, but he’s no John Williams.
Overall, the sound is fine, but I really hate the muted pings of blaster fire in this film. This normally wouldn’t be as much of a problem when there are light sabers shimmering and clashing in the background, but when the main character is a space pistoleer and the majority of the action is blasting, then you better have great sounding pew-pews.
“Moving” = 19/33
The CG for all space flight sequences were top notch. Some aliens/alien effects seemed too plain to warrant digital over practical. The train sequence certainly looked great, but this film really wasn’t gunning for a ton of CG which is weird for a Star Wars film.
Ron Howard captured practical effects better than JJ in TFA. Wire-work wasn’t as good as general stunts and combat, but I was really impressed with the variety of set destruction happening in multiple locations and scenes. Good stuff there.
Quite possibly the best aspect of this entire production. Variety, quality and most importantly similarity to the clothing style of this current time frame of Star Wars are executed to perfection with wardrobe choices that reflect characters’ personalities in the best ways.
Hair & Makeup
Decent overall. Great if you like your Star Wars characters with extra mud. Unfortunately, I don’t.
A bit too desolate for me even though some locations are appropriate for being remixed, desert moisture farms. But every exterior location?
Much better looking than exteriors with the highlights being Lando’s gambling dens, the interior of the gangster cruiser and of course, the pre-run down Millennium Falcon.
“Picture” = 25/33
A Han Solo, slightly retconned, origin story? Does it give us new information? Yes. Does any of it enhance what we already know, think and love about that character in any way? No, but all the new, superfluous details may irk some fans.
The external conflict is a joke because the antagonists are flat. Is a rogue truly a rogue when he’s really just a more angsty farm boy with similarly pure intentions and goals? This might have been more interesting if this Han were more of the scoundrel we were looking for.
Low stakes, minimal danger and surprise twists you saw a mile off make for a blasé ending and a preordained resolution.
Why does most of the dialogue feel unnatural even for this working man’s, mercenary Star Wars tale? Because every line is a setup to explain and inspire every line Han Solo will ever say in the chronological future of Star Wars films.
As if the audience needed more establishing in the reestablishment of Han Solo. More details eliminate the mystery of Han and rogues usually thrive on mystery. Less would have been really more in this category.
In an attempt to further explore the origins of one Han Solo; perhaps the most popular character in all of Star Wars, the net result is someone with less depth, more predictability, less intrigue and more of a generic everyman than Luke Skywalker if that was even possible.
If we don’t already know that sly, charismatic girl or guy with a heart of gold, we sure wouldn’t mind being that person regardless of circumstance. I wish I could have connected with more characters, but then they weren’t given enough opportunities to develop, let alone generate empathy for.
“Story” = 15/34
Overall MPS Rating: 59/100
When the credits rolled on Solo, I thought about what used to make Star Wars films special. The answer to that one question could easily be a book I might consider writing one day, but it all boils down to the same things that make anything special: people, the choices they make and the truth that nothing lasts forever.
George Lucas is a special individual for having invented a mythology that persists decades after its inception that made him incredibly wealthy and built a legacy of corporations that will ensure everyone will know Star Wars. However, his own contributions to the franchise can be called into question as most regard the prequel trilogy as inferior to the original in every way despite advanced technology in filmmaking being available to Lucas in the late 90s to make special effect shots easier to conceive and capture. When asked if he’d be compelled to come back to the franchise he sold off, he told the New York Times in 2012, “Why would I make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?” When the Godfather of Star Wars demonstrates a decline in quality to the point of disinterest and outright dismissal, is it really difficult to see how future endeavors by those less personally invested would trend in the same direction?
Kathleen Kennedy is the current president of Lucasfilm and while she answers to executives at Disney, she has made it clear in public statements and choices she’s made for the franchise that everything Star Wars related answers to her. On paper, it makes all the sense in the world to have a Don Corleone pulling the strings behind the scenes of major film franchises to direct the business with vision to greener pastures. Look at what George Lucas accomplished and what Kevin Feige is doing now. However, productivity and profitability are not firing on all cylinders for Ms. Kennedy and her choices as the current Star Wars headmistress are not helping the franchise as a whole. Why was there no plan for the story arc for Episodes VII-IX? Why hire and/or fire any directors for your productions at any point without being fully in sync with the work you are engaging in together from the very beginning? Why pursue productions that are so reliant on copy/pasting the mystique of the original trilogy? Why make public statements that antagonize or ostracize your customer base for any reason under the sun?
Considering all of this, it makes perfect sense why a film like Solo came to be. Lucasfilm’s agenda is mass production of Star Wars films at an annual rate, thus haphazard productions lacking unique vision and ambition are inevitable especially when communication among the interdependent cells of production is as clear as mud. I’m actually impressed that Solo turned out to be as cohesive as it was and I attribute that entirely to Ron Howard’s experience as a veteran filmmaker. I also appreciate that his take on the character is fully in the camp of “Han shot first,” (you’ll know what I mean). Unfortunately, checking off boxes from a social agenda list doesn’t make an interesting story and while the film shows sparks of intrigue with certain action sequences and set pieces, none of it grabs the viewer as memorable. The last thing Star Wars needs right now is to come off as forgettable.