If I told you that Frodo first met Samwise Gamgee in a mud-wrestling match behind a Hobbiton tavern called “Half-Pints,” would you believe me?

Of course not. Why? Because it’s a dumb idea, and one too lazily contrived. It fills in a detail that’s best left to our imagination — unnecessary to the primary plot of the story. What’s more, I just made it up. It doesn’t come from the Author that gave us Middle Earth in the first place. It’s not in any published version of The Fellowship of the Ring, nor does it occur in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation (although he did embellish a great deal). No, my claim would be properly categorized as ‘fan fiction’ — and poor fan fiction at that.

Along the same lines, we don’t know what George Lucas, the author of the original Star Wars stories, would have shown us if he’d made a movie about how Han Solo met Chewbacca and became a dynamic duo, or how Solo became a cocky smuggler with a reputation as one of the galaxy’s finest pilots. And we won’t ever know. So, any movie that offers up an explanation is extraneous, an artificial limb — speculation, at best.

In the case of Solo, we’re given some entertaining, occasionally exciting, but ultimately lazy and extraordinarily expensive speculation.

File Solo: A Star Wars Story under “Frivolous Fan Fiction.” It isn’t a story that will work very well for those of us who grew up with the mysterious,  money-focused mercenary that Harrison Ford made famous. The starship streaking into light speed here is strictly a millennials’ Falcon. It weaves its way through a film that will seem frenetic (and, as it plays, fantastic) to those who cut their teeth on the ploddingly ponderous prequels, but it will most likely seem overlong and overcrowded to those of us who had to wait three years between canonical installments.

© 2018 – Lucasfilm Ltd.

The movie, which was originally envisioned by the impressively imaginative LEGO Movie team of Philip A. Lord and Christopher Robert Miller — they went as far as principal photography on the film — ended up in the hands of Ron “I Can Take Any Great Story and Make a Bland and Forgettable Crowdpleaser” Howard. Yes, this is the filmmaker who took the beautifully simple How the Grinch Stole Christmas and turned it into an ugly, overstuffed live-action nightmare that ends up contradicting its own lesson. The filmmaker who turned the story of “Beautiful Mind” John Forbes Nash, Jr. into a crowdpleaser that barely bore any resemblance to actual events. Now he’d turned what might have been the most recklessly inventive Star Wars movie into something carefully engineered to entertain by filling in as many of our questions about Han Solo as possible.

And those answers are so startlingly unsatisfactory that they rob Star Wars‘ most beloved character of what made him so intriguing in the first place.

Okay, I should be fair: Solo is occasionally fun to watch. We get some of the mandatory adrenaline-rush action that I suspect would have been even more exciting in Lord and Miller’s version; plenty of charismatic actors playing unusual characters; and more quirky variations on Star Wars conventions than we had any right to expect. But if you, like me, value the Star Wars saga for how it fires up both the imagination and the conscience, here’s a story that does more harm than good.

A synopsis seems unnecessary: Suffice it to say that the movie begins when Han and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) are trying to escape their miserable existence as slaves to a crime syndicate on Corellia. They end up separated, with Qi’ra dragged off to who-knows-what kind of punishment while Han teams up with planet-hopping crooks-for-hire in hopes of earning enough money to go back and rescue his dreamgirl. Along the way, yes, he’ll meet that not-so-gentle giant — an encounter that raises more questions than answers — and find his way into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon: the ship so inseparably linked to John Williams’ famous soundtrack that it seems to serve a bluetooth connection to the Spirit of ’77.

© 2018 – Lucasfilm Ltd.

There will be heists. There will be wisecracks. There will be gambling, shootouts, and double-crossing. There will be deaths of characters so minor that we don’t even remember they happened until those characters get mentioned in reviews we read later.

There won’t be storylines that ask us to be mindful of anything particularly meaningful.

As Solo’s turn toward acts of conscience come much later in this saga’s chronology, this movie can’t find much of consequence for him to do. From what we know of the character, he should be focused on saving himself in any circumstance. To make him more admirable, the father-son screenwriting team of Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan cook up a story in which Solo’s trying to save his girlfriend from slavery. So… maybe he was never such a bad guy after all? Maybe he’s always been a softie who hides behind his bluster?

© 2018 – Lucasfilm Ltd.

A braver screenplay would have surprised us by giving somebody else a conscience-focused character arc, running the risk of frustrating us with what we already know — that until Solo was moved by the plight of the Rebel Alliance, he was a self-serving opportunist, and thus something just short of a villain. If I’d had my way, a final-act turn in this film would have shown us a Solo who takes the money and runs, setting us up for his pending transformation the way Rogue One ended with the soon-to-be-redeemed Darth Vader slaughtering good guys without a moment’s hesitation.

But Solo is too fast-paced, too busy to give us time to think about what it all might mean. We spend more than two hours and fifteen minutes chasing characters on a spectrum of “scum and villainy,” enjoying the typical Star Wars pleasures of fast cars, faster ships, and extraordinary special effects.

And yet… has a Star Wars movie ever looked worse than this one?

Bradford Young’s cinematography is kinetic, but the imagery is often far too busy, and — worse — everything has been muted as if the scenes were shot through lenses smudged with Wookie sweat. I echo Steven Greydanus’s challenge to this, the most expensive Star Wars movie ever made*: “Is there a single novel visual in Solo that lingers in the imagination?” Not that I can recall. The complicated train-heist tug-of-war that takes place among icy peaks reminds me a little of Snowpiercer and shows off some elaborate action choreography, but it unfolds at such a frantic, busy pace that it can’t develop the kind of pathos its desperate characters are working so hard to express.

© 2018 – Lucasfilm Ltd.

How about the humans, then? The original trilogy was grounded in the chemistry of its lead actors, their simple costumes, and their memorable voices. Solo is set before the original Episode Four, and yet, like Rogue One, it still makes A New Hope look strangely minimalistic, from its space battles right down to its actors’ wardrobes.

Ehrenreich does some of what he was hired to do — he recaptures some of the smugness in Ford’s original gunslinging smartassery.He’s a talented actor: The Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! proved that. But I can never quite get past the cosplay-ness of his costume, his props, and his expressions.

While Ehrenreich’s performance was what I most wanted to see going in, I emerged from the theater most dazzled by Donald Glover — 2018’s Renaissance Man du jour — who brings an exciting mix of suave sophistication and goofy idiosyncrasy to the game. His interpretation of Lando Calrissian is strikingly faithful to the Billy Dee Williams original, expanding on it to make him the thrillingly complicated and interesting character that The Empire Strikes Back suggested he could be. His relationship with a social-justice-seeking droid named L3-37 (brought to life by the irrepressible voice of Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is a jarringly unexpected innovation, introducing questions to the Star Wars universe we’ve never asked before — and probably never wanted to ask. (Parents, brace yourselves: Your children might have interesting questions about sexuality after the film.)

Less interesting is Emilia Clarke. Her supernaturally radiant face cannot help but make Qi’ra charming, but she’s given little to do except shine adoringly at her flyboyfriend and, in rare instances, glance aside just glumly enough to suggest (for those without any imagination) that she might have divided loyalties. (I won’t spoil where this particular storyline takes us, but I will say that it doesn’t make much sense. And the conclusion increases my belief that “It’s a Small Galaxy After All” should be composed as an official Star Wars anthem.)

Other prominent cast members — Paul Bettany as crime-boss Dryden Vos, Woody Harrelson as Beckett the mercenary, and Thandie Newton as his dutiful sidekick, to name a few — seem fully invested; they just don’t find anything interesting to play in their merely functional roles. They exist to nudge Solo along in becoming the kind of rascal-for-hire who doesn’t trust anybody.

Overall, though, the thing that sticks with me the most about this film is its annoying eagerness to answer the questions that have always been part of the joy of discussing Star Wars with friends. I really, really, really didn’t need to know the origin of the name “Solo.” And I’m almost resentful about the answer that Howard stamps on the saga. At least the origin of “Indiana” for Indiana Jones was an amusing revelation. By comparison, this explanation is stunningly, unimaginatively literal, instantly killing anything that ever sounded cool about it.

For Star Wars fans like me who miss the days when Star Wars movies were major events… well, as a famous droid once said, we seem to have been made to suffer.

© 2018 – Lucasfilm Ltd.

*Regarding the fortunes that were spent on this film, I feel it’s important to share this from Greydanus’s review:

I will write this review in less than a day, for a paycheck that is less than 1/100th the cost of a single second of Solo’s running time. (With a reported $250 million budget, Solo is the most expensive Star Wars movie ever made. The average cost of each second of its 135-minute screen time is more than $38,000.) 

Lucky Steven. At least he gets paid a little.

If you’d like to donate a little to this site to support my review-writing endeavors — I put a couple of volunteer hours into this one — you’re welcome to do so!

Pin It on Pinterest

Shares
Share This