Let’s dispense with the bullshit, shall we…NO ONE is ever going to fully replace my man Harrison Ford as either ‘Indiana Jones’ or ‘Han Solo’. Knowing that, within my heart of hearts, I was instantly skeptical when I heard that The Mouse House was going to be making their second anthology film the origin story to one of the best, most legendarily bad-ass characters in Science Fiction cinema, as defined by one of my favorite actors ever. This was a seriously tall order…and I thought they had bitten off more than they could chew. Way more. So shortly after ‘Rogue One’ was released to mostly positive buzz, particularly from the hardcore ‘Star Wars’ nerds out there, Lucasfilm green-lit the next in this ‘companion’ franchise. There had been talk of going with an Obi-wan Kenobi, Boba Fett or a ‘Han Solo’ origin flick which, truthfully, I don’t recall ANYONE asking for. Well, guess which one they went with…the one no one really wanted, or NEEDED. And here it is.
‘Solo’ is now somewhat notorious due to the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes, of which most movie-going people out there have, at least, a passing knowledge of. Lucasfilm head honcho Kathleen Kennedy hires Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, who were hot off recent hits like ’21 Jump Street’ (2014) and ‘The Lego Movie’ (2014), among others, to helm a new Star Wars movie. These guys have a solid grasp on comedy, and they do so with a loose, improvisational style that definitely works in the right context. A Big Budget ‘Star Wars’ film MAY not be the right context. I was a wee bit baffled by this choice. Now, Gareth Edwards film style fit ‘Rogue One’ like a glove, so kudos to Lucasfilm there, but this was a straight-up odd choice, in my humble opinion. But, these two COMEDY directors, with much ceremony, were given the driver’s seat. Word around the campfire is that they had shot roughly 75% of the movie and screened a rough cut for Lucasfilm and Disney when they unceremoniously found themselves shit-canned. Fired. Kaput. Adios. Not to mention the fact that their style was rubbing the wrong folks the wrong way, and they were frequently butting heads with Kennedy and writer (and Original Trilogy veteran) Lawrence Kasdan over creative direction…and then things came to a head. See ya, boys!! Lickity split, she jumps on the phone to her long-time amigo Ron Howard, who just happens to have a convenient spot in his schedule to pop on over to the UK to finish the remaining portions of the script and guide the edit. Within something like a week or so, Howard was on set, moving the action along. In the end, it’s rumored that he reshot 80 or so percent of the movie, easily earning the contested Director credit. And it’s mostly on that merit that I was interested to see this. ‘Rogue One’ also had some bullshit go down BTS, with the last Act being reshuffled and re-shot by uncredited writer / director Tony Gilroy, but in the end, I thought ‘Rogue One’ was a great shot at a first ‘Star Wars’s spin-off movie, that I think turned out surprisingly well. I’d go so far as to say that it currently stands as my favorite of the last 4 SW movies (with that piece of shit ‘The Last Jedi’ in dead last!). So with that thought in mind, and the hope that I might get another pleasant surprise from this money-gobbler of a franchise, I marched down the street and took in this potential disaster on an overcast Saturday.
As is obvious in the title, ‘Solo’ follows young orphan ‘Han Solo’ (Alden Erhrenreich) from his homeworld of Corellia to his days as a stubborn and rebellious recruit in the Imperial military. It’s here that he finds an escape with a group of very capable and daring thieves, led by ‘Tobias Beckett’ (Woody Harrelson). These folks have their eyes on a prize and reluctantly admit that they could use someone like ‘Han’, for an upcoming train heist. Along the way, ‘Han’ meets up with an enslaved Wookie named ‘Chewbacca’ (Joonas Suotamo) and a smooth playboy / gambler / smuggler named ‘Lando Calrissian’ (Donald Glover), all of whom embark on a perilous scheme about the legendary Millennium Falcon.
I’ll be honest…I didn’t hate this movie. ‘Pleasantly’ and ‘Adequate’ were the two words that popped into mind as I exited the theatre. ‘Unnecessary’ was another. But…I had a good time as I watched this, having very low expectations to begin with. For all the crap that went on behind the scenes, this did come out as a complete movie…it’s just not a terribly memorable one.
Let’s get the elephant out of the room first…Alden Erhenreich. How does he do as ‘Han Solo’? He’s….serviceable. At times, not bad. As a young version of the beloved scoundrel, he doesn’t embarrass Harrison Ford but doesn’t have the charisma that Ford exuded back in the day, which really gave ‘Indy’ and his ‘Solo’ that extra little *pop* to get us to invest in the characters and the stories they’re part of. That being said, he’s lucky he had a good supporting cast. On top of Erhrenreich, Glover, and Harrelson, we also get Emilia Clarke (‘Game of Thrones’), Thandie Newton (‘Mission: Impossible 2’) and Paul Bettany (‘Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World’) inhabiting thin new characters in this world. And…there’s a couple cool cameos that I won’t spoil here.
It may have been the low expectations I had but there were a couple of action scenes that were genuinely exciting, especially the first heist, taking place on the bulky exterior of a crazy sci-fi train, twisting and turning through an icy mountain range. Did it remind me of THAT episode of ‘Firefly’? Yes…yes it did. But it was still a fun sequence that looked cool and was well crafted. I would ALMOST say it’s borderline ‘classic’ Star Wars stuff, much like the bad-ass ‘Darth Vader’ scene at the end of ‘Rogue One’. And there’s often cool blaster fights, explosions, and ship-to-ship chases and fighting, as to be expected. There’s also a surprisingly gritty sequence showing ‘Han’ as an Imperial ground trooper during a dirty and chaotic battle scene that was clearly influenced by WW1 trench warfare. It was exactly the type of thing I want to see more of, from this studio, in this franchise.
Much like ‘Rogue One’, it was fun to pick out the references and nods to other Star Wars movies…especially one surprise cameo that undoes a key event from The Prequels. But small details, like the origin of ‘Han’s last name or seeing ‘Chewie’ become his best friend through a series of trials and tribulations were a bit of a treat. Hell, even just getting a new version of the Falcon was a nice touch, with it all clean and pimped out for ‘Lando’, till ‘Han’ gets his mitts on it.
While I enjoyed what I was watching, while I was watching it…’Solo’ doesn’t have much in the way of ‘staying’ power. It’s fairly forgettable. Easily digestible, without making a mockery of the source material. Very…safe. There are some little tidbits in the Original Trilogy that now have some new relevance, thanks to certain set-ups laid out in the narrative, but these are just fun little ‘throw aways’, we don’t really need them. The story itself feels flat, uninspired and somewhat lifeless, as there aren’t any real stakes or emotional attachments at the stories core. On a technical level, some of the scenes looked great, but there was an overwhelming tendency to tint everything brown or yellow, as though Ron Howard wanted this to look like a David Fincher movie. I also saw it in 3D…and kinda wish I hadn’t. For starters, there are some scenes that were just too damn dark. As in, not enough friggin light! And the 3D effect was hardly noticeable, with startlingly little depth. Seeing it in 2D would be the way to go, IMO.
There’s also a secondary character the grated on my nerves in short order. Why do all SW movies have to include a plucky / snarky / sassy droid character now?! There’s a ‘character’ that turns up part way through that was a useless shit who’s irritating traits made me wish for her death. *SPOILER*….I wasn’t let down.
All in all, ‘Solo’ is a competently crafted origin story, that we didn’t ask for, that manages to avert disaster by being an enjoyable-but-forgettable entry into the Star Wars cinematic universe; a universe that, along with Marvel, seem to transparently convey Disney’s desire to rule the fucking universe, with Star Wars / Marvel branded everything. If I needed to compare it to a title in THAT studio’s line-up, I would say ‘Ant-Man’ (2015) or ‘Doctor Strange’ (2016); two movies that are undeniably fun to watch, but both lack a certain extra jolt to make them stand out. That’s how ‘Solo’ feels to me. But I’d sooner watch ‘Solo’ again before hitting Play on the insulting dumpster fire that is ‘The Last Jedi’! Fuck that movie!! Ugh! Anyway, ‘Solo’ is a flick that I could easily recommend to Star Wars completists and casual fans of the franchise. While there are some cool shots and scenes, there’s nothing that truly begs for The Big Screen Experience. If you were to catch ‘Solo’ sometime on Netflix (or whatever the hell Disney’s inevitable streaming service is going to be called) and want to shut your brain off to some slick-looking action set pieces that look and sound like they belong in a Star Wars movie, then you will be adequately served with this ‘product’ of a flick.