Before you put time in on what follows, understand I am a casual STAR WARS fan. My canon is simply the first released trilogy and the current trilogy in progress. I don’t care about and never bothered to watch the prequels, the animated shows, never bothered with the comics or prose, barely listened to the audio drama adaptation of the original trilogy because I just haven’t gotten around to listening to the remainder of the series.
Short version: my interest in the STAR WARS mythology isn’t terribly deep. This is simply because the bulk of it isn’t terribly important to the stories I’ve seen and enjoyed. I’ve never really cared how Darth Vader came to be. You told me that already, so I’m good; I don’t need a prolonged flashback sequence that runs three movies that could’ve moved the story forward. Just because Lucas arbitrarily started with “Episode IV: A New Hope” isn’t my problem – it’s the first episode from my perspective. If “The Phantom Menace” was first, that’s what you should’ve filmed first.
Now that’s not because I’m a “hater”, it’s because there’s no skin in the game. Darth Vader is still gonna be Vader at the end. It’s not badass, it’s anticlimactic. He’s still Luke’s father, the Jedi still lose, the Empire’s still there and sure all this backstory fleshes that out, but that deeper knowledge doesn’t change where we are when STAR WARS first screened. So, it was irrelevant to me.
So what got me to shell out cash to see SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY?
Honestly, I just get a kick out of younger Han Solo and even if this kid wasn’t Harrison Ford, he was inheriting the role and, like the rebooted STAR TREK before him, I was curious as to whether or not it could be pulled off. The trailers seemed to capture the essence of Han so I figured I’d drop a few bucks on a matinee and see what’s what.
SOLO is going to be one of those films that will probably flop through no fault of its own. It’s a fan service film chock full of Easter eggs, visual references, nostalgia nods, and lighter tones than the usual STAR WARS fare loosely hung on an origin story that runs in a sort of compressed cliff notes version of Han’s mythology prior to the first STAR WARS film.
But there’s still a lot of folks annoyed about the darkness of the last few films and this isn’t a Harrison Ford joint, so they’re out.
So here’s the skinny, Han’s living a grifter’s life on the planet Corellia hustling and stealing with his lover Qi’ra (pronounced Kira). The planet is overrun with criminal syndicates competing for whatever can be smashed and grabbed, bartered, or generally stolen with big prize McGuffin: the hyper fuel coaxium. Han and Qi’ra take advantage of a deal gone bad to secure a decent amount of coaxium and plan to try and escape from the local criminal gang they put in work for. Since this is Han, the whole plan goes pear shaped and the pair beat a hasty retreat to the nearest spaceport only to be separated. Leaving Han to escape… well, solo.
Now from there, Han makes a decision that puts him in the middle of a caper in the middle of a battle zone. There he meets up with a crew who set Han on his course as a self proclaimed outlaw, and introduces him to future allies and unexpected enemies…
Sure, I could go deeper, but honestly it’s a very by the numbers set of capers within capers as Han and crew get deeper enmeshed into the shady world of criminals and con artists with enough double and triple crosses to give you a mild case of whiplash.
The good? There are memorable characters all over the place. Han is upstaged a lot by the supporting players in this film: Tobias Beckett, played by Woody Harrelson, serves as Han’s reluctant mentor and probably biggest example of what the life he’s chosen can do to him.
Thandie Newton plays Val, who is either Beckett’s wife or lover as well as his partner. Then last, but certainly not least, Donald Glover’s “Lando Gambino” is a lot of fun to watch in action along with his very outspoken first mate, a droid with the designation L3-37 who is voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. There’s some great moments, a really fun action piece involving a robbery Han and company have to pull off involving a train which goes and plays like a heist caper film in the spirit of OCEAN’S 11.
Plus, you don’t have to sit through a bunch of Jedi Knights lore, or chosen one situations. This film keeps it loose and fun and asks the hardcore STAR WARS fans to check their lightsabers at the door and let the Force take the night off: this ain’t that type of movie.
The bad? For a story about a rogue outlaw: the plot plays it very safe. I mean on one hand it’s nice to have a film practically so far out of the usual STAR WARS fare you could change the names, locations, and identifiable vehicles in this and it would play as a first film in any given space opera you want to start…
…but that’s also a part of the problem for me as a casual fan. This film could’ve been a young Jim Kirk before he got his head on straight and joined Starfleet, or Bill Adama before he starts on the path that puts him on Battlestar Galactica – it’s a plot that works because it’s pretty basic, but it’s so basic you know the beats before you see them happen.
The biggest surprise was the reveal of a character who no one expected towards the end which, to me, was just a dash of fan fiction wish fulfillment or something.
Plus the film just shot through Solo’s life and did everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, pertaining to the character of Han Solo and all the totems and myth relating to him from Chewbacca, to the dice, to Lando, to the Millennium Falcon, to the bloody Kessel Run all in one film! If you sat through the rebooted STAR TREK annoyed with how Chris Pine’s Kirk could go straight from cadet to captain of the Federation’s flagship, SOLO is more of that.
The story leaves the door open for a sequel with loose ends untied and destinations unvisited, but honestly, unless that film involves a jump of roughly a decade to justify Han having a reputation as a smuggler I’m going to be disappointed.
So, while plenty of folks I know are raving about how good this film was, I’m more inclined to say it was good, but I’ve seen it done better.
Should you go see SOLO though?
Sure, it’s a popcorn movie, if you go with no expectations and give the lead a chance to grow on you, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Hardcore SW fans will definitely be into it just for the Easter eggs tying together material from the canon of the movies but also other sources like novels, comics, and cartoons so their experience of this will be that much better because they’ll catch stuff I missed.
However as a casual fan, I thought it was a lot of fun despite the predictability and the fact it was a prequel which presupposes that your hero will be at a standard quo of sorts and isn’t in any mortal danger since you know they’re in an established story later in their chronology. See, knowing Han goes on to STAR WARS later gave me no emotional investment in anything since none of these folks short of Lando reappears in any way of consequence, so I wasn’t on the edge of my seat like I was with THE FORCE AWAKENS or THE LAST JEDI…
But as a caper film and an action film SOLO is entertaining and worth a couple of viewings at a theater.
Just make sure you don’t go in looking for the grimness of the last few SW films or the mysticism of the Jedi and grab your Indiana Jones fedora instead and you should be fine.
Enjoy the show.