There wasn’t any one moment in Solo: A Star Wars Story where I noticed myself saying, “Yup, I’m on board with this.” Because that moment didn’t occur. Instead, like any good movie Solo wins you over naturally, almost effortlessly.
And before you know it you are simply along for the ride to see where everything goes.
Normally, I distrust my first reaction to a Star Wars film, because as a massive fan, I find myself watching myself watch the movie. And not just, you know, watching the movie. It certainly happened with both of the new Saga films, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
Rogue One I wasn’t convinced of until we got to the third act and the story opened up into the multi-layered finale that is these films’ signature feature. That’s when everything came together for me. Re-watching it since has only deepened my appreciation for what they pulled off.
But, it didn’t happen with Solo. And, for once, I was glad about it.
Star Wars films for many have become something to dread. Not something to celebrate. A Han Solo origin story, while not necessary to deepen the canon, also shouldn’t come with the same baggage.
I read the Brian Daley Han Solo books as a youngling and they were good, pulpy fun.
They were the kind of pure adventure stories that were George Lucas’ original inspiration. He took that template and added layers of meaning. That’s what took Star Wars from Saturday Matinée fare to Cultural Touchstone.
But, not every character in the Star Wars universe needs to perform at that level. And I argue Han Solo is that character.
From Poisoned Ground?
I brought up Rogue One before because both films shared a painful development process. Rogue One needed a complete re-tooling at the script level, including the addition of that immense space battle over Scarif. Solo was forced back to the core of the script by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan.
Both had their directors fired, one quietly the others not so much.
And we should thank the leadership at Lucasfilm for taking risks with young directors but also reining them in and ensuring that the final product conforms to the tone of a Star Wars film.
Both Solo and Rogue One are love letters to the older Star Wars fans who want to play around in this Universe but do so within the lines.
It is the Saga films where the real tonal and thematic shifts are taking place. That is where the division and disappointment in the fanbase is coming from. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it.
I love to see risks taken, the mythology deepened, characters I love evolve into new archetypes etc., because to me, as a writer, Story trumps everything (see Robert McKee’s excellent book on screenwriting, “Story.” free download here).
And even if you are telling me a story with similar Arch Plots (external threats) the Mini-Plots (internal struggles) have to evolve. The characters can change roles and represent different ideas. Without Story, however, there is no movie. There are only images and sounds.
This is why I love The Last Jedi.
Under Ron Howard’s guidance, Solo understands how the Kasdans Story becomes a film. And the Story in Solo is crystal clear, once it is properly revealed. From what I’ve read the original directors, Lord and Miller, never quite grokked what Han’s Story was or what it was supposed to say.
And that’s why they were fired.
Being Han Solo
By the end of the opening sequence on Corellia I understood this movie, its language and where it was headed, thematically. If I have a complaint about this sequence it is that it’s a little too quick, that another beat or two with these kids, Han and Qi’ra, may have really nailed things down.
We jump cut to Han’s life after three years in the Imperial Army. Here things take shape quickly, introducing all of the characters, dynamics and themes of the day. And it’s quite efficient storytelling, with Han and Chewbacca’s initial meeting played to the hilt.
And that’s where the movie takes off. Alden Ehrenreich is simply a natural as Han Solo. He’s not doing Harrison Ford. Instead he is doing a more reserved, guarded version of what a young Dennis Quaid would have done with Han Solo had he been cast back in 1975.
But, that wouldn’t have worked for Star Wars. Ford’s older, more cynical Han was the perfect foil for super-green Luke.
To see what Quaid would have done with Han Solo watch Joe Dante’s classic Innerspace. Guys like Ford and Quaid can get away with more mugging to the camera than other actors can. Ehrenreich can’t, and Howard made the right choices in how he shot him.
That makes for a more subdued performance but that fits with where Han is in his life and in this Story. Woody Harrelson’s Beckett is constantly harping at Han, giving orders that Han looks like he isn’t listening to.
But, appearances can be deceiving, just like Ehrenreich’s performance.
I suspect in any sequel, if this movie does well enough, we’ll see Ehrenreich open up his performance as Han gains the experience of when and when not to turn on his con man act.
Chewie-ing the Scenery
I will not get away from this review without talking about Chewbacca. Finally, we get to see him have agency. Chewie makes choices that are important to understanding why he stays with Han while still being pulled in different directions emotionally.
Joonas Suatamo nails Chewie and gives us the best moments the character’s had since The Empire Strikes Back.
I’m thinking specifically of his putting C-3PO back together after being tortured. This is the Chewie Suatamo channels in Solo. Give me more of that and less of him being Rey’s lonely sidekick.
In fact, something I want addressed in Episode IX is a reason why Chewie stays with Rey, other than fan service.
That said, I feel that there is still a lot more to do with Chewie in any sequel to Solo. And Lucasfilm has someone who can sell that now.
Sticking the Lando-ing
The cast is uniformly good from top to bottom. These people are pros. They know how to create character on the fly. Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian is a hoot, but I don’t want to see him as a lead character.
Lando works best in small doses. There is a sequence in the middle of the film that captures the essence of Lando. It’s the definition of good writing. You’ll know it when you see it.
That said, there is a tonal shift that feels strange in the last thirty minutes of the movie. Other reviewers have noted it as a flaw. I don’t think it is. It is simply another classic Kasdan twist that makes you question everything you’ve already seen.
The same thing happened in Blade Runner 2049 which was jarring. Both of these shifts informed you that the movie you thought you were watching was not the one you were watching.
And, again, this gets back to Story.
No spoilers, but this Story is about Han’s conversion from a naïve kid with big ideas to a guy who always shoots first. Howard, Ehrenreich and the Kasdans sell you on Han’s inexperience totally.
So, once this Story resolves it’s obvious that was their plan all along. Without this shift in tone and plot this Story would not achieve that conversion.
It would simply be a Raiders of the Lost Ark and not a Last Crusade.
So, while it looks like a fun pulpy ride of a movie that definitely sets up a sequel, there’s also “a lesson here” as Beckett tells Chewie over a game of holochess. And that lesson is never, ever underestimate Han Solo.
And that’s the highest praise I can give his origin Story.
While I don’t watch a lot of movies anymore I do care about certain stories, how they relate to changes in the culture and why they have important impacts on our politics and investments. To support that join my Patreon and sign up for the Gold Goats ‘n Guns Investment Newsletter to get exclusive commentary and some ideas on how to profit from it.