There are spoilers in the following love letter to LFL so let this be your notice.
Wow. I can’t believe it’s been seven months since my last blog post. And even more wow, I can’t believe my first one back is going to be a review of Solo: A Star Wars story. Yes, that’s right – I’m going to review a movie here on what was a platform for me to opine about business trends and the such. Like Bowie moving out of his Ziggy Stardust phase (yes I am comparing myself to David Bowie), I am going to broaden my opinions to everything that is inclusive of me. So get lost in my crazy and have a good time.
So, on to Solo: A Star Wars Story. I will admit, that I was skeptical of this one. I didn’t want a Han Solo movie, and after hearing of all the drama with the film (Lord and Miller out, Ronnie Howard in, stolen movie posters, the list goes on) I had already written the film off as a tiny “whoopsie” on the Star Wars map.
Boy was I wrong.
Here are just some of my favorite, and not so favorite things. Be warned, there are spoilers a-plenty in here so if you haven’t seen it, don’t read on. If you have, I’d love to hear from you in the comments to see if you agree or disagree with any of what I have to share!
Alden Ehrenreich as young Han Solo
I had lots of reservations about this one. First, it’s a tall order to try and fill the shoes of a character as iconic as Han Solo, and even a taller order to fill the shoes of the man behind his epic swagger and persona, Mr. Harrison Ford. Ehrenreich was actually quite capable in this feat – and I owe a lot of that to the timeline and the way Larry Kasden wrote the character for this. A young, optimistic lad who wants to escape the drudgery of indenture to Lady Proxima (a throwback to the prequel CGI silliness that I wish they would steer clear from) on Corellia who lands himself in the graces of the Empire in an effort to find his way BACK to Corellia to get the love of his life Qi’ra (played by Game of Thrones alum Emilia Clarke) back, whom he left behind after their escape from the aforementioned Lady Proxima goes afoul. Whew – breath.
While we heard a lot of potentially negative things about Ehrenreich’s performance, particularly around the fact that an acting coach was brought on (hey, it actually happens all the time – this just got a lot of attention because the film was a hot mess in the press), the Star Wars newcomer did a great job portraying the optimism and humor of a young Solo with the character growth needed to bring us to A New Hope level of pessimism… and humor. Nothing seemed forced or campy and if all goes as it was so blatantly let on to, I’m looking forward to a lot more of Ehrenreich’s Solo.
The Chewie and Han Bromance
The now backspaced timeline known as Legends or Expanded Universe show Han as an Imperial Officer who frees Chewbacca from slavery, thus Chewie instituting the famous life debt that ties them together for the rest of the Skywalker saga. Our new cannon movie has a slightly different take on the life debt, and to be perfectly clear, they don’t even use the term “life debt” – this exacerbates my assumption that there will be a sequel… Chewie is a “beast” caged up and used in a way that only Jabba would really approve. As a Rancor eating his enemies. Han is thrown into the depths of his imperial camp to be eaten by our favorite walking carpet when we learn that Han knows some basic Wookie. How convenient… (flying Leia’s be damned)… anyway, Han convinces Chewbacca to break down a support column so they both can escape. Of course this stunt is pulled off perfectly and the due escape to their new found band of scoundrels. Throughout the film there are several moments that tease the potential for some grand gesture from Han that would illicit a life debt however we just miss the boat – and these gestures turn out to be backward attempts at assistance that have huge payouts. I’m hoping that the sequel will clarify more the life debt that ends up bonding the two together, unless of course they get rid of the concept all together and simply make it two friends, forsaking all others, and going on epic adventures together. We shall see. If there is no sequel, or clarity brought about in the novelization – then, well, shame on Disney for making such a weak connection!
L3 – The droid with a heart of gold
Ugh. Okay, L3 – Lando’s highly political and opinionated droid – was an interesting addition to the film. Yes, over the years the droids in cannon have developed different personality traits that move more toward self-awareness and less toward devices controlled by something or someone. Rebels did a great job of this with Chopper, and even R2 and C3PO started developing independent thought by ROTJ. L3 though, I think they were trying too hard to emulate the dead pan humor of K2SO and ended up with a mildly obnoxious rabble rouser to play into the current political attitudes toward our real-life Emperor sitting in his icy oval office. Maybe it hit too close to home for me? Maybe I’m kind of tired of seeing so much real-life rebellion and rallying that I want my movies to entertain me and not bring me back to the shit world that we’re living in. Whatever it is, L3 fell flat for me. A poor facsimile of K2SO without the awesome laughs and borderline slapstick comedy
The other characters
Dare I call this an ensemble performance? Yes, there is a title character but the other characters in this film were brilliant and are welcome additions (or expansions) to the cannon.
First, there is Qi’ra played by our favorite Queen of Dragons, Emilia Clarke. I always get suspicious when you cast actors who are currently “hot” into films that really thrive in the mystery of no name recognition. Han Solo’s love interest, and penultimate protagonist, did a great job convincing us that she’s one of the good guys while playing the audience through a game of “will they won’t they”. Unfortunately, like many a love gone by, they end up “won’ting” (yes I just made that up), and she turns to the path of crime and riches. Again, there’s so much left to learn about this complex character that you really do need a sequel to flesh it all out. A+ though for Emilia Clarke – welcome to the Star Wars universe. You are now a member of an exclusive club of strong female actors/heroes like Natalie Portman, Daisy Ridley, Felicity Jones and of course – my dream girl for most of my childhood, teens and adult life – the late Carrie Fisher.
Second, Woody Harrelson and pretty much his entire gang. Harrelson is great in everything he does. From daft bartender to scoundrel and pirate, he can’t go wrong. He was great in this role as Solo’s – dare I say – mentor. The only failing here, and this is the writer’s problem, not Woody’s – is the unfortunate pandering to every film that had a double cross… the whole “I told you not to trust anyone, especially me” nonsense is predictable and old and I really hoped, prayed, that they wouldn’t go down this route – however after all the fun and excitement of the first two hours – our buddy Larry K. had to go and through some trite bullshit in. Thanks Larry. I love you, but come on…
Harrelson’s band of pirates fleshed out by Rio Durrant (voiced by Jon Favreau) and Val (played by Thandie Newton) were short lived, but necessary sacrifices to the story line. I do wish we had more of Rio – his character was great and reminded me a lot of Cypher from the Matrix. The attitude, the one-liners. He’s what L3 should have been.
Third, Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos was impressive… most impressive… not what I expected the character to be like in film but he came across intense and evil with a side of empathy and understanding. The best villains balance all these traits and he did it successfully.
Finally, last and certainly not least, Donald Glover as Lando. Holy shit. We all knew when we saw the roster for this film that Lando was going to steal the show with Glover under the cape and he did not let us down. Of all the characters, he’s the one that I want to see the most of. Please, let’s do a Lando series or something just so we can see Glover do our beloved Billy Dee Williams some major justice. Hats off to you sir. Hats off.
All the nods to the lifers out there.
You know who you are. You saw episode 4, 5 and 6 before they had episode numbers! You had that poster of Leia in her gold bikini on your wall or that Harrison Ford shooting pose ripped out and taped to your locker door. You read all the books, comics, watched the TV specials and have (or had) most of the toys. The nods to our cannon and legends are so worth the ticket price.
You get the Kessel run in 12 parsecs (and for you super fans, you know that his ANH claim is LESS than 12 parsecs, so – you get that richness to Han).
You get the correct pronunciation of Han (not like Han”d”, more like “Haan”).
You get to see Solo shoot first.
You get to see Two Tubes from Saw Gerrara’s gang make an appearance.
There’s an Anthony Daniels and (obligatory) Warwick Davis sighting, unmasked and with lines!
And finally the “oh-my-god-they-killed-Han-Solo” jaw drop moment when the ultimate villain turns out to be our favorite half-man Maul (no longer Darth mind you as that title belongs to Vader now). Obviously we’re being set up for a sequel and while the opening weekend box office has been disappointing for this, I think it’s going to see an uptick in the following weekends – especially as more reviews come out and word of mouth spreads that this isn’t an awful movie. So buy those tickets so we can continue this story!
In conclusion your honor, this movie was not what I expected. It was far better. It was a Star Wars movie without being a Star Wars movie. It was a rough and tumble action film the likes of Lethal Weapon and Young Guns. I had a blast and can’t wait to see it again. I originally thought it wouldn’t make it into my top ten Star Wars films, however it actually beat out TLJ… Sorry Rian Johnson!
May the force be with you all,