This is part recommendation, part review. We’ll begin with no spoilers and move into spoiler territory as we go. Don’t worry, we’ll let you know when and where it get’s spoilery. Alright, let’s begin!
Solo: A Star Wars Movie is Surprisingly Worth Your Time
The Star Wars movie no one wanted has arrived and it’s struggling at the box office like a, hmm, let’s say a Bantha in a Sarlacc Pit. Star Wars reference.
Anyway, it takes a big, handsome man to admit when he’s wrong. I gave this movie endless shit long before it arrived, from concept all the way to release. And the fact is, it isn’t a movie we NEEDED. And I joked about how the movie would take place in a weekend and would feature every interesting event that was ever referenced in the OT, and that is exactly what happened.
However, I went to see the flick, and an interesting thing occurred: it was good! Despite it’s unnecessary nature and it’s many, many references to every tiny thing Han Solo ever said or joked about, it somehow managed to tell an exciting story full of fun characters in one of the most authentic-feeling Star Wars settings of the Disney Era.
So what the heck happened?
So What the Heck Happened?
What happened is they hired an excellent cast, they had a script written by the Kasdans (half of whom wrote Empire Strikes Back and The Force Awakens), they managed to land an experienced director who could turn an insane production clusterfuck into a legible movie, and they focused on telling a small, character-based story.
That’s really all there is to it. I’d love to wax poetic about narrative structure, but there’s really no need – Han Solo’s narrative structure goes in a straight line without many curves. Some might call it predictable, but Star Wars movies aren’t Christopher Nolan mind-fucks, nor should they be.
Well What Should They Be?
Star Wars movies are action-adventure romps. That’s it. That’s all they need to be.
They can tell us about the folly of revenge and anger, the power of love, the irresistable cycle of family problems, all that awesome crap. But at their heart, they just need to give you a handful of likable characters and throw a really bad dude (or gal) in their path.
Speaking of the characters . . .
We Speak About the Characters
MILD CHARACTER PERSONALITY SPOILERS
Alden Eichenwald (?) pulls off a young Han Solo so well that I never once questioned him as the younger version of everyone’s favorite Corellian blood-striped, DL44-slingin’ scoundrel during the runtime. He plays him a little more vulnerable, a little more novice – his skills haven’t quite caught up to his confidence (though, as we know with Han Solo, they never quite do) – but that’s exactly who he should feel.
Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is warm and likable but is clearly flawed. She has a dark, violent streak that she can’t hide, which she both laments and uses to her advantage in equal parts. Her story is fascinating, and I loved where it ended up. She is without a doubt the most interesting female protagonist we’ve got in a Star Wars movie since Princess Leia.
Troy Barnes’ Lando Calrissian is as great as everyone hoped it would be, and his Billy Dee Williams voice impression is as smooth as a gravy sandwich wrapped in velvet. I love that they only used him for a portion of the movie – while I’d love a Lando movie, if you’re not doing a Lando movie, it’s good to maintain his mystique a little, let him be awesome and then slip off stage. Lando could easily run into the “Jack Sparrow” problem when overused, and I think the ratio in this movie was perfect.
Woody Harrelson doesn’t exactly stretch his chops here, but he’s nonetheless great as Woody Harrelson in Space, and his character has a fun arc and adds a lot to the story. I even loved Dryden Vos (play by the Vision) and his weird bipolar approach to every situation. Plus I’m pretty sure he had both Mandolorian armor and lightsabers in his office, which is dope.
This year’s model of sassy Droid is NOT played by Gwendolyn Christie or Tilda Swinton, though I would have bet my left testinut that it was Tilda Swinton during the movie. Instead, L3 is played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who you might know as a comedian and actress from Broadchurch and Fleabag. L3 is amusing, and gets a great scene in the middle of the flick, and luckily like Lando she doesn’t overstay her welcome. Her schtick is funny, for a little bit, but I could see her getting old real fast. That doesn’t happen, however, so I have no real complaints.
Speaking of real complaints . . .
There Are No Real Complaints
I loved the movie. If I had to rank it, it would probably be tied with The Force Awakens as my favorite Disney-era Star Wars flick.
I have a few nitpicks, but they don’t really affect my enjoyment of the flick it all. They’re just little things I could have done without. For instance:
#1 – The proto-Rebels. I didn’t really need the Empire-Rebel conflict in the story at all (that’s literally every other movie). They kept it pretty restrained, which is why it doesn’t hurt the movie, but I could have used even less. Especially the “Want to join our Rebels?” and Han’s like “Nah” and the chick’s all “Oh . . . but you will” or whatever. We get it. We remember the movies. You don’t have to do that.
#2 – Darth Maul cameo. The idea of the cameo is fine, and it’s 90% okay, but when he pulls his lightsaber and ignites it over hologram, it just reminded me of someone cocking a gun on a Skype chat. Who are you intimidating? You can’t do anything. It’s a phone call. Plus, the lightsaber ignition reeked of “we have to include a lightsaber in this somewhere,” which they absolutely did not need to do.
#3 – Han Solo speaking Shyriiwook. This is the most minor of minor complaints. It was funny, and used well, and I understand that they needed something special about Han Solo for Chewbacca to take notice and stop his killing frenzy. If he had spoken slightly less Wookiee-talk it wouldn’t have bothered me. Even just a “my hovercraft is full of eels” type malapropism, just enough to get Chewie to pause.
#4 – I wish Han Solo had been slightly less cavalier about handing over 60-bajillion credits to the Cloud Riders out of the goodness of his heart. Like, even if he’d kept half (or tried to keep half, but they took it anyway, thus adding to his dislike of joining the Rebels), it would have worked a little better for me.
That’s really all the minor nitpicks I have. However, there was one big problem with the movie that confused the hell out of me . . . .
There Are Real Complaints
NO MORE SPOILERS
The lighting. Holy crap, this movie is dark, like, first half of Rogue One dark. I’m not sure if LucasFilm is spending so much money on rubber aliens that they can’t afford a couple parcans or fresnels, but they need to bump up the lighting budget.
Most of the movie is indecipherably dark and shadowy – and not in a German expressionist kind of way. Not stylistically. It’s just a muddy mess that you can barely decipher.
Now maybe it’s not a lighting problem – maybe this is an effect they’re doing in post-production, lowering the contrast and increasing the darkness sliders, and if so please direct this complaint to the editors. Either way, the movie is painfully dark. Me and my movie-watching crew were all leaning forwarding and squinting, trying to figure out what the hell was happening in any given scene.
Even Dryden Vos’ office, which is lit from all sides by windows, is somehow extremely dark. I get how that happened: with a bright background, people in the foreground appear darker – you know, when you take a pic with your iPhone. Not when you’re filming a multi-million dollar movie. Lights, guys. Hang up some lights. Bounce some light into your actor’s faces with a screen. Do something. This is a blockbuster movie not a homemade Pornhub submission.
The entire movie looks like it was lit with one of those shitty plastic camping flashlights, except someone had put the flashlight in a gym sock and hung it from the ceiling about thirty feet away from the set.
Overall, Solo is a badass flick. It’s simple, it’s fun, it feels like Star Wars. Of the Disney movies, it’s easily my favorite or at least tied with my favorite.
Did it need to be made? No. Was it executed extremely well? Yes.
Is it worth getting off the couch for?