WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
The 4th film in the recently revitalized Star Wars franchise, Solo takes us back to a time when the rebellion was still in its earliest stage. The might of the Empire is spreading, but as the opening titles tell us, it is a “lawless time”. Within this lawless universe, we’re introduced to the world of Corellia, where destitute orphans known as “scum rats” steal and offer up their treasures to the shrewd and cruel Lady Proxima in order to survive. Among this band of orphans is a young man named Han, and his girlfriend Kira. After a job goes south, Han finally makes his move to get off of Corellia along with Kira. During the escape, however, the young lovers are separated, and Han enlists with the Empire to get off of the planet and vows to return for the girl he left behind.
What follows is a series of adventures that the young Han Solo embarked on long before he joined the rebellion.
There are few things in modern fandom more divisive than thoughts on the new Star Wars movies. The Last Jedi is a particularly sharp pain point for much of the fandom, with stark lines drawn between fans who claim it’s the best Star Wars ever and others who see Episode VIII as an affront to the fictional universe and wish for it to be stricken from the canon.
Reactions to Solo aren’t quite so intense, and I would say that’s a fair representation of the film itself – mediocre.
Let’s break it down a bit, starting with our title character.
For starters, I will say that Alden Ehrenreich is a captivating Han Solo. He’s definitely got the swagger and smile of the rogue pilot, and some of his jokes, pranks and ploys echoed the antics of Harrison Ford’s character very well. However, in what is probably the most glaring issue I had with the movie, it fails to portray how Han Solo came to be the morally ambiguous pilot that we came to know and love
For the majority of the film, Han does the right thing, and keeps his fingers crossed that it will all work out in the end. Despite growing up on the rough streets of Corellia, he’s not portrayed as a survivor in the same way that Kira ultimately is. His constant grin and dauntless optimism is hard to miss, and despite having gone to war for 3+ years, he still trusts folks and expects the best from them. We see this happen time and time again as the movie progresses, and so you can imagine my confusion at the following scene:
Kira: I’m probably the only one in the whole galaxy who knows what you truly are.
Han: What is that?
Kira: The Good Guy.
Han: *chuckles* I’m not…I’m not the good guy.
Yes! Yes you are! You’ve been the good guy this entire time! There is no evidence to the contrary – and more importantly, there’s no indication of the distrusting Han that ultimately takes off and abandons his friends in A New Hope.
This is a recurring issue with Solo – dialogue and interactions that are betrayed by the actions of the characters. That is, if we get a chance to know the characters at all.
Han’s first “job” as a thief/smuggler is with a surly guy by the name of Tobias Beckett and his companions: Val and Rio. We learn a bit about their motivations and plans following the job in what is essentially a death-flag buffet, and during the course of the job they are killed. I would imagine that deaths of such characters were meant to have some impact. Unfortunately, we’re introduced to these characters far too quickly, and as a result their deaths fail to pack a narrative punch.
Even his trusted companion Chewbacca is left by the wayside as the movie progresses. Sure, the two exchange banter and their initial introduction is entertaining, but once that’s done there’s no real explanation as to why Chewie abandons the other Wookies who are freed from the mining planet of Kessel near the end of the movie.
Paul Bettany, fresh off of a bad ending for the hero Vision in Infinity War, takes the role of our main baddie: Dryden Vos. While he has all the characteristics of a threatening mob-boss, the archetype is overly familiar, and it almost seems as though the addition of the scar-marks and reddening eyes were a cheap way of messaging to the audience “Hey! This is a bad guy! Boooo!”
Emilia Clarke’s performance as Kira probably makes the most sense of any of the characters (besides Chewbacca of course). She is a survivor through and through. She plays the game, crosses, double crosses, and double-double crosses when necessary to secure her safety and victory. She’s essentially a better Han Solo than Han Solo is.
Then there’s the structure of the story itself, which is essentially two heists back to back with little variation. After the first heist fails, they simply up the ante and give it another go. With all of the legend and buzz around The Kessel Run, my assumption was that it would be a high-stakes race. This would also make sense as a means of paying off Dryden Vos – Han representing him and bringing home the bacon after a thrilling interstellar race.
Instead, The Kessel Run is essentially a narrow passage surrounded by a dangerous maelstrom. The path is 20 parsecs in length, and is the only way to and from Kessel. I don’t want to spoil the climactic sequence, but suffice it to say that we don’t really see Han’s abilities as a pilot showcased in the escape with the exception of a couple showy moves.
At the end of the day, Solo attempts to lean too heavily on nostalgia and doesn’t do enough to construct the complex rogue that is Han Solo. Things are just happening on screen for the majority of the film with no real investment or connection. If you’re committed to experiencing the full Star Wars universe, feel free to check it out, but for the majority of folks I would say a rental will suffice.
- Alden Ehrenreich channels certain elements of Han Solo impeccably well
- Some of the secondary characters introduced in the first arc of the movie are interesting/engaging
- The film fails to showcase the morally ambiguous Han Solo that fans are familiar with
- Some thoroughly perplexing narrative choices and dialogue
- Paul Bettany's role is diminished with a rather flat and predictable villain