'Solo: A Star Wars Story'
When Disney bought the ‘Star Wars’ franchise and promised many new post-Lucas projects, it was obvious that a couple things would take place. First, there would be a closing trilogy to settle the Skywalker saga, and then a series of other standalone films (or new trilogies even!) that would explore different storylines.
These “Star Wars Story” films were actually the most exciting to me, opening the possibility to experiment with the storylines free from the pressure of having to conform to larger concerns of plot continuity. I dreamed of a Miike-directed ‘Seven Samurai’ but with Jedi, or following Guillermo del Toro’s comments a ‘Godfather’-like rise of the Hutt clan – things that could feel a part of the greater universe that Lucas had constructed. The main, numbered films would hew closely in style and content to Episodes I-VI, while these other works would be freer to roam tonally and narratively from what came before.
I was pleased by ‘Rogue One’. It checked off many of the boxes I wanted from one of these spinoff movies. The return of Vader was an “Oh, cool” moment for many, but I was more intrigued by the nameless people sacrificing themselves to hand plans to Leia, which spoke to those innumerable other stories beyond the characters we’ve accepted as central.
All this is to dance around the fact that, at its core, ‘Solo’ always felt like it was going to be a bit redundant, addressing quandaries that didn’t really beg for explanation and resurrecting elements that were perfectly fine staying dormant.
The danger, as always, is undercutting what came before. The mystery and charm that Harrison Ford brought to the character in 1977 didn’t need explanation from a younger version. So we’re left with a tale that’s burdened by its own very nature, trying to serve too many masters from fans and neophytes alike, building up to larger storylines and making its own way.
The film doesn’t quite succeed, nor does it completely fail. It’s tepid at best, and maybe that’s all we were going to get from a solo ‘Solo’ adventure.
I’ll credit Ron Howard with the best bits, as the last-minute replacement director knows how to work with action to create character. (Just look at the sublime and overlooked ‘Rush’ for a master class in this.) He has worked with the tools he was given, both narratively and in terms of cast, to work through most of the inherent issues and generate a decent if unremarkable film.
Alden Ehrenreich brings the necessary smarm and charisma to the character, and you can clearly see his investment in making every scene work. Newcomers like Emilia Clarke and Woody Harrelson do well enough inhabiting characters that at least attempt to seem dimensional, and Donald Glover’s turn as young Lando Calrissian is helped by an electric smile and a warm growl in his voice. Expect plenty of fans (and controversy, from a vocal minority) for L3-37, one of the more interesting and bold additions to the canon. As voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, he’s an appropriate incorporation of wit, sass and moxie. Paul Bettany’s inclusion makes the movie feel even more Marvel-like, but he does well in the role of the yacht-owning bad guy. Plus, as a lunatic for the Probot from ‘Empire Strikes Back,’ I got a few of its brethren to cheer for.
It’s of course difficult to say how this film will age, but it’s clear that many of the “A ha” moments will forever shape what came before, making explicit things that were perhaps perfectly fine left implicit. Yes, this could be argued for any other film post ‘Episode IV’, yet here the redundancy seems to loom larger, making the work feel like one of the countless tie-in novels or a video game rather than a core contribution to the cinematic legacy of ‘Star Wars’.
Of course, this is too much burden to place on the film, one it could never live up to. But as a supporter of the prequels and their ambitions to expand our understandings rather than just sweep up loose ends, as well as the so-called “postquels” and their goal of extending the reach to newer generations, I found ‘Solo’ to be a kind of in-between puzzle piece that fits fine but is unremarkably within the whole.
‘Solo’ is a cup neither flowing over nor completely empty. It’s rather a half-filled and tepid brew that may sate some and leave others wanting. Maybe the point is to get the low hanging stories out of the way and delve into more original and interesting aspects of this lore, or maybe this is a sign that the specialness of a ‘Star Wars’ film may be on the wane. Either way, it’s hard to feel that ‘Solo’ is anything other than an average, fun time at the movies in keeping with similar blockbusters from other sources. For millions that will be enough. For some, we could only hope, perhaps in futile ways, for more in the future.
This review is filed from the Cannes Film Festival, where ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ had its international premiere and is playing out of competition (meaning that it’s not eligible for any awards). The film opens in wide release on May 25th, 2018.