Solo: A Fun Star Wars Story
Now, let me begin by saying I am not the biggest Star Wars fan. I love the original trilogy, and the 2D series Star Wars: Clone Wars. The rest of it, the Expanded Universe, the prequels, the video games, even these new films, I could do without. But let me tell you something: In my opinion, Solo: A Star Wars Story is by far the best modern Star Wars film to date.
Unsurprisingly the film follows Han Solo, in his journey from being a simple thief on the planet Corelia, to the rogue smuggler we know him in the Original Trilogy.
Han is played by Alden Ehrenreich, a man who looks more like an approximation of a young Harrison Ford than a dead on representation, but the way he carries himself and his pattern of speech hold up his performance well enough. He is joined by Chewbacca, and a ragtag group of smugglers along the way. Woody Harrelson, one of my favorite actors plays Tobias Beckett, a smuggler and effectively Han’s mentor, but unfortunately his performance is only serviceable – his character could have easily been portrayed by anyone else and it wouldn’t have made much difference. Qi’Ra, played by Emilia Clarke, joins as well. She’s perhaps the second most developed character, being Han’s old flame now under the thumb of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate. Its leader, Paul Bettany (who some may know better as Vision from Avengers: Infinity War) plays Dryden Vos, a less memorable villain, but one far better than CGI Grand Moff Tarkin and Orson Krennic (a man who I couldn’t remember until I looked him up on Wikipedia) from Rogue One. Dryden is equal parts compassionate to his subordinates, and threatening to those who fail him, providing a little more nuance to Star Wars’ usual black and white approach to its villains.
However, the real standout from this film’s cast was Lando Calrissian, played by the ever-rising star, Donald Glover. When he is first introduced, every word he speaks is dripping with charisma and a bravado that easily makes him the most entertaining character to see on screen at any given time. He even records holographic records of himself, talking about his exploits across the galaxy along with his droid, L3-37 (played by Pheobe Waller-Bridge). However, the overconfidence and ever-present smugness Lando exudes is actually something he does to keep himself guarded, as later in the film, when L3 gets shot and damaged, his voice and demeanor change completely, and he is utterly devoted to getting his friend and co-pilot out of danger, to the point where he himself gets injured. Yet even after all of that, all Lando cares about is whether or not he can save L3. For all his self-assured posturing, Lando Calrissian is a man who cares deeply for his friends. Honestly, Glover’s performance adds a new dimension to Billy Dee Williams’ original portrayal of the character, one that I would be interested to see develop in future films.
Now, earlier in this article I said that Solo: A Star Wars Story is the best modern Star Wars film, and now let me tell you exactly why that is. It’s because Solo is, like its namesake, a SINGLE story. Save for a passing reference, a surprise cameo and a baffling reference to Teras Kasi, every part of Solo: A Star Wars Story is self-contained, and in doing so it allows the characters and plot within to grow and flourish. Rogue One in my opinion, is far too bogged down by the fact that it leads DIRECTLY into Episode IV: A New Hope. Because it is so deeply tied to that film, there’s an air of “who cares” to the film. We as the audience already know that the Death Star plans end up with the Rebel Alliance and we know that the Empire falls, so Rogue One as a film is entirely ancillary. By contrast, Solo is almost entirely disconnected from the Main Trilogy aside from its protagonists, so there’s no way of knowing where or how the story will progress. There is a vague idea to be sure, but nothing so concrete as Rogue One or the Prequel Trilogy. Because there’s an air of mystery to everything, I found it much easier to connect with the characters that were introduced here. Not only that, but the bits of world building that were introduced felt natural because they were a part of Han Solo’s journey. Because I didn’t know where the story was going, and I enjoyed the characters, I could enjoy the film.
Finally, the last thing to consider about this film is the technical side of things. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t even touch on something like this because I’m not extremely familiar with the intricacies of Hollywood film production. However, as I was watching Solo, a thought kept popping up into my head: this film is too dark. Not in tone, in lighting. A huge majority of the film is poorly lit, to the film’s complete detriment. For instance, Chewbacca is nearly invisible in one scene by a campfire, and one of the first big scenes with Han Solo fighting in the Imperial Army is an utter mess of fog, shadow and mud. I enjoyed the action scenes in this film a lot, but I was struggling to see what was going on for a good sixty to seventy percent of this film, and I saw it in 2D! I can’t help but feel that this dark, muted color scheme was not the intent of Solo’s original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Directors of The Lego Movie), but rather something changed by their replacement, Ron Howard. It may have been a stylistic choice, but if so, it was a poor, distracting choice reminiscent of Alien VS. Predator: Requiem.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that in switching directors, Solo: A Star Wars Story had to undergo five weeks of reshoots, and in doing so had to recast the original actor for the film’s villain, Michael K. Williams, with the aforementioned Paul Bettany. And while as I have said, Bettany does a great job, it makes me lament the performance we as the audience missed out on. Especially since there are only two African American characters prominently featured in the Star Wars universe.
With all that being said though, I don’t regret seeing this movie at all. It’s a very fun and interesting look into Han Solo’s past, and while it’s a story that didn’t need to be told, I’m glad that it exists. It’s a solid foundation for Han’s early adventures, and leaves the door open for more. All I have to say is bring on the Lando movie! I give Solo: A Star Wars Story 3.5 Stars out of 5.