It might be harmless fun, but it’s dry, weightless, and ultimately not a very “special” movie for a franchise that prides itself on being THE cinematic event.
Where is all the fanfare? Where is the hype that surrounds even the worst of the Star Wars films? Solo isn’t a bad movie by any means, but it’s the first one I’ve experienced in a theater without the accompaniment of overwhelming excitement and wonder.
Even after vaguely enjoying Solo, it still feels like a largely empty and superfluous story that I could have done without. It seems to take pride in its series of minor, sometimes cringeworthy origin stories. How Han Solo receives his blaster, how the Falcon comes into his possession, how he and Lando first meet — these moments are demystified with reveals that come with not-so-subtle winks and nods to the original films. Hell, even his own goddamn name is given an origin, and it feels so pointless and forced that it’s hard not to imagine how smug the writers must have been when they found out it made it into the final cut of the film.
There are some standout moments that come to mind, but most of the film falls flat. Even that third act cameo — which caught me so off-guard that I practically squealed in my seat — felt more like sequel-bait and fan-service than something that this movie actually achieves on its own merits. Again, it’s not necessarily a bad film. It’s a competent action-adventure movie and is engaging enough to keep me downing popcorn and avoiding a trip to the restroom before the credits roll. Sadly, none of it feels like the bombastic treat that a Star Wars movie should be. Of course, I say that as an obsessed fanboy, but I doubt the average moviegoer will feel any more excited after they exit the theater.
Perhaps the best aspect of the film (besides Donald Glover’s scene-stealing take on Childish Landino) is the relationship between Joonas Suotamo’s Chewbacca and Alden Ehrenreich’s young Han Solo. He might not be Harrison Ford, but despite the casting changes he makes the character his own and maintains a rapport with Chewie that doesn’t skip a beat. Their best-friend chemistry feels completely natural, and they are instantly fun to watch. Frankly, their dynamic is so entertaining that it almost feels like the movie should have spent more time letting the two get to know each other… instead of meandering around subplots that are clearly meant for resolutions in the inevitable sequels and spin-offs this movie will enable.
With that said, there isn’t a bad performance in the bunch; Woody Harrelson and Emilia Clarke are both solid in their supporting roles, the film is bolstered by the minor appearances of Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau, and Paul Bettany delivers with a satisfying turn as the crime boss antagonist Dryden Vos. The most divisive new character is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s motion capture droid L3-37 who even manages to steal the spotlight from time to time. The only thing that hampers any of these performances is some clunky dialogue and some not-as-clever-as-they-thought quips and one-liners. Sorry Lawrence Kasdan, it just isn’t the fantastic script you gloated about. Overall, though, every character remains fun to watch.
The Curious Case of L3-37
One thing left me scratching my head though — L3-37. The character design is baffling here, and I’d love to learn about Lucasfilm’s thought-process when designing this her. L3 is a tough and sassy droid, which is something Rogue One already gave us in Alan Tudyk’s K2-SO. The big difference here is that L3 is a passionate activist for… droid rights?
That’s right, she is what many would cynically refer to as a “social justice warrior” who is fighting for the liberation and equal rights of droids. It’s an interesting concept that the films have never addressed. The Star Wars world is filled with droids that seemingly exhibit free will, but they almost always serve a “master” of some kind. Even the “good” droids are essentially slaves and this is something that is always glossed over. L3 addresses the issue very plainly — she pretty much never stops talking about it — but as unique as a droid-rights freedom fighter is to the series, it feels very out-of-place in Solo.
It doesn’t help that this L3 is almost always played for comedy, making her a parody of modern-day activists and “social justice warriors” for no apparent reason. Perhaps this is unintentional, but that doesn’t help matters either. Disney has been criticized by conservative fans for pushing some kind of perceived “liberal” message in their new films, so why add a character so ambiguous that she can be perceived as both an enforcement and satire of an activist stereotype?
Conservative fans may see it as more of what they hate about new Star Wars: an extension of Disney’s “feminazi agenda” (cue my beleaguered sigh and rolling eyes). On the other hand, liberal viewers may see it as an insult to their own socio-political philosophy. It’s a gamble either way and it ultimately satisfies nobody.
I personally love the concept of L3 and her revolution, but at times I felt like I was missing out on the joke — like I wasn’t meant to agree and empathize with her but laugh at her instead. She dies in the middle of droid-rights monologue, too, which feels like even more of a middle-finger. I may be alone in this sentiment (which I’ve yet to find out for sure since Solo just hit theaters today), but I’m still curious to learn what the filmmakers’ intentions actually were for L3-37.
Regardless, let’s reel it in a bit and talk about the future of the franchise — something this film so clearly has on its mind that I started to get vibes of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and its haphazard attempt at building a franchise without paying attention with the movie at hand. Solo spends a lot of time baiting audiences with cameos, loose threads, and scenes that are clearly positioned to gauge audience reactions to new characters. There is obviously potential for another young Han Solo film, as well as a Lando spin-off and the recently announced Boba Fett film, but there is so much more shoe-horned content to work with.
Most notoriously of which is the cameo at the end — the reveal that Darth Maul is secretly the leader of Crimson Dawn, and now has Qi’ra under his thumb. You’d have to hate Star Wars to not want him to return. Given his business partnership with a character played by A-list actress Emilia Clarke, it’s impossible that they wouldn’t show up together in a future film.
Another odd bit of sequel-bait comes with the reveal of Enfys Nest identity and true intentions. She’s not some bloodthirsty marauder, but a bad-ass child warrior who wants to start a rebellion to take down Crimson Dawn. It’s a curious turn of events, but with intimidating (and toyetic) armor like that, chances are slim that Disney wouldn’t capitalize on her return. This is a longshot, but I’d bet that someone has already floated the idea of an Enfys Nest spin-off over at Lucasfilm — one that includes Maul and Qi’ra as primary and supporting antagonists. Will Maul ultimately slaughter those kids and crush that rebellion? Probably, yeah, but there is enough original content there to work with that it could easily become a feature-length production. I’m not happy about how all this potential is introduced, but it’s potential for success regardless.
In The End
Solo is a misfire in Disney’s reign over the franchise. It’s example of great world-building and an introduction of great new characters as well as new takes on returning ones. Sadly, it’s also a dull, paint-by-numbers entry in an otherwise beloved series. It’s not as bad as the prequels, but not as good as the originals. It’s way less engaging than Rogue One, and yet nowhere near as controversial as The Last Jedi… which I still contend is phenomenal. Solo just is. It’s not an event, it’s not a triumph, and it’s not a flop. It’s just a thing that exists, and now I’ve seen it, and now it’s over.
It exists as this harmless, mostly inoffensive moment in an age-old brand that thrives on hype, nostalgia, and raging controversy. I simply wish it were more.
What did you think of Solo: A Star Wars Story? Did I completely invalidate my opinion because I said the I liked The Last Jedi? Or am I totally on the money because I said I liked The Last Jedi? There’s basically no in-between. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section, though.