“Solo”: A Flawed Tribute to a Flawed Classic.
I love Star Wars, but when you love something, it’s easy to be in denial about its flaws.
As a kid, Star Wars was my first introduction to a world where giant space stations could blow up planets and the “Force” allowed normal people to do really cool things. Space Magic, basically. At night, I would sit in my bed with the light on, staring at the immovable switch across the room in hopes that I would discover my Force abilities and the lights would go out at my mind’s command. They did not. I tried this more times than I would like to admit.
Despite my disappointment at being a normal, non-Jedi kid, the movies still had a deep impact on my love for sci-fi, fantasy, and epic stories, and Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy is still on my list of top books. Read them. You won’t regret it.
However, revisiting old movies that I loved as a kid is rarely a positive experience. The original Star Wars trilogy was no different. While the nostalgia held them together to some extent, the flaws were excruciatingly obvious. The acting was terrible (besides Harrison Ford), the story flew through big plot points with scarcely any explanation, and the characters’ motivations seemed disconnected from the narrative. I forgave the cheesy graphics as a product of the time, but some of the story’s more substantive flaws were almost unforgivable.
“Solo” continued in the tradition of these flaws and, in this regard, “Solo” was a fitting tribute to its predecessors. Some fans like Kris Fairbanks have criticized other fans for taking out their hatred of “The Last Jedi” on “Solo”.
Kris is right. “The Last Jedi” certainly wasn’t perfect. However, I liked the consistency of its themes far more than those in “Solo” and I think that Kris is projecting here and is just another voice in a larger trend. Fans criticizing “Solo” were not projecting their hatred for this new generation of Star Wars movies onto “Solo”, but were actually experiencing a sad realization that the old movies weren’t perfect, and a resignation that this newest addition was, in fact, a perfect replication of the old movies they loved, preserving both the flaws and the fun of the originals. Grief over the realization that something you love isn’t perfect but you still love it. Someone should invent a word for that.
In my opinion, the story of “Solo” was nothing more than a thinly-veiled excuse for about four or five moments of pretty epic nostalgia. It was fun don’t get me wrong, but aside from Donald Glover knocking it out of the park as young Lando, the movie’s imperfections were reminiscent of those that I found upon re-watching the original Star Wars as an adult.
“Solo”, in the following ways, mirrored the faults of its predecessor.
- THE STORIES BOTH SUFFER FROM MAJOR PACING ISSUES.
In “A New Hope”, we are thrown into the middle of a story that felt like the second draft of a script, jumping from point to point without much meat on the bones and with significant narrative leaps in character development.
Why would Luke suddenly turn on a dime and join the rebellion after his previous life-dream was — outspokenly — to join the Empire?
Why are we suddenly swept up in a mass rebellion where some of Luke’s friends just happen to be there?
An hour of hurtling through some half-baked character development later, Luke has found a pilot, freed a princess, and destroyed the very space station that it had been his dream to work on not one hour before. Re-watch this movie. It moves REALLY fast and is more than a little derivative.
In “Solo”, the pacing is similarly fast and disjointed. While the graphics make the speed a little more exciting, many things about the story are still unclear to me, namely:
- How does his love interest, Emilia Clarke (a decidedly uninteresting character compared to her Game of Thrones heroine) just so happen to be working for the crime boss that just so happens to be a creditor of the other guy that Han just so happens to meet who just so happens to bring Han along even though he is a punk with no proven skills?
- Why do the marauders suddenly go from trying to kill Woody Harrelson (one of the redeeming qualities of this movie) to being completely on his side against their suddenly-common enemy?
- Why did the Empire frontline bring along a Wookie, build a random Wookie pit in the middle of their trench warfare, and throw their deserters in there, and how does Han “speak Wookie”?
All of these feel like an excuse to force answers to these major fan questions:
- How did Han become a “scoundrel”?
- How did Han and Chewie meet?
- How did Han make the Kessel Run in “less than 12 parsecs”?
- Is Han the kind of guy who would “shoot first” with Greedo? (Answered in the affirmative by Beckett’s death)
- How does one pronounce Han’s name? (At one point in the movie, Han corrects a character who mispronounces it)
The movie hit these points, and my nostalgia liked it, but it felt like the rest of the story was just an excuse to make these scenes happen. It was a weak story. Nostalgic, but weak.
2. THE ACTING IN BOTH MOVIES WAS TERRIBLE, WITH ONE OR TWO SAVING GRACES.
The old Star Wars movies were terribly-acted except for Harrison Ford (who wasn’t even on the casting list) and James Earl Jones, who we don’t even get to see. Watch him as King Lear. He’s amazing, and is wasted as a voice actor.
“Solo” suffers in the same manner. Alden Ehrenreich (The titular character) is flat, and his attempts at the Harrison Ford smirk are cute, but distracted me from being immersed in the movie. To be honest, most of my reasoning for enjoying this movie was Woody Harrelson as Beckett and Donald Glover as young Lando. Both spot-on. I am a huge fan of Donald Glover’s work, both acting and non-acting (watch This is America, it’s art). Glover did not disappoint here either. His nods to Lando’s mannerisms, wardrobe, and facial-hair were perfect, and Lando’s classic fake smile, pasted on his face to hide his inner fear of the dark underworld he is intricately involved with and the people he has screwed over, is classy and perfectly consistent throughout Donald Glover’s performance.
All in all, like Harrison Ford’s dry cockiness in the original trilogy, one or two acting performances stood out against a less-than-stellar supporting cast.
Even Emilia Clarke didn’t do it for me. Her character was uninteresting, unexplained, and seemed like a stereotypical presentation of how women don’t really have any power outside of seducing men in power, except it is presented as a vehicle of her empowerment. This story line becomes more and more uncomfortable to present as empowering with every story that comes out of Hollywood. Wasn’t a fan of that, or her acting here.
So, like its predecessors, it feels like “Solo” had a few stand-outs, but desperately needed a caliber of actor versatile enough to bring some depth to the flat nostalgia that the script threw at them. Like I said, Donald Glover almost saved this movie for me. Almost.
3. “SOLO”, LIKE ITS PREDECESSORS, HAD HAPHAZARD AND HALF-BAKED THEMES.
The original Star Wars trilogy seemed to lack much of any thematic consistency, giving us a fun epic with little depth. “Solo” felt the same way, but tried to pump themes into it, suffering from thematic indecision when those themes were left to rot in the early part of the script. It seemed like Ron Howard wanted to pepper the early movie with suggestions of themes, but as the movie went on, none of them were resolved. The movie left them all on Corellia in favor of jumping to disjointed plot points that fans wanted to see. Not going to lie, I wanted to see them too. I am probably partially to blame for all of this. I wanted Star Wars to be more than it was.
For example, when Han is trying to get through the border, there are some pretty obvious parallels to the current immigration situation, complete with police patrolling the border, violence towards aliens, and families being separated at the gate. I got excited. I thought: “cool, I came to see Han’s 12 parsecs and I’ll get a bonus exploration of immigration policy told through the eyes of a space refugee.”
No mention of it later. No development of that theme at all.
Han and Kira also have a love story that begins–and ends–in a Corellian child-slave slum empire, kind of like an Oliver Twist meets Bonnie and Clyde type of thing. This interested me as well. Immensely. I looked forward to seeing how Han’s poverty and obvious care for Kira affected his actions as he went out into the world of war, except we never see that.
Instead, the movie takes the lazy approach of having Kira just happen to run into Han along his journey and cut the love story off with such an abrupt, unexplained, surreal serendipity that I was literally watching their reunion thinking it was all a dream. It wasn’t. It was real. Unbelievable, but real.
Maybe I shouldn’t have expected more from Star Wars, but I did. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe Star Wars should just be fun. If that’s the case though, don’t try to half-ass major, controversial themes into it.
4. THE VISUALS ALMOST SAVED THE DAY.
The original Star Wars movies, as I understand, were largely carried to fame because they were one of the first mainstream space epics. Their graphics were revolutionary. I fear that this is the final way in which “Solo” takes after its predecessors. “A New Hope”, a fast-paced story of a Tatooine farmer turned rebel, was visually stunning for its time and, I’ll be honest, it wowed the child version of me. What now seem like cheesy effects drew crowds to a poorly-thought-out, derivative story coated with the veneer of special effects. It was the “Avatar” of the late 70’s. Fast forward almost 50 years. Graphics have come a long way, but the story still suffers from the same underlying issues.
I will say, there were some exciting visuals in “Solo”.
A Cthulu-esque space monster that lives in a vacuum-cloud is crumpled into pudding by a black hole as Han shoots into hyper-space.
An energy-linked train carrying glowing treasure of immeasurable value explodes against a landscape of snow and mountains in a brilliant flash.
A floating palace rests in the crook of a snow-covered valley, hovering in the air.
Trench warfare with lasers and droids is obscured by dust clouds, the blaster shots punctuating the barely-visible landscape in a creative depiction of what the chaos of battle might look like in a futuristic war.
All great things. All very exciting and fun to watch, but for me they didn’t quite cover the multitude of sins, but maybe that’s all Star Wars needs to be and I need to forgive it for that.
In summary, I truly think that this was a decent tribute to the original trilogy, and I had a fun time watching the two actors who did a good job, but the obvious narrative parallels, meant to hearken us back to the original trilogy, only drew my attention to the imperfections of the story they paralleled. It’s like that moment when you listen to a song you loved in high school and realize how much of a different person you were then. “Solo” perfectly replicated, in new clothes, the issues I had missed, and the things I had loved, about the original trilogy.
So I guess, in that sense, “Solo” succeeds perfectly in what it set out to do. It replicates a fun, but deeply-flawed classic for a new generation, except without fixing the flaws.