How do you write about Solo? How do you write about the most baffling film to be released in 2018? A film so inexplicably boring and yet also mostly entertaining? A film that nobody was excited to see and nobody is excited to talk about. A film that really isn’t bad, but most people would be hard-pressed to call good? To say the very least, Solo: A Star Wars Story is,..bizarre.
I will spare you the details of Solo’s tumultuous production, as virtually every media outlet that covers the film industry has reported upon it ad nauseum for the past year at least, but know that most of the issues I took with this film can easily be chalked up to the fact that this movie was pulled in countless conflicting directions resulting in a film that feels weary and confused. I think above all else what makes Solo an awkward watch is how greatly it struggles to understand what it’s trying to be. It seems as though there were two ideas, one to make it an exciting quirky space opera a la Guardians of the Galaxy and the other to make it a more realistic western about a band of outlaws, yet neither angle gets the treatment it deserves, resulting in two very conflicting ideas fighting for screen time. The actual story presented here is fine; Han Solo embarking on a grand heist to win back someone he loves, while along the way he makes lasting friendships in Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian and theoretically finding himself molded into the loveable scoundrel we all know him to be. Except, he just doesn’t feel at all like Han Solo.
The reason the original Star Wars trilogy works so well is because of the presence of Han Solo. Solo is a character who very clearly doesn’t want to be in a Star Wars movie and shows nothing but bemused content for the zaniness of it all. It is a perfect addition to the formula of those movies and adds to their magic, but when you remove that character from that lens and put him at the center of the story, all of that magic fades away. Not to mention the astronomically disadvantageous position you put your actor in, expecting him to match the charisma of the most popular movie star in American genre fiction in his most iconic role. Just saying. I do like what Alden Ehrenreich does in this film, I think he is entertaining and has a distinct charm to him, but I guarantee his performance would have been much better if he wasn’t being coached to emulate Harrison Ford. He doesn’t act like Ford and he doesn’t sound like Ford. At times his voice was coming out as some kind of a weird combination of both Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson…and just, it didn’t work. Donald Glover, on the other hand, does some amazing work here as a young Lando. He is lightly mimicking Billy Dee Williams’ voice and cadence but in a dramatically subtler way. But most importantly, his angle on this character is somewhat new, but still makes sense.
As for the new characters in this movie, they’re hit or miss. The new droid, L3-37, played wonderfully by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is an excellent character, is something we’ve never seen before (which for the tenth theatrical Star Wars film is certainly worth celebrating), and above all else is genuinely entertaining. As for Woody Harrellson’s character? I don’t even know, man. His schtick just doesn’t fit in this kind of a movie and most of the time he’s just kind of there with nothing to do. I feel similarly about Emilia Clarke, her character is strikingly dull and considering the entire story is essentially angled around her, I just can’t help but wish she was better written. But, in my opinion, the best character in this film by far has to be the villain played expertly by Paul Bettany. He is doing the lord’s work here. I honestly can’t even describe what he’s doing, but it’s just this cool, sort of carefree control that he brings to the table that instantly elevated every scene he’s in. Jon Favreau’s also in there as like a baboon with four arms. He’s trying to be funny but none of his jokes work so when he dies like four minutes later nobody could possibly care…also that big worm lady at the beginning was kind of cool.
Was I entertained by this movie? Kind of? There were sequences that I liked, I thought the poker game was fun and the scenes with Paul Bettany were pretty neat but mostly the actiony bits were overlong and didn’t really have any stakes. The bit where they’re flying around in the smoke cloud just looked like CGI soup and had very little value, and most of the heist stuff was just kind of…eh? It seemed like any time they were going in a direction I liked they had to ruin it with something just belligerently cringy. For instance, I was really enjoying the look of Chewbacca in the mud, but then Han started speaking Wookie and…yikes. And that cameo at the end? Why? Who cares? (Don’t even get me started on how Solo got his name) Most importantly though, this film is much too long. It clocks in at 2 hours 15, and as is made evident by the seemingly neverending final act, it greatly overstays its welcome. All I’m saying is if your movie is going to be this stilted, you have to make it a tight 1 40. As for the biggest compliment I can give this movie, I really love the way it looks. At first it annoyed me, as the opening scenes are starkly underlit, but once they started turning some lights on I found the cinematography to be striking and dynamic. While this movie’s sort of sulky look might have made sense in a more tenebrous story, I have to admire that it was a concrete choice that was clearly made from the very beginning, which is much more than I can say for virtually everything else in this movie. All things considered, is this a bad movie? No, absolutely not. It’s just sort of awkward and dull with some bright moments. But when I put this alongside The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, it is impossible to not see how much better those films are than this is. It’s a blip on the timeline. A momentary distraction that will probably be forgotten before long.
All images are from Solo: A Star Wars Story