Written by: Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan Directed by: Ron Howard
Solo is a film that was released with a lot of weight on its shoulders. For whatever reason, Disney has decided to bombard audiences with new Star Wars films for the past few years, and the last one polarized audiences (yes, reactionary white men in particular but alas their viewpoint is widespread). Solo, like Rogue One before it, is not part of a trilogy: it is a “Star Wars Story” film. Its being “extra” adds another layer of pressure, as viewers will not simply question its quality but whether it deserves to exist.
Rogue One had the advantage of being about heroes whose identity and significance was unknown to most viewers at the time of the film’s release. Solo, by contrast, is about a well established Star Wars hero. As such it risks a mediocrity innate to many prequels: when you know a character’s fate, its hard for a script about them to bear much tension. Early into Solo, I feared the film would fall into this category, especially as I knew A.O. Scott softly-derided the movie as a “filmed Wikipedia article”. As I watched Han fight Chewbacca, for instance, I wanted to be a bit more compelled than I was, but felt the scene’s value was limited by my familiarity with both of these “adversaries.”
Solo, however, manages to work by being the mirror image of Rogue One. While the 2016 film connects unknowns to the main saga, Solo takes a familiar character and tells his story by linking him to figures otherwise independent of the main Star Wars series. Rest assured, however, the necessary links (Chewie, the millennium falcon, Lando, Jabba (sort of) ) to the character of old are there (I’ll throw in that I was disappointed not to see Greedo).
Solo is justified as a piece, not just because of Han’s individual significance to Star Wars, but also because his type of story is one the series has not previously covered. We’ve seen tales of white knights, and white knights-turned-supervillains, but not yet a tale of morally-middle-of-the-road figures. Solo’s story holds onto lots of the aesthetic charm of the Star Wars universe but, for once, it is not a fight between the light-dark binary, and for once, does not rely on the mysterious “force.”
Solo’s unique persona is shaped by the fact that he lives outside of the mythical realms of good and evil. In fact, is is almost as if he lives in a world that anti-heroes have all to themselves. This is a bizarre universe made up of compassionate people who also express quick willingness to kill those who stand in their way. Granted, these threats are not always acted upon, so perhaps are not meant to be taken literally: but they’re certainly not empty. The unpredictably of anti-hero society allows for surprise and confusion. There’s something very touching about seeing two outlaws (not previously revealed to be in a relationship) kiss and there’s something bizarre (an under-explained logic if you will) about a group of armed thieves with a ship refering to another group of thieves as dangerous “pirates.”
Solo, himself, is not an evil character, but he has shades of selfishness and arrogance that can lead him to be problematically self-serving. This too, at times, feels like a problem for the film. Wanting to make their protagonist likeable, the filmmakers imagined Solo not as the outright bad-boy outlaw he was in his first films but as more of a Luke Skywalker with just a pinch more of arrogant flavouring. This makes for an interesting character, but also left me wondering how he could plausibly develop into the Han Solo we know. Luckily, the film ultimately, though not implicitly, answers this question. Han’s story is made up of a series of traumas that could believably come to harden him, even as (and perhaps because), unlike Luke or Anakin he cannot simply break down and cry.
Perhaps one thing for viewers to ponder is whether Solo’s tale resembles Luke’s, or whether it is an entirely different kind of story. Indeed, both Luke in The Last Jedi and Han in Solo have been described as inconsistent with their characters’ original personas. While I disagree with this view (particularly when it comes to Luke), I can’t help but acknowledge that recent developments in the series have indeed shed light on Luke and Han’s similarities. One idea that struck in Solo is that its hero too has paternal issues: less intense and less literal than Luke’s, but they’re there nonetheless.
Action wise, perhaps some of the scenes in Solo are a bit drawn out. Nonetheless, there’s still that Star Wars charm to them. There aren’t lightsabers, but blaster bullets are still infinitely more beautiful to watch than the mundane ammo of other action movies. There’s also a wonderfully shot action scene in which a train snakes around a snowy mountain. One need not like action to appreciate Solo, however, as the film is rich with characters. It introduces, however sparingly, good additions to the Star Wars alien and droid imaginaries (Jon Favreau and Phoebe Waller-Bridge); Woody Harrelson as a thief whose persona I would argue mirrors that of his cop character in Three Billboards Outside Ebbings Missouri; and Donald Glover as Lando, a character who oddly enough seems relatively docile immersed in a world of anti-heroes. The cast is completed by Qu’ira (Emilia Clarke), Solo’s love interest whose exact nature (whatever that means) remains mysterious.
In short, I cannot understand why Solo has flopped at the box office. It tells the tale of an established hero; creatively fills in gaps; balances action and character development and even features a great final cameo. Literally speaking the force is not with this one, but who needs the force when you’ve got the self-proclaimed greatest pilot in the galaxy at your helm.