Solo (2018)

solo1While watching Solo, I was reminded of something I read a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away- in 1978, infact, and inside the pages of the Star Wars official collectors magazine that Marvel published back then. At least I think it was in that mag, it was a long time ago after all, but anyway, it was some comment referring to a review that cited Star Wars as being the first Western filmed in outer space. Solo is just that- a space western.

So in the spirit of laboring the space western allegory, lets look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of this Star Wars movie titled Solo.

First, the good. Well, its okay. If that’s damning it with faint praise, then so be it: its no disaster (In the words of fellow blogger Gregory Moss, it could have been worse) and certainly nowhere near as divisive as The Last Jedi proved to be. Solo doesn’t usurp franchise tropes or chronology as TLJ did-  Lucasfilm has (eventually, considering this films troubled production) crafted a stable, steady adventure with typically workmanlike direction from Ron Howard’s exceedingly safe directorial hands.

While some of the action stuff such as the opening speeder chase was fairly mediocre at best, I thought the train heist in particular was great -the strangely reduced colour-palette of the film actually helps the CGI enhancements look all the more real. Some of the imagery of the windswept characters on the roof of the train reminded me of the Frazetta covers for the Battlestar Galactica paperback novelizations of the late ‘seventies. I’m also glad that the finale was rather low-key, it was a refreshing thing for a Star Wars movie, I thought, especially as the CGI-fest Kessel Run was so boring.  If we’d cared more for the characters it might have been all the better, but that post-Kessel Run stuff was fine and suggested a second movie (which we’ll now never see) might have been worthwhile. Maybe Solo should always have been a mini-series rather than a movie?

Alden Ehrenreich is okay as a young Han, albeit never really convinces. I would have preferred to have seen Anthony Ingruber (already cast as young Harrison Ford in The Age of Adaline) or Ansel Elgort, who looked like a young Solo in much of Baby Driver, at least they might have physically matched Ford better. Although he performs well considering all the pressures and baggage placed upon him (its pretty thankless signing on for a role like this), Ehrenreich is clearly no Harrison Ford- if anything, he’s more a young Dennis Quaid, particularly whenever he smiles or turns on the charm (which reminded me, ironically, of watching Inner Space back in the cinema and thinking how Quaid could have played Han Solo back then). Although he never really convinces as Han Solo, thankfully this young Solo is not an obnoxious and irritating infant re: Jake Lloyd’s Anakin of The Phantom Menace. The art direction is okay (I always get a kick out of seeing original Star Wars-era Storm Troopers), the music feels like that of a Star Wars movie (indeed even is Star Wars movie music as it re-uses themes from the original scores).

solo2Now, the bad. Its all a bit ‘meh’ if I’m honest. Not once does it genuinely shock or surprise or shake expectations of what a Han Solo movie could be. Indeed, it largely spends its time ticking boxes: Han meets Chewie, Han wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando, we get a game of Holo-Chess in the Falcon lounge, we get to witness the Kessel Run. Han is a scoundrel yes but at heart he’s a good guy and does the ‘Right Thing’. Nothing new that happens in Solo can really be important as it cannot retro-actively effect the cannon- nothing new in Solo can ever be referenced or name-checked in The Empire Strikes Back or The Force Awakens. Han doesn’t make some mysterious comment about someone named Beckett in The Force Awakens, for example (and if these new films were being masterminded properly, maybe he would/should). So we never really get any dramatic suspense. Which leads us to-

The ugly? Misguided. Cynical. A production nightmare that was always doomed to fail, whatever its success at the box-office (is it really fair to saddle this finished film with the purported $300 million cost of combining its production with the abandoned original shooting of the previously fired directors?). A salient lesson to Lucasfilm of how to make/not make a Star Wars movie.

Well, that is the whole thing with prequels, isn’t it? Dramatically they are always flawed because we go in with knowing how things end up. Han can’t die, Chewie can’t die, the Falcon may get some dents but it can’t be destroyed, etc . Prequels inherently are hamstrung by the Magic Reset button- whatever happens during them they have to leave the status quo in place for subsequent editions in order to maintain continuity. And likewise, they are weighed down by unfair expectations, comparisons to better films back when Star Wars was new and fresh and exciting, better directors, better actors, all looked at through rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia.

Disney’s Star Wars films have a problem, and it isn’t competing against fellow franchise juggernaut Marvel- its the ravages of time. Star Wars is now in its fifth decade and the world has moved on. The Matrix films, good or bad, were a Star Wars for a new generation, and maybe the Jurassic Park films were too, and while the jury is out on James Cameron’s Avatar films, I suppose it could well be argued that the Marvel Studios films are indeed a Star Wars for today’s generation of film-goers. Lightsabres and Jedi and droids and everything else wrapped up in Star Wars dates back to the days of Disco and can leave some of us original fans labelled as dinosaurs.

I have no issues with Disney shaking things up with its Star Wars films- its just that The Last Jedi, in my mind, was the wrong place to do it. If you’re going to have Luke Skywalker in a Star Wars movie then he has to act for good or ill as his established character would. For instance, if Han Solo were alive in The Last Jedi, would Rian Johnson have gotten away with making him a craven coward? Whatever Rian Johnson eventually does in his proposed future Star Wars trilogy is fine by me as long as its genuinely new and seperate from the established canon. I do feel that Disney might have been better off leaving the Skywalker saga and the Jedi etc well alone and not making Episodes  7-9 at all.

In anycase, returning to Solo, these standalone prequels of course cannot do that- by their nature they have to play safe with continuity and what constitutes a Star Wars movie. I’m a big fan of Rogue One and think its a neat film from a neat idea. Solo– well, we never really needed a Han Solo movie, did we? Maybe the whole prequel thing lacks sufficient ambition- maybe they should have looked further back to the days of the Old Republic and then been freer to play looser with chronology if only because the distant past is vaguer.

Solo is what it is. I would have preferred a different lead. I would have preferred a different arc- why not have made young Han a genuinely bad guy and used the prequel story to redeem him, perhaps explain why the smuggler in the 1977-1983 trilogy has a decent streak deep down? Otherwise, whats the real point of a prequel, other than showing us what we know and have come to expect?

As it turned out, few people really wanted a Han Solo movie and it largely turned out as mediocre as everyone feared it would- albeit better perhaps than the production woes would have suggested. Its box-office failure means it will likely lead to a rethink at both Lucasfilm and Disney, and that might be a good thing in the long run. That does return me to a question I raised earlier- maybe it should never have been a movie, but rather a mini-series instead? After all, Disney will have its streaming service/channel next year. Maybe that is where the future of these standalone Star Wars movies lies, in mini-series form.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Solo (2018)

  1. EditMSM

    Yeah.

    Though I ‘liked’ different things here. I thought the Kessel Run was OK, except for the musical callbacks. I liked the droids on the mining planet.

    But I hated the multiple endings. None of which actually tied up anything important in the plot: they seemed tagged on and pointless. The revolutionaries on the desert planet. The reveal of the lead revolutionary being… I don’t know. Why was that reveal a thing? Darth Maul: why?

    And why do yet another ending with Han winning the Falcon (apparently fair and square, or did I miss something)? Why not leave that for a later film…?

    I’m getting bored even thinking about it. What a pointless film. And why release it in May? Why not hold it until Christmas? Who wants two Star Wars movies four months apart?

    I did like two things: the shot as they were shooting and backing into the Falcon’s dark corridor, on Kessel.

    And the amazing shot of the Falcon leaving whatever that planet was at the very end.

    If you ever want to get into the minutiae of how and why this film is so tepid, I’d highly recommend this lady’s take on it. She’s very funny…

    1. Yeah that foreshadowing at the end with all the Darth Maul stuff was an unfortunate reflection of Marvel Studios-like franchise building. I suppose that the Star Wars saga as a whole has done that for decades so picking on Marvel is likely unfair, but its just how things seem to be done now. Films seem to be like HBO serials these days and destined for film box-sets on disc or Sky or Netflix. Its just doubly wasteful when we don’t get that ‘part two’ and ensures the ‘part one’ is even more flawed lacking proper resolution.

      Thanks for the video link. Its sobering and sad, really, seeing the general public ripping these carefully constructed but terribly flawed films apart. Some of the videos ripping The Last Jedi were brilliant and shows how easy it is/ deeply flawed many films are now (although I refuse to watch any video ripping apart BR2049). Part of me thinks that all films have flaws in logic or plotholes, its called dramatic license and ensures drama etc but the other part of me wishes that film-makers went the way of Billy Wilder and really thought through scripts properly before going to shoot them. I suppose part of the problem is studios setting up release dates before films are even scripted or shot and then getting into trouble (as if the lessons of films as far as back as Star Trek: TMP racing to its impossible December 1979 release wasn’t sufficient). In that respect, Studios get everything they deserve and I don’t have sympathy for Lucasfilm or Disney in regards the mess they seem to be in now with the Star Wars franchise.

      Yes Solo is a terrible mess. But so was The Last Jedi to me (although I know you liked it- did you watch it again since and have any issues?). Actually I lose count of the number of times I watch films now at home and bang my hand on the armchaiir at some obvious plothole or constructed dramatic twist that doesn’t hold up under any kind of scrutiny. Sometimes its like films are getting stupider and stupider and the audience dumber and dumber, willing to put up with it for the sake of the next big explosion/ effects spectacle etc. Or they just feel the need to stuff things in to maintain audience attention, for instance the recent Hold the Dark where our hero wakes up to a naked woman in a wolfmask walking towards him in the dead of night, slipping alongside him and putting his hand around her throat, and me, I’d be putting my boots on and getting the fuck out of there- sure there would be no movie but they just throw that weirdness into it almost arbitrarily and its the start of the movie, it comes from nowhere. Its lazy and its almost as if its needed for shock value or titillation or something.

      1. Matthew McKinnon

        I generally don’t watch any YouTube videos about Star Wars films [apart from Jenny Nicholson’s]. I did get a load of YT recommendations to TLJ videos as an unfortunate result of having clicked on something tagged ‘Star Wars’. I had a look at a couple, but I didn’t last longer than a couple of minutes on each. They all had the same whiney, smart-arsed* tone, and seemed to proceed from the assumption that –

        TLJ wasn’t what we expected = bad = every single thing about it is bad.

        Which is bollocks. No film is completely totally bad.

        I have watched it a couple of times on disc this year, and whilst it’s by no means flawless, the highs are such giddy highs that I’m still thoroughly entertained and pleased by it. Granted, I have to skip past the entire Casino Planet section [thankfully, like the ROTJ disc, there are so many very precise chapter stops that you can skip past offensive material – Ewoks, Canto Bight etc etc – very easily]. But the first half an hour is flawless. Luke’s arc is superb, and actually delivers what many people seem to say it doesn’t. Snoke is a brilliant character suddenly and everything that happens in the throne room is incredible. The build up to- and hyperspace ramming: just brilliant. The duel at the end: wonderful.
        And as you know, I think the Star Wars tropes desperately needed subverting, and so I enjoyed watching it happen. I like not knowing where things are going next. So I’ll take a lacklustre sub-plot and some faffy stuff going on in the middle of the film for those incredible set-pieces, the way I have to slog through all the Yoda scenes in the somewhat uneven ESB to get to the good bits.

        Anyway. We know where we stand there, don’t we?

        As for plot holes and stuff: I sort of agree, but it doesn’t bother me so much. I think if you pick up on it and it bothers you when you’re watching the film itself then fair enough. That’s bad writing – I completely agree with you on everything about Hold The Dark, for example.
        But if it only occurs to you a few days later it’s not so bad. I mean, a lot of movies [especially fantasy movies] need a lot of sleight of hand to even exist. Everything Christopher Nolan has done has a great deal of ‘hang on…’ going on when you think about it, but he keeps you engaged enough that you don’t notice at the time.**

        Have you seen ‘A Quiet Place’? The central premise does not hold water, and I’ll admit to going, ‘er, excuse me…’ in my head a couple of times whilst watching it: but it’s so scary and so entertaining that it just grips you and you go with the illusion.

        *Pot / kettle / black, I know.

        **Except for the bullet-in-bricks bit in The Dark Knight. That stops me dead every time I watched it. What on earth is going on there?

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