17
Jun
18

Solo: A Star Wars Schlock

The latest Star Wars movie, directed by Ron Howard, is the most Ron Howardiest movie Ron Howard has ever Ron Howarded. That is to say, it’s pretty average. It’s not offensive, it takes no risks, and it offers nothing interesting or unique to the Star Wars canon. From the outset, the entire movie was a mistake. Nobody cared about Han Solo’s origin story. The first film, A New Hope, was Han Solo’s origin story. He was a smuggler who only cared about himself, and who ultimately came around to helping others. It was a perfect, if somewhat shallow, character arc. We didn’t need to see what he was up to when he was younger. This only removes the character’s mysteries, and makes his backstory more complicated, and not in a good way.
The movie begins with Han on his home planet of Corellia, where he scrapes by dealing with shady gangsters. He tries to escape the planet with his girlfriend, Emilia Clarke, but she is unable to get out. Han enlists in the Empire to become a pilot with the goal of one day returning to Corellia to save Clarke. The movie then skips over what would probably have been the most interesting part of his past: seeing Han as an Imperial pilot who washes out of the academy due to bad behavior. We could have had a Star Wars version of Top Gun, which would have been a totally unique spin on the franchise. Instead, we follow Han who is now in the Imperial infantry (although why is he not a Storm Trooper?), where he meets up with Woody Harrelson, and joins his criminal organization. They botch a train robbery, and the second half of the film follows their efforts to pay back the main bad guy who was expecting a big payday from said robbery. Along the way we are introduced to Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian, and learn the origins of Han’s greatest exploits. Yawn.

Solo has two big action sequences, the train robbery and the Kessel Run. The train robbery is clearly inspired by westerns. Reading about some of the production woes from this film, it appears the film’s original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, had planned the whole movie to be a gritty space western. If they had stayed on-board, and been allowed to finish their vision, then everything would have been cohesive, and it probably would have worked. However, when they were fired, Ron Howard replaced them, and he reshot 70% of the film. So, the train robbery feels western, for sure, but the rest of the movie doesn’t. The rest of it feels like a mish-mash. There is a brief, dirty, war movie sequence. And the rest is the typical sanitized, blockbuster look that all the rest of the Star Wars movies have. Solo is left with three different tones, none of which fit together. In fact, the war scene and the train robbery stand out for being different, and leave you wanting more like them, which the film ultimately doesn’t deliver upon, as it settles too comfortably into the familiar Star Wars aesthetic. If this were an episode-numbered film that would be fine, but as a “Star Wars story” they are allowed to be different, and they should have been.
Bringing on Ron Howard was a calculated choice. Disney had gone with guys who had a unique vision, but ultimately fired them for nebulous reasons. They decided to replace them with someone who doesn’t have a bold, unique style. If you watch a Ron Howard movie, you can’t immediately tell it was directed by him, because it looks generic. When you watch a movie by Quentin Tarantino, you know it’s a Quentin Tarantino movie, it just has a certain style. The same is true for David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa, or, hell, even Michael Bay. You definitely when know you are watching a Michael Bay movie, it’s obvious. But Ron Howard? No. They chose Howard because he would go with the flow, he would do whatever style they wanted, and they wouldn’t have to rein in any rampant artistic vision. And Disney got what they wanted, but at the cost of having an original vision in the ever-more-cluttered Star Wars canon. None of that is to say Solo is badly directed. It isn’t. It is very competently directed, and Howard knows how to keep track of characters and how to craft an exciting action sequence, but he does it very much by-the-numbers.
The cinematography is muddied and underwhelming. Scenes are awash in browns, and half the movie appears murky and misty. The cinematographer, Bradford Young, was hired by the original directors, but it is perplexing why they would have gone with this style. If they were going for a western aesthetic, murky visuals wouldn’t fit the bill. Westerns are known for having crisp, clear landscapes, with beautiful, natural vistas as far as the eye can see. Part of the western ethos is seeing stark violence amidst such natural beauty. But there is nothing beautiful at all about how Solo looks. It’s almost like someone splattered Vaseline on the camera, and no one remembered to wipe it off. Why Howard would have kept Young was somewhat strange. Pretty much any other cinematographer would have done a better job. If Solo had at least been visually appealing, it might have fared better. But with poor visuals on top of a lackluster story, the film had no chance of success.
Lazy screenwriter further sank the ship. The problems with the story are the problems we always see with origin stories of established characters. They become a checklist of the character’s greatest hits. Han’s sordid past as a youth? Check. Han meeting Chewbacca? Check. Han meeting Lando? Check. Han acquiring the Millennium Falcon? Check. Han doing the Kessel Run? Check. The only thing missing was Han meeting Jabba the Hut, and they alluded to that, for what they hoped would be the sequel, but considering how poorly this performed at the box office, we’ll never see it on screen. And that’s probably for the best. A good origin story might have had Han meeting Chewbacca and getting the Falcon, but that should have been it. Those things should have been ancillary to the plot, not stepping stones to get from the beginning of the film to the end.
The complications of Han’s backstory (which I mentioned in the opening paragraph) come from Han’s character arc. In Solo, he cares about his girlfriend, and his entire motivation is to save her at the expense of everyone else. At the end of the movie, he agrees to help the scrappy rebels in what is sure to be the later full-fledged Rebellion against the Empire. If he comes around from being self-motivated to helping others, then how does he go back to being self-motivated in A New Hope? He completes the character arc at the end of Solo, only to repeat the character arc (chronologically speaking) in A New Hope. They completely fucked Han’s character. At the very least, they should have ended the film more darkly, with Han betraying everyone for selfish gains. At least that way it would have been consistent with how we are introduced to him in A New Hope.
The acting is generally pretty good in Solo. Woody Harrelson carries the film. He is the core of the movie (ironic considering it is Han’s origin story). Alden Ehrenreich, as Han, cannot carry it himself, and without Harrelson (who has a lot more experience, and dare I say, gravitas) the movie would collapse. The highlight, however, is Donald Glover as Lando. He oozes charisma, and a suave self-assuredness. He is believable as a young Billy Dee Williams. He even incorrectly pronounces Han’s name the same way Williams did, which takes on new meaning here, in that he does it to annoy Han, which is one of the very few things the movie did right. This might have been better as a Lando movie, but alas, he is a supporting part in the unneeded origin story of Han. Clarke, as Han’s girlfriend, is fairly one note, but she tries her best in what amounts to a forgettable performance. Paul Bettany plays the villain who is completely vanilla, and we are supposed to think he’s evil because he has a bunch of scars on his face. Michael K. Williams had the part originally, but couldn’t return for the reshoots, so the role was recast. It’s too bad, because Williams would have been far more interesting in the role.
Further problems ensued with Ehrenreich. People, including myself, bemoaned this casting choice. He only vaguely looks like Harrison Ford, he’s too short, and his voice too high pitched. Couple all that with the rumors they had to hire an acting coach for him during production makes it all the worse. Ehrenreich never inhabits the character. You never feel like you’re watching Han Solo on screen. You always feel like you’re watching a guy trying really hard to be Han Solo, and never fully succeeding. I suppose one could make the argument that no actor could have done the part justice. We’ve had Harrison Ford’s version of Han Solo burned into our collective consciousness for 40 years. How could anyone ever hope to match him? Perhaps it was an impossible task. But even so, I’m sure they could have found someone better than Ehrenreich, someone who could have emulated Ford’s confident, rogue-like charm. Ehrenreich has no charm. He’s just smug.
The movie is not without its cheesy moments, such as Lando’s love for a droid. The sassy droid’s death which is meant to draw sadness from the audience is completely unearned. And let’s not forget the scene where Han speaks Wookiee when he meets Chewbacca. There’s a reason none of the characters ever spoke it in previous films, because it would be insanely ridiculous. Yet, they chose to show it, and it had the entire audience laughing, and not in a good way. Let’s not forget the biggest face-palm moment where the film reveals yet another villain, Darth Maul, who apparently didn’t die at Obi-Wan Kenobi’s hands despite being chopped in half. Oh right, of course he survived that. His presence serves no purpose except to set him up in the sequel that will never see the light of day.
Besides the train robbery being exciting, the best part of the movie was the Kessel Run. They had to make it the best part. It’s Han’s big claim to fame, according to himself. It is one of those slam-bang action-packed chase sequences that keeps upping the ante, and keeps throwing the heroes into ever greater dangers, one after another, without a chance to catch their breaths. It did not disappoint, and it was the only part of the movie where I lost myself. Even if you hate everything else about Solo, this is the one part that is beyond reproach.
Despite all the things wrong with this movie, there is another way to look at it. You could look at it as a giant cheese-fest. A big, honking slab of gouda. If you watch Solo the same way you watch Troll 2, you will have a lot of fun. Solo is really just a B-movie with a blockbuster budget. It has a bad lead actor doing an impression of a much better actor, it has a threadbare storyline, it has double-crosses and triple-crosses you can see a mile away, it has a ton of action, most of which is completely unbelievable, it has a laughable human-robot romance, and it has a budding friendship between a guy and a giant bear. Come on, just try and tell me this is not a B-movie. So, if you watch this through your cheddar goggles, you will see that Solo is actually a hell of a lot of fun! Where else are you going to see a space western with a talking bear, man-droid love, bad acting, terrible cinematography, jarring shifts in tone, and tons of action? So, yeah, maybe Solo’s worthwhile after all. It all depends on how you look at it.
Nobody knows the truth about what happened behind the scenes except for Disney and the fired directors. If it truly was a nightmare production, and everything they shot was unusable, then Ron Howard actually saved this thing. He directs it competently. It doesn’t have any flourishes, but it tells the story well enough, and keeps the action exciting. It might have been even more abysmal with the original directors. Somehow, I doubt that is the case, but we can’t know for sure. At least Howard was able to right a sinking ship and turned in something that is, at the very least, watchable. It is not the worst Star Wars movie ever made, but it is certainly near the bottom. It would be wrong to blame everything on Howard or everything on Disney. It was simply a doomed production. The entire group of filmmakers just kept making bad decisions until there were so many they killed the movie.
Unless you like bad movies, because in that case, you’ll love Solo.
Verdict: Bad
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2 Responses to “Solo: A Star Wars Schlock”


  1. July 1, 2018 at 2:16 am

    Indeed. I too had problems with Solo, most of which you mentioned here. I wouldn’t say it was awful but it certainly wasn’t a great movie.


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