Shea Reviews – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Note: This review contains spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story. You’ve been warned.

If you read my reviews for Rogue One and The Last Jedi, you’ll know my expectations for new Star Wars movies are as low as they’ve been since The Phantom Menace released and ruined all of our lives.

Well, the best thing I can say about Solo is that at least it wasn’t significantly worse than I expected.

As a whole, Solo is a mediocre action/adventure movie that just so happens to take place in the Star Wars universe. If it had nothing to do with Star Wars, people wouldn’t be hating — or loving — it nearly as much. That’s because they probably wouldn’t be talking about it at all.

But this is most definitely a Star Wars movie. There are explosions and battles and deaths and double-crosses and triple-crosses and twists and jokes and sarcastic robots and smirks and cool clothing and even a lightsaber makes an appearance at the end. But none of those things happens in a new or fresh way. Ron Howard is a fine director, but he’s also the guy you call when you need something to be as vanilla as possible. And vanilla does not work for a heist movie and it does not work for a Star Wars movie.

There’s definitely some spectacle to Solo, but it lacks any meaningful depth.

To be honest, I think some of the direction is subpar in Solo. There’s a scene early on where Han confronts Lady Proxima and pretends to hold up a thermal detonator. It’s meant to be a funny bit, as the thermal detonator is actually a rock and Han even makes a “click” sound with his mouth to imitate him arming the grenade. But the whole sequence happens too fast — and some of it off camera — so that nothing lands. The second time I saw Solo I specifically watched for this scene to check if I missed something the first time around. I didn’t, it was just poorly shot and edited.

The acting is also inconsistent. Alden Ehrenreich just isn’t the young Han Solo I want. In fact, he’s barely Han Solo at all. You can tell he’s working hard, but he doesn’t have the necessary charisma. He’s one of the least interesting characters in the movie, and considering it’s named after him, that’s a problem.

Woody Harrelson is a fantastic actor, but he often looks bored as Beckett — like this was a contractually-obligated performance. L3-37 is Solo’s token smarmy robot character, and she’s easily the most annoying one in the history of the fiction. I have absolutely zero problems with the movie using robo-rights as an analogy for modern race issues, but if you’re going to do that, actually say something about it. Don’t just use that opportunity for lazy jokes. It’s insulting.

Emilia Clarke is given absolutely nothing to do as Qi’ra, who could have been a cool character with her backstory, Teras Kasi training, and history with Han. Maybe they’re planning a sequel with the little teaser at the end, but at this point, I don’t care. We know next to nothing about Qi’ra and she served hardly any purpose in the film’s story. But hey, now we know that an easy way to avoid “damsel in distress” storytelling is to have the female lead barely do anything and have no character development.

Ehrenreich doesn’t carry the film like he needs to.

On the positive side of things, Paul Bettany seems to be having fun on screen as Dryden Voss. But again, his character is fairly forgettable because we only get two scenes with him and it’s made abundantly clear that he isn’t the one that’s calling all the shots. The whole “everyone reports to someone” thing might be true, but it really weakens villains like Voss and Krennic.

It’s a clear lack-of-compelling-characters issue when I have to look up names like Dryden Voss, Enfys Nest, and Rio because I can’t remember them. But at least in Rio’s defense, that was more due to him being killed off early. I actually liked that character.

The big character that’s missing from this rant is Donald Glover’s Lando, and that’s because he’s easily the highlight of the film. That first scene when he enters had me heaving a huge sigh of relief, knowing that at least one person on the damn ship would be fun to watch. I think his Billy Dee Williams impression is a bit inconsistent at times, but when he nails it, he really nails it. But beyond just that, he actually brings some damn charisma to the proceedings. Hell, I’d have been fine with him playing Han over Ehrenreich. I’ll take an actor that can pull off a character over one that just looks like the guy 100 times out of 100.

I like how they made the Millennium Falcon feel different, yet familiar.

The writing overall feels painfully on the nose and dated throughout. In the first scene, when Qi’ra remarks that Han is hurt after he escapes from stealing some coaxium, he responds, “Yeah, well you should see them!” Yikes.

Upon learning Chewbacca’s name, Han says, “We’ll have to come up with a nickname because I’m not saying that every time.” GET IT!? THAT’S THE ORIGINATION OF “CHEWY.” It’s all just annoyingly unnecessary.

The crazy thing is that Star Wars has never been known for its Oscar-caliber writing. It’s always been a bit cheesy, but it counted on strong performances by its actors to carry things through. Harrison Ford was certainly capable of that, but I don’t think Ehrenreich is.

Rio is one of the few side characters I enjoyed, so of course, they killed him off early.

The Darth Maul reveal has everyone talking, and I don’t think in a good way. Sure, it’s great that this character is back, but I’ve seen dozens of folks online (and I’m sure there are thousands, if not millions, more) that are now confused by the timeline of everything. Didn’t Darth Maul die in Phantom Menace, which took place decades before this film?

Yes, but he was resurrected in the Star Wars Clone Wars animated show and makes appearances in Star Wars Rebels. Because everyone watched those and obviously knows all the ins and outs of Star Wars canon… I just think there has to have been a cleaner way to tell that story in this movie. But God forbid we ruin a cool reveal for the sake of coherent storytelling…

Speaking of storytelling, I have to take issue with Beckett’s motivations near the end. I have no problem with him running from Voss after earlier saying it was impossible to run from Voss — he was lying to Han anyway. What irks me is that when he does take the coaxium, he leaves Voss, Qi’ra, and Han alive. Han, sure, he does care about the kid. But why in the hell would you not kill Voss and instead leave him the opportunity to escape and actually come after you? That’s a perfect example of a character doing something to justify the plot — in this case, setting up a fight between Voss, Qi’ra, and Han. That’s bad writing.

It was pretty obvious early on that Solo was going to be middle-of-the-road at best.

I feel like the Kessel Run sequence near the end of the film could have gone in a cool Interstellar direction with the gravity well and the uncharted space and the giant, electric octopus monster, but instead, it feels more like a quick hit excitement barrage that only exists to needlessly ratchet up the tension and pad the runtime. And that doesn’t even mention the fact that the whole monster reveal was ruined by the trailers.

I did enjoy the sequence of Han and Qi’ra running from Lady Proxima and the Imperials. There’s a fair amount of solid tension there. Even the mass breakout at Kessel was a cool team-up opportunity where everyone had a well-developed role. But the highlight for me was the train chase in the mountains of Vandor. Had the film lessened its scale and focused on a single heist like that, I think I would have enjoyed it more.

It’s also pretty crazy that everything we know about Han Solo from the original trilogy happened over the course of mere weeks. He met Chewie, deserted from the empire, got his famous blaster, met Lando, did the Kessel Run, and first heard of the rebellion all in just a few days. That, more than anything else, is proof that this movie only exists to explain the cool parts of Han Solo’s past. That is not a good reason for a movie to exist.

And to have his surname given to him by some random Imperial trooper? Come on. It was cheesy as hell and takes away from Han’s whole “does everything for himself and is who he is” personality.

As far as small callback moments go, I do have to give them props for Han shooting first and killing Beckett at the end. Honestly, given the rest of the script, I’m pleasantly surprised Beckett didn’t say, “Han, you shot first” as he died. Also, the first shot of Chewy sitting in the co-pilot chair next to Han gave me the nerd feelies. That was well done.

I’d be remiss not to mention the score, which I was surprised to learn was not done by John Williams. The music in Solo is great. It does reuse the old stuff sparingly, but it always works. And the new themes help set Solo apart while still fitting into the larger Star Wars musical themes. Well done, John Powell.

Even this poster shows that Lando’s the only one with any damn personality.

A lot has been made about Solo not living up to ticket sales expectations, and I’m not here to speculate on the “why.” It could be because The Last Jedi turned plenty of people off. It could be general Star Wars fatigue after the previous film released a mere six months ago. It could be the underwhelming and derivative look of the Solo trailers. It could be that the movie just isn’t all that great, so word of mouth hasn’t been there. It could be a combination of all those things (and probably is).

But for me, the “why” doesn’t matter so much as the “what comes next.” Do Disney and Lucasfilm change things up in any significant way? There are currently nine Star Wars films in development. There’s no guarantee that all of them happen, of course, but that’s still a lot of Star Wars — not even including the various television shows in development. I don’t see them reaping a significant return on investment if they keep releasing mediocre movies like Rogue One, The Last Jedi, and Solo. That’s my stance on the whole thing, and it appears the numbers are starting to prove that out.

So while there’s occasional fun to be had in the journey, Solo should never have been made. And that isn’t the “Star Wars nerd that can never be pleased and is precious about his canon” Shea talking, that’s the “just give me a good story and interesting characters and I’m happy” Shea talking. The latter is significantly easier to please and still felt like he wasted his time with this one.

7.0/10

So what did you think of Solo: A Star Wars Story? Does it stand up against Rogue One or the original trilogy in your mind? Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to check out my Star Wars movie ranking!

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