Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Dir: Ron Howard (and Phil Lord & Chris Miller)
I was away visiting my family when my brother and I found we had a free evening with nothing much to do, so we decided we would go see ‘Solo’, not because we are big fans of the Star Wars franchise (we aren’t) but more because it was the only obvious choice available that we might both moderately enjoy. We used loyalty card points and discounts in combination to the extent that the cinema almost paid us to go see the film and that has to be stated, because it’s without doubt partly as a film that we paid next to nothing to go see, that we enjoyed it as much as we did. If we’d paid full price, I think we both would have come out quite disappointed.
The film isn’t bad, really it’s not and there are a few things that are excellent about it. Some casting choices, for example, felt really well judged, Donald Glover as Lando in particular. Some scenes were excellent, there’s a riff on the western-style train heist that, although essentially done in other things before, was really entertaining and a great bit of science fiction action. Beyond that, it’s all a bit of a waste.
The plot is unnecessarily overcomplicated, adding twist upon twist in a vain attempt at something resembling complexity and intrigue, leading to no other effect than mild confusion. So many moments are set up as callbacks, or should that be call-forwards, to the ‘original trilogy’ that feel utterly pointless, answers to questions nobody ever really asked. A few of these pieces of Solo’s history end up being utterly disappointing, even for me, someone who has very little investment in the franchise and theoretically couldn’t care less. Others who love this universe a lot more than I do would be better poised to debate and discuss these details, all I know is that it doesn’t do much that I felt was revelatory, genre-pushing, or surprising.
All that being said, what it did do was shoot right down the middle, aiming to be an entertaining sci-fi adventure, which it certainly managed. It ticked the box my brother and I expected it would. But, as someone who has been quite impressed with the recent revival of the ‘Star Wars’ movie franchise, to the point of looking forward to seeing them, this film was a clear weak link. It just doesn’t do anything of value with the well-defined, iconic character that it purports to be the “untold story” of.
I think I’ve done pretty well to get this far without wading into the obvious, but I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t. So, here goes… Disney / Lucasfilm changed directors very late in production, worried with the way the power-duo of Lord and Miller were taking it, putting their valuable asset in the ‘safe hands’ of Ron Howard.
To me, it’s near undeniable, they made a mistake. Ron Howard played it very safe, that’s why it meets all the expectations of a decent sci-fi adventure, he went for just that and got it spot on, but gave the film absolutely nothing more of note. Lord and Miller might have ended up making a movie that felt out of place in the ‘Star Wars’ canon, but Han Solo is a man out of place in the galaxy. An unwilling rebel, kicking against authority and order from his youth onwards, his story shouldn’t be cookie cutter, shouldn’t just appease fans, it should stand out, go against expectations, ideally narratively and creatively, not just by underperforming at the box office.
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller may have gone slightly maverick with the film they started to shoot, but they were making the story of one of pop culture’s greatest ever mavericks. Sadly now there’s no way of knowing how great a film their off-piste version could have been which may be one of the biggest shames in recent ‘unfinished movie’ history. Nominated for ‘Best Visual Effects’ at the Academy Awards, I think the film, on the whole, is far too mundane and forgettable to stand out even for those things it does do well. I expect it will get overlooked as is all too easy with this, which is a bit of a shame as it is perfectly entertaining as a sci-fi adventure, just disappointing as an opportunity to develop the increasingly strong Star Wars movie canon.