This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
NB: The following contains spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story and Rogue One.
From its first few months of production onwards, Solo: A Star Wars Story has had a trickier journey to release than most. Much online discussion was taken up by its late change in directions (out went Lord and Miller, in came Ron Howard) and other gossip about reshoots and acting coaches.
After its debut weekend, the conversation then shifted to its box-office, or rather the lack of it; Solo’s global haul of roughly $160m doesn’t sound too bad, but it’s evidently way down the rankings when compared to the likes of The Last Jedi or even Lucasfilm’s first spin-off, Rogue One.
Leaving all that aside, though, what about the film itself? As soon as the credits rolled on Solo last week, your humble writer and fellow Star Wars fanatic John Moore headed home, and enjoyed a spoiler-filled talk along the way. Here’s an edited survey of our thoughts…
John Moore: Okay, Solo. Let’s collect our thoughts into some sort of order.
Ryan Lambie: It was serviceable, wasn’t it? It was a perfectly serviceable, fun night out at the pictures.
JM: I came out of The Force Awakens and I was asked by a radio person what I thought of it. My response was, ‘It does everything it needed to do to get the thing back on track.’
After Rogue One, and possibly the first half of this movie’s production, Solo does what it needed to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do very much more than that. Is there one really eye-catching moments that are up there with the best of Star Wars?
RL: For me, I think it does what a lot of modern films do, which is that it puts the most imaginative thing at for front. That was the stage coach robbery. It was easily the best action scene in the whole film.
JM: Yeah, and it really was a train robbery. It reminded me of the end of The Lone Ranger or something like that.
RL: If you had to pick a genre, Solo falls quite cleanly into a western – more so than I was expecting.
JM: Oh god, yeah. The guns for hire, the card games, the double-crosses, quadruple crosses…
RL: Yeah, I lost count of the crosses in the end.
JM: Everyone’s screwing everyone over. But there’s not one truly, truly eye-catching shot in this film.
RL: I fear it’s one of those films that, in a few weeks, I’ll have forgotten it.
JM: The thing about The Force Awakens, when I said it did everything it needed to do – I’ve become a lot fonder of that movie over time. I’m a lot more appreciative of the massive task that it achieves. I don’t think Solo quite had its weight on its shoulders, but it had a lot to get right.
I think, in the strand of Star Wars content that’s meant to offer something new, it’s a bit disappointing as part of that. One, it’s using legacy characters, and two, it didn’t do anything especially mind-blowing.
But it’s very funny, it’s very poignant in places, it weaves itself nicely into what we know about these characters in a charming way. The references are subtle – it’s not like, oh, there are those two guys from the Cantina. Rogue One got a little bit much.
RL: Rogue One did hit you over the head with the Easter eggs at times.
JM: But I do feel the new characters they’re introducing in these films – they don’t feel like characters in their own right. They’re servicing the plot. The Emilia Clarke character, Qi’ra, Paul Bettany’s character, Dryden Voss – there wasn’t enough about them. They existed to put Han on the path he needed to be on. Two films in, we’ve had the same problems – it has the same problem that Rogue One had, which is that Solo needs to navigate the story to a certain point, and so everything it does is plot service.
RL: They already have the outlines, and these movies are the colouring in.
JM: It’s an endemic issue with the way they’ve handled A Star Wars Story as a franchise. They’ve made conservative decisions in terms of story. They’ve then given them to interesting directors, and then wondered why the films they were getting weren’t the films they wanted. In a pitch meeting, “Young Han Solo, okay, fine”. Or, “How they stole the plans to the Death Star”. They sound great, but they also paint themselves into a corner. What’s going to surprise you about a Han Solo film?
RL: One good example of a prequel story done well is Better Call Saul, oddly. We see a very different character, Jimmy, and how he becomes this crooked lawyer we saw in Breaking Bad. I guess I wish Solo had done something closer to that. Han isn’t significantly different at the end from the beginning. The first shot of him, he’s stealing a car – he’s already an outlaw.
JM: He’s fully-cooked Han Solo from the moment he appears on screen. He has no character arc. He’s lived on the streets for years and years – he already distrusts people.
RL: He trusted Qi’ra and then had his heart broken, but that’s not really an arc. It’s just an event in his history. Whereas if the film was about him beginning as one person, and becoming another person, that’s an arc.
JM: I guess the idealist is the young kid who joins the Empire.
RL: I just suddenly remembered one Easter egg, speaking of the Empire. When Han’s escaping and he’s going to join the Empire, there’s the advert, “Join the Empire!” And it’s cut to John William’s imperial march, but they’ve rendered it in a major key. It’s really funny!
At first, I was thinking, that’s a bit dicey, because it could pull you out of the film. It’s a John Williams composition, not something that exists in the Star Wars universe. Moff Tarkin doesn’t go around whistling the imperial march. But it’s the example of a clever Easter egg that they got away with, I thought. I liked that.
JM: Going back to Han, though – they didn’t do enough to establish him as an idealist. He’s still self-serving, because all he wants to do is get he and his girlfriend off Corellia. We don’t see him help to get a group of scrumrats out. We don’t see him, like, get 20 of them away, but the girl he wanted to save the most didn’t make it. You know what I mean? There’s nothing there to chew on. I didn’t feel the character change – he was fully cooked.
RL: He was already a great gambler, a good blagger. He was already good at pretty much everything.
JM: I was thinking Woody Harrelson might teach him to gamble, but no, they were straight in.
RL: I was expecting him to be more of a mentor.
JM: But he’s not. I thought he’d be teaching him all the tricks. All he’s taught him is a bit more cynicism.
RL: It’s as though they can’t envision him being anything other than what he is in A New Hope. Maybe they were too scared, because then people wouldn’t recognise him. “Who is this guy?” But that’s what you need, otherwise there’s no drama.
JM: To really establish who Han Solo is, you really needed to do the kid thing.
RL: Which is what we were saying before – it would have been interesting to see him as a teenager. I thought there’d actually be a bit more on Corellia – more of what it was like to grow up among all that crime and muck. I’d have been interested to see more of that. But then, that all looked very cramped, that Corellia stuff – the sets in those opening scenes, when he’s just walking around, talking to Qi’ra, they felt really claustrophobic and underlit. I don’t know if that was something that was shot late or something.
JM: Yeah. It makes me fear, now, for Kenobi. That these side films are just going to be filling in the gaps.
RL: Kenobi’s a tricky one anyway. He’s a hard, hard character to make interesting. Considering we’ve seen Kenobi in four movies, yet he’s still a bit of a cypher.
JM: Jedis are boring. That’s one of the central problems with the prequels. The Jedis are boring.
RL: They’re space monks. Actually, that’s the interesting thing about Solo – this film has a bit of sauciness that we haven’t seen in other Star Wars movies. George Lucas was quite a sexless storyteller, but in this, you see a double bed. Lando’s made a kind of boudoir for himself on the Millennium Falcon – which I can imagine him doing, actually. And then there’s the scene between Qi’ra and L3-37 where they talk about droids having sexual relations with humans.
JM: But it works.
RL: Sure, it works, but it’s pretty saucy. There’s even a glancing mention of Lando’s manhood. George Lucas’s Star Wars films are the opposite of that – they’re all about people getting their hands chopped off, which I think is a anti-masturbation thing. But yeah.
JM: The film needed more tension. And they could’ve built more tension through Woody Harrelson’s character and Qi’ra. Beckett and Kira. You don’t care enough about Qi’ra, I don’t think, to be really bothered whether or not she makes it through the movie. Would you have been sad if she’d died at the end?
RL: No, not really.
JM: By the time Han found her again, she wasn’t in any danger. She didn’t really need him. I think the thing about the established characters, like Han or Lando, is that in the originals, you feel like you know them a lot better than you actually do.
RL: Yeah, because Lando’s in Empire for, what, all of five minutes? Yet he makes such a big impression that it feels like longer.
JM: Then he flies the Falcon in Return Of The Jedi. He’s a great character, but you fill in the gaps yourself. And that’s what makes him so charming, because you can take what you want from these characters. But as soon as you fill in the gaps, you’re either being told stuff you already know or feel about them. You don’t need your feelings to be explained.
RL: The question for me was, was the Kessel Run in this movie, with all its special effects, as exciting for me as the one I had in my imagination as a kid? Possibly not.
JM: Here’s the thing about Han Solo. When you watch the Special Editions, where they’ve messed about with the Greedo scene, doesn’t that feel wrong? Even without having it explained to you, doesn’t it feel wrong? It’s in the performance, it’s in Han’s character – everything tells you that he’s the kind of guy who would shoot Greedo, without hesitation. You just feel it. Because Han’s a good guy, but he’s going to do what needs to be done to stay alive – and if that means shooting Greedo, then he’ll do it.
We didn’t need to see Greedo shoot first, and I didn’t need that retconning in Solo. I didn’t need that explaining, because it’s in the performance. What it needs are peripheral characters… say the film had truly been about Woody Harrelson’s Beckett. About Han somehow trying to morally save this unsaveable guy, and succeeding – or failing – at the end. They didn’t make Beckett that central, fleshed-out character. Han Solo’s always at the centre of everything that happens.
RL: I loved Donald Glover’s performance, but I don’t feel I’ve learned any more about Lando having watched this film, other than that he cheats at cards.
JM: I don’t feel like I’ve learned much about Lando, no. He’s shallow, he’s vain. He once owned the Millennium Falcon. It’s like, try and say something about Lando that you didn’t already know.
RL: He used to fly around in the Millennium Falcon with a posh, talking Breville toaster. I dunno, maybe I’m just getting old, but I didn’t like that droid at all.
JM: Correct me if I’m wrong, but the most emotional deaths have both been droids.
RL: Certainly in Rogue One, but I was profoundly moved by K2-S0’s death. But L3, I was kind of relieved…
JM: But you know what I mean. They’ve relied on killing droids for emotional weight twice already.
RL: I thought that bit, where Lando was dragging the remains of L3 back to the ship was the one bit of the film where it felt quite ramshackle. The rest of it felt quite polished in a workmanlike way.
JM: They’re recycling plot ideas already, and we’re only two films in. “We need to kill the droid. That’ll move people.”
RL: Don’t forget the four-armed monkey – Rio – who absolutely wasn’t Rocket. Rio the Monkey. Shot and died of blood poisoning. Sorry, that’s quite dark, isn’t it.
JM: I’m killing this movie for myself! I have existential issues. But the question is, was I entertained? Yeah, I was. It might sound like I didn’t enjoy it, picking it apart, but I really did.
RL: It was a nice way to spend an evening. Plus, the Darth Maul twist was interesting: we’ll have to wait and see whether that was just a bit of fan-bait or whether that’ll pay off in a future movie or TV show.
JM: I can say I was fully entertained for two-and-a-half hours. I laughed, I thought it was funny. I liked the scenes between Han and Chewie. But it’s a prequel by any other name.