The Rise of Skywalker is almost here, and it’s supposedly the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga. So, I’ve decided to attempt a full canon rewatch before it releases, reviewing each chapter as I go. That’s all the movies, as well as the Clone Wars, Rebels, and Resistance TV series. We continue today with Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Well, that certainly was a movie, wasn’t it? Now that we’ve gotten ourselves past the prequels, there isn’t any bad Star Wars stuff left to sit through. It’s all fun from here on out, which describes this movie pretty well. Fun. Unfortunately, this one comes with its fair share of flaws, but for the first time since The Phantom Menace (Clone Wars doesn’t count), the good in this movie manages to outweigh the bad.
I have to start by saying that Solo, as it stands, is completely pointless. It doesn’t add anything meaningful to the Star Wars canon, nor does it have much of a chance of paying off any of the interesting stuff it sets up. It’s not actively bad like the prequels, it’s just pointless. The movie didn’t exactly perform the way Disney wanted it to, and there’s no sign of any potential followup anywhere in Disney’s schedule. (Though there are some rumors the upcoming Disney+ Obi-Wan show might touch on a few of these elements, but that’s nothing but a rumor for now, so let’s just let that lie).
There are folks out there who like to claim their silly Last Jedi boycott was directly responsible for this movie flopping in theaters. The loudest voices on the internet seem to think that nobody saw Solo because they were all so burned by The Last Jedi they weren’t going to go see any Star Wars movies anymore. Disney had ruined Star Wars, Kathleen Kennedy is the SJW devil, and the box office numbers reflected how much the real Star Wars fans hate what has been done to their beloved franchise.
Let me just say here and now (and probably a LOT more in my Last Jedi review) that those people are idiots, and I take no small amount of pleasure in taking the time to point that out as often as I can.
Honestly though, and I’m not a prophet, but I think I can say with 99.99% certainty that their little boycott (if you can even call it that since I guarantee they all already have their Rise of Skywalker tickets in hand) amounted to a bunch of bantha poodoo. People didn’t go see Solo because Solo didn’t look very good, and the story of Han Solo isn’t one that Star Wars fans and the general movie-going public alike, wanted to see. Han Solo was a pretty well formed character in the existing movies. Would it be cool to see some more adventures with him and Chewbacca being smugglers on the Millennium Falcon? Sure. But this movie promised a Han Solo origin story, which, you know, sounds neat, I guess? The trailers didn’t even convince me to go see it in theaters. I freaking love Star wars. But movies are expensive, and I have kids, so I skipped it. I’m sure a lot of other Star Wars fans felt the same.
The other factor is Star Wars fatigue, something I’m very thankful Disney seems to have picked up on and course corrected. Star Wars movies are special. They don’t come around very often, and when they do they’re events. When Disney decided to annualize the franchise, people were kind of burned out by the time Solo hit. The Force Awakens was a mammoth success, but then people were kind of worried about Rogue One. They ultimately went to see it though because the premise was interesting and word of mouth was very positive. Then The Last Jedi was another mammoth success, but that’s three years in a row of Star Wars movies. On the fourth year they come at us with a movie about Han Solo starring a guy who neither looks or sounds even remotely like Han Solo, and the marketing just didn’t work. No matter how much fun your movie is, people aren’t going to go out of their way to see something that would have been better suited as a Netflix series (you know, since Disney+ didn’t exist yet), at least not in the droves you want them to.
It’s kind of a shame because like I mentioned earlier, this movie sets up some really cool stuff I’d love to see pay off.
Qi’ra, Han’s love interest, played brilliantly by Emelia Clarke, is super interesting. She’s got a great personality, and the way her allegiances seem to shift throughout the film is really fun to watch. Her boss, Dryden Vos, also played brilliantly by Paul Bettany, makes for a great if ultimately one-note villain. His boss, though, the one who is casually alluded to in early on, was the real shocker. After Dryden Vos is killed by Qi’ra, she gives the head guy in charge a buzz and it’s freaking Maul, played by Ray Park and voiced by Sam Witwer. If that seems odd, in case you didn’t know, in The Phantom Menace, Ray Park played Darth Maul, but they wound up dubbing his voice with another actor because they wanted Maul to sound a certain way, which Park did not. Sam Witwer is the guy who voices Maul in The Clone Wars and Rebels TV series, and oh man it’s SO GREAT seeing Maul back in live action again, even if it is only via hologram.
We last left Maul in The Clone Wars, having just faced off against the Emperor, a battle that cost him his freedom and the life of his brother. He was then forcefully re-employed by the Emperor for plans unknown. This movie takes place quite a while after that though, and the Maul we see here is much more in line with the one we see in Rebels, right down to him having the same Inquisitor-style lightsaber. Is he still under Palpatine’s thumb? Is he running Crimson Dawn without Palpatine’s permission? Is Palpatine just too busy running his empire to give a crap about Maul anymore? I want the answers to these questions. Maybe the upcoming 7th season of Clone Wars will give them to me.
Anyway, the things that happen in this movie are almost all very interesting. Lando, the group of smugglers Han falls in with, the marauders they face off against, Qi-ra and her boss, Chewbacca and Han’s relationship, it’s all pretty fun stuff. The biggest problem I have with this movie is actually Han himself, especially when they start making all these forced revelations that answer questions nobody needed answers to. A random Imperial soldier gives him the last name Solo because he’s alone. But the Han we know was never once portrayed as a loner. He always had Chewbacca by his side. I just assumed his last name was always Solo because why wouldn’t I? It’s hardly the weirdest name in the Star Wars universe. That didn’t need to be explained. We see where Han got his gun, his outfit, all sorts of stuff, and every time it gives us another revelation it feels so awkward and forced. I guess it makes sense that Han can speak Wookie, but hearing him do it to bust Chewbacca out of that weird pit he’s in was so.. Weird. And not really in a good way.
Then there’s the love story with Qi’ra. The thing about this is that it’s played pretty well. I believe the way these two characters feel about one another. The trouble is, Han doesn’t need another love story. I’m not saying Leia is the only person Han should have ever been with, but adding this love of his life character into the mix unnecessarily muddies the Han and Leia story. Now you see Han flirting with Leia and think “but isn’t he in love with that Qi’ra girl?” Again, it isn’t actually bad, but it puts some unnecessary new context in place for stuff in the original trilogy, something I don’t like.
Anyway, let’s move on to Lando and the Falcon. Lando was brilliantly cast. Donald Glover doesn’t really look the part, which would have been a problem, except that he more than makes up for it with his speech and mannerisms. That said, I didn’t really care for a lot of the stuff Lando actually does. Half the time he’s outstanding, like when he and Han crash the Falcon and Lando tells him he hates him, to which Han obviously responds “I know.” The other half, I just thought he felt… off.
For example, he has this droid played by the incredibly talented Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Seriously, go watch Fleabag). But the whole time she’s on screen, I can’t help thinking they recognized how successful K2S0 was in Rogue One and they just straight up tried to duplicate that with her, and it doesn’t work. She’s great. Her performance is great. But this character is just kind of okay at best. And Lando’s relationship with her is… let’s say off-putting. Apparently Lando is in love with the robot. It’s… uncomfortable. I don’t know, I kinda hated it. But then the droid is killed (just like K2S0!) and they put her brain in the Falcon, which you would think would make Lando not want to give that ship up for any reason ever again, or at least that’s how they played her death off, but that’s never really touched on after it happens. He gambles the ship away to Han in the end anyway. So yeah. That’s weird.
I do have to admit that I love that they addressed the way Lando pronounces Han’s name. It’s intentional, and it’s done to mess with him. Lie I said, when Lando works, he freaking works.
Then there’s Beckett, played by Woody Harrelson. He reminds me a lot of DJ from The Last Jedi in that he is very Woody Harrelson, just like DJ is very Benicio Del Toro. There’s no point when I’m watching either of these characters where I see them as anything other than the actors portraying them. That’s not really something I do with Star Wars characters, not even Harrison Ford. I’m not saying his performance was bad, quite the opposite really, I thought Beckett was a blast, but it’s one of those instances where a Star Wars movie gets a big name actor to do something, and it takes me out of it. Minor complaint really, but something worth noting.
So the Han problem. All this movie’s best stuff would make for an awesome movie. It even would have made for an awesome movie with Han in it as some sort of tertiary character. But this movie is about Han Solo, and I don’t know who this main character of this movie is, but he ain’t Han Solo. He’s super cool, very fun to watch, and easy to root for, but he isn’t Han Solo. For the life of me I can’t understand why they would make a Han Solo movie and cast someone who neither looks or sounds even remotely anything like Harrison Ford. Ewan McGregor was perfect for young Alec Guiness. Donald Glover as a young Billy Dee Williams is inspired. The only thing Alden Ehrenreich has in common with Harrison Ford is that he’s a very talented human male. That’s it.
So what if this movie wasn’t a Solo story? Well, take all the stuff out about Han getting his name and suddenly you have a fairly interesting Star Wars story about a soldier turned smuggler who runs in the same circles as Han, but brings in a bunch of new interesting characters, ties in with Darth Maul and whatever he’s up to, and sets up some fantastic opportunities for new stories in the Star Wars universe that don’t run much of a risk of messing with anything established in the original trilogy. A whole new Star Wars story starring a brand new character that doesn’t directly impact the ongoing Skywalker Saga? Goodness me!
I’m focusing so much on what this movie could have been instead of what it actually was because when Solo shines, it really shines. So many of the action sequences are genuinely fun to watch. For as much as I never really needed to see the Kessel Run, it’s a pretty fun scene, especially the bit at the end when they’re trying to not get sucked into the black hole. The fight/betrayal scene at the end with Dryden Vos, Qi’ra, and Han is a blast. This cast has great chemistry together, but honestly, you could replace Han with this new not-Han dude and those scenes would be just as impactful. It’s not like that chase sequence needed to be the Kessel Run.
I’ll wrap up soon, but I have a couple of things I want to address first. One thing I really don’t get in this movie is what’s up with the condition of the Falcon? When we first see it in A New Hope, that ship is beat to heck on the inside, with all the white stuff thoroughly yellowed. That ship is lived in. But here, it’s freaking spotless (on the inside at least). I find it a little hard to believe the insides of the ship would deteriorate the way they seem to have done in the time between this movie and A New Hope. Another minor annoyance, but it just really stuck in my craw.
The other one is a bit of a bigger deal, but it’s not actually a gripe with this movie at all. At the end of the story, Han shoots Beckett. He’s giving some speech about not trusting people and before he can get another word in edgewise, Han just shoots him in the chest. Just like that. No warning, no firefight, Beckett wasn’t even really threatening him. Han looked at the situation and handled it by just killing the other guy. This 100% lines up with the Han Solo we know from the theatrical cut of A New Hope.
This movie was made by Disney. Disney now owns Star Wars lock, stock, and barrel. So why, in the name of all that is sane in this world, hasn’t Disney restored the Han shoots Greedo scene to its original form yet? There was a fresh cut of it for the Disney+ release just a few weeks ago. Han shot Greedo before he got a shot off because that’s who Han is at that point in his life. This movie reinforces that as a genuine character trait. So what gives? I was sure when they made this movie and stuffed it with all these unnecessary explanations for every aspect of Han’s character in the original trilogy that we were going to get some sort of shoehorned reason why Han wouldn’t have shot Greedo first in some vain attempt to make that “updated” scene make some semblance of sense. But this movie shockingly did the exact opposite! It very intentionally shows us that Han, having learned what he does about trusting people in this origin story, absolutely would have shot Greedo before he could get a shot off. He literally does that very thing to Beckett. So why can’t we fix that scene already? It wasn’t even broken to begin with!
Anyway, let’s wrap this up. Solo gets off to a slightly rocky start with some weird forced Han backstory bits, but by the time it finds its stride, the back half is really freaking fun. Unfortunately, like I said at the top, it’s ultimately pointless. We’re never going to see most of these characters again, and we don’t learn anything about Han that enhances his character in the original trilogy, mostly because there’s almost no connection between this character and the real Han Solo. Again, I don’t mean that as an insult to this guy. He’s great and I’d love to watch more of him, but he isn’t Han Solo. He just isn’t. If you haven’t watched Solo yet, you aren’t missing much. It’s fun, you’ll be entertained, but it’s hardly what I would consider necessary viewing. It’s solid fluff at best. And I like fluff!
Well, we’ve got one more stop to make before we get to the Original Trilogy, and that’s the remarkable Star Wars Rebels animated series. I just recently finished this show for the first time and wow does it do some great stuff. So if you’re reading these reviews but skipping the ones about the animated series, I’m personally asking you now to not skip my Rebels review. You won’t regret it.