I’ve stated before that I’m not a big Star Wars fan, at least not with regards to the newer movies. However, I checked out Solo: A Star Wars Story this weekend and was pleasantly surprised. The movie focuses on loss of innocence and young love before the rebellion begins. Teenage Han, an orphaned Artful Dodger type character, escapes from a slavery existence on his home planet by joining the imperial “air force” to become a pilot. Given that he has trouble with orders, he soon flunks out and deserts, landing in the company of a gang of smugglers. The group, led by Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson) is in debt to an even bigger Mafia-type since the galaxy at that time is carved up into territories. No wonder it was so easy for the Emperor to rise up and take over!
The new band of thieves embarks on an attempt to steal valuable spaceship fuel from a moving train only to get attacked by a second criminal group during the heist. During that time, Beckett loses most of his old partners and lands in deep trouble with his nefarious boss. Han, in an attempt to avoid being killed, offers to get them to steal the raw, and highly unstable, fuel from the mining source, then quickly fly it over to an illegal refinery. The fuel would be worth enough to get Beckett and Han out of trouble. Yet they need a ship provided by Lando Calrissian. The rest of the movie involves their trying to pull off this plan, juggling unexpected twists and double-crossing crime lords.
Alden Ehrenreich does a great job as young Han, displaying an unbreakable sense of enthusiasm and optimism even when in the presence of dangerous crime lords. He has only a distant familiarity to the gruff, disillusioned older Solo, but then time and experience with felonious Mafia types will kill most people’s zest for living.
On one hand, the audience gets a view of Solo’s entire life, now pretty much from kid to death if you’ve followed all the movies. In this film, we learn how he met Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian, and what the importance of the Kessel Run was. All in all, it was a fun romp that could have been any loveable huckster’s story. This one just happened to have a lot of aliens and space ships in it.
In relation to that, the action kept up a strong pace as the plot switched from planet to planet and crisis to crisis. The movie did a good job balancing the tender moments between Solo and his love interest with lots of bravado, ship fights, and dangling from steel cables. However, I didn’t feel that deeply involved with the characters. The story was too crowded with action scenes to allow for it.
My favorite character in the movie was actually a new robot who dies near the end. L3-37, a sassy female voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is out to free enslaved droids and does so with spectacular panache. It is one of the only robots in this universe that we see thinking for themselves rather than blithely marching or flying into trouble to save the humans.
On the other hand, the movie had some flaws as well. Lando Calrissian was so oily and egotistical that he was nauseating. This was not Donald Glover’s fault but more due to bad writing. The Calrissian played by Billy Dee Williams was also slick and cool but not so overdone. Williams’ Lando had an air of talent both as a mature administrator and strong pilot possibly because he knew what he could accomplish. Glover’s rendition showed the character as all vanity and little substance.
The movie was also simply overdone. Wikipedia lists it as one of the most expensive movies ever made at ninth place (along with six others), which is kind of my point. We saw more aliens, robots, CGI effects than were really needed to get the story across. These features added to the sense of otherworldliness but also sometimes got in the way. For instance, Han’s first crime boss on Correllia was Lady Proxima, voiced by Linda Hunt. First of all, I have trouble believing that a photophobic giant centipede, who is locked in her own puddle of water, can be the crime boss of anything. She can’t leave the building. Therefore, it would be too easy to destroy her. Beyond that, the cost of creating this giant bejeweled centipede probably wasn’t worth the very short screen time she had.
Other aliens were like that too. We got small rare glimpses of other species here and there in bars and parties but is it really worth the extravagant price tag of $250 million dollars? I ask this because expensive movies lead to high priced movie tickets. Good movies don’t have to be expensive. They simply need one difficult thing: a great story that is well rendered. The flashy ships, creepy aliens, and talking robots are only window dressing that can get in the way.
Worth the Price?
So would I recommend Solo: A Star Wars Story? For the younger Star Wars fans, I would say yes. It adds nice background and content to the overall universe. However, I believe the moneymaking ability of this franchise is beginning to fall. Fans aren’t packing into the theaters as eagerly and the stories have pretty much run their course. Maybe it’s time for the Star Wars worlds to find a collective peace, with or without Jedis, and simply fly off into the double suns of Tatooine for their happy ever after.