by Benjamín Harguindey
You’re in for a treat if you’ve been dying to find out the exact circumstances in which Han Solo met Chewbacca, won the Milennium Falcon off Lando Calrissian and then made the Kessel Run under 12 parsecs. If that’s the case, Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) has you covered. No sign of Boba Fett yet, and a certain Hutt only gets a passing reference. Gotta leave something for the next Star Wars Story.
As all three of my regular readers know by now I’m more than a little jaded about Disney’s metaphorical farm for cash cows and dead horses. Just as the Marvel’s Cinematographic Universe holds down the fort with filler flicks in between the big Avengers tentpoles, so is Stars Wars now patterned into a series of numbered episodes and meaningless spin-off filler designed to keep up public interest for one more year. So movies start behaving as TV shows, down to the fact that each episode has to sell the upcoming one, and there’s a faint air of desperation to please in the finished product.
But let’s judge Solo: A Star Wars Story not as a Star Wars Story but rather a solo movie. We first meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich) as a Dickensian street urchin kicking up to a huge, disgusting worm of a Fagin (a recurring motif in his life, as it will turn out). He wants nothing but to leave the grimy streets of Corellia with his sweetheart Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and become a pilot, but the couple are separated at the last parsec during an escape attempt and Han is left, quite literally, Solo (as christened by a sympathetic Imperial recruitment officer).
Flash forward three years and Han’s an infantryman fighting in a war for the Empire. Why not? After some routine ‘war of attrition’ scenes and a speedy meet-cute with would-be sidekick Chewbacca, Han falls in with a crowd of smugglers led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who are on a mission to wipe clean a deadly debt with mobster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). The plot finally locks on one hour into the movie: steal some all-purpose unobtanium or whatever it’s called from a slavery-fueled mining facility.
The majority of the movie ties one way or another to Han’s attempts to become a pilot (ie. getting an actual ship) and rescue his damsel. The order isn’t important and the plot takes it easy like that, resorting to more or less self-contained action set-pieces that slowly begin to add to the big picture. It all feels very sketchy and episodic and the movie probably suffered some kind of neutering in spirit if not form when directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were replaced well into shooting with Ron Howard.
Ehrenreich never quite comes up with a character himself – he merely does an okay Harrison Ford impression. Donald Glover on the other hand not only does a terrific Billy Dee Williams but feels more natural as his own character. Clarke and Harrelson are fine in largely thankless roles. Bettany, who turns in for all of two scenes, makes a forgettable villain. And I could’ve done without the sassy “equal rights”-spouting droid voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whose attempts at comedy mostly misfire and authors yet another cringey, shoehorned subplot of spontaneous rebellion that’s only mildly better than The Last Jedi‘s Canto Bight sequence.
The inherent problem with doing a Han Solo movie, of course, is that the film icon was created as a supporting character, and by starring in his own spin-off Han is robbed of whatever mystique and spontaneous charm Harrison Ford worked into the role. Not only that but by giving Han the spotlight he’s forced into the kind of heroics and do-gooding that the original, arguably “real” Han would’ve scoffed at. By that same token, Lando becomes the standout rogue character… at least until he gets his own spin-off.
Lines such as the famous “Kessel Run” and the “game of Sabacc”, simple throwaway sci-fi babble tailored for world-building, are now turned into plot points that define Han’s life. There’s even a scene where Han inherits his signature blaster and another conciliatory scene where, poignantly, Han Shoots First. This feels more of an origin story for a few choice props and lines of dialogue than it does for the character of Han Solo. There’s just no edge to Solo – the character or the movie. A surprise (if nonsensical) cameo towards the end of the movie hints at a full-fledged spin-off trilogy geared towards fanservice and nothing else.
So in all “Solo” feels like a collection of scenes that a board room unanymously voted as “must haves” for a Han Solo spin-off, and writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan wrote a movie around them for the purpose of fanservice rather than think of an origin story from the ground up. It just doesn’t feel as creative or exciting as any kid’s fantasies about what Han Solo’s story would have been before that fateful rendezvous in Mos Eisley in the original 1977 Star Wars.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).