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Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

They said it couldn’t be done.

LucasfilmLucasfilmIs it still possible to get worked up about a Star Wars movie? Three of them have been released in just the last two and a half years, and now—on the 41st anniversary of the very first film's debut—comes Solo: A Star Wars Story. I don't think many people are likely to see this picture as a cultural event, or were even hankering for it to be made. It's basically an old-school Saturday-serial b-movie—which of course is exactly the sort of picture that inspired the whole Star Wars project.

It's a pretty good b-movie, too. The story is silly, but it's fun, and so are the effects, especially the ones used to create the several new creatures we see, who are replete with nose hoses and eyeball stalks and all manner of other exotic whatnot. There's also a really big caterpillar thingy called Lady Proxima, who's much less gracious than her name might suggest; and lots of galactic action too, naturally.

The movie's chief pleasure is its solid cast. Alden Ehrenreich, the star, suggests a younger Harrison Ford—the indelible Han Solo of the first three Star Wars movies—without embarrassing himself by trying too hard. This is a considerable achievement. Ehrenreich looks nothing like Ford, but he does manage to project a bit of the man's engaging sarcasm and gift for smooth gab, and he contributes his own style of cool, too. Donald Glover gives a standout performance as the shady gambler Lando Calrissian, taking over the role as if Billy Dee Williams had never played it. (One wonders what Billy Dee might have made of this Lando's ambiguously affectionate relationship with a sassy robot copilot called L3-37, played by a mo-capped Phoebe Waller-Bridge.) And Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke—raven-haired here—is charismatically seductive as Han's love interest Qi-ra, a mystery woman whose secrets will obviously play an important part in sure-to-come future installments of the story.

The script, by Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) and his son Jonathan, dutifully checks off a number of required boxes: Where is Han from? (The gloomy planet of Corellia.) Where did he get his zoomy spaceship, the Millennium Falcon? (He won it from Lando in a barroom card game we now get to witness.) And how did he meet his shaggy copilot Chewbacca? (It's a long story.) What's missing from the film—but not actually missed—are Jedis, lightsabers, and any mention of The Force or glimpses of R2-D2 or C-3PO (although Anthony Daniels, who played C-3PO for years, does turn up in a very brief cameo in another role).

The movie is built around a MacGuffin called coaxium—a kind of spaceship fuel that's in passionate demand by all kinds of disreputable people. In order to lay hands on a large amount of this valuable stuff, Han—at an early point when he's still an aspiring pilot longing for a spaceship of his own—hooks up with a smuggler named Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his partner Val (Thandie Newton, regrettably under-used). They have been employed by a crime lord named Dryden (Paul Bettany, eccentrically togged out in mutant Armani) to hijack a train filled with coaxium as it barrels through a vast, snowy mountain range. The resulting action sequence is long and quite impressive—a tribute to the skills of the usual army of FX technicians, and to director Ron Howard, too.

As is fairly well-known by now, Solo had a "troubled production." Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie) were five months into filming when they were summarily dismissed (for the traditional "artistic differences"). In what must have been a certain amount of desperation, Lucasfilm quickly called in director Ron Howard, whose ties to Star Wars overlord George Lucas reach back to American Graffiti. Howard reportedly re-shot a lot of the movie, and the result could have been a stylistic mess. But it isn't. The production design is uniformly fine throughout, the action is unusually coherent for this sort of too-many-cooks blockbuster, and, most important, the story flows. When the inevitable sequel-tease arrives at the end, you might actually find yourself wondering what could happen next. As you know, we'll all eventually find out.

Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

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  • Conchfritters||

    ...and all manner of other exotic whatnot.

    So on, and so forth.

  • Citizen X||

    Say no more, say no more.

  • Cynical Asshole||

  • Ken Shultz||

    The 70s were a time of social change--cashing in on the promise of sexual revolution. The lesbian undertones of Laverne and Shirley, for instance, were groundbreaking, but the inter-species romance between Chewbacca and Han Solo went even further beyond the love that dare not speak its name. I read somewhere that "chew bacca" means "pajama boy" in Swahili.

  • Scotticus Finch||

    I feel like years of your legit, insightful comments on HyR have all been a trap leading up to this moment. Because I believe you just enough to start Googling.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Did you mean Cagney and Lacey there?

  • Rich||

    When the inevitable sequel-tease arrives at the end, you might actually find yourself wondering what could happen next. As you know, we'll all eventually find out.

    Mueller: A Special Counsel Story

  • Citizen X||

    It'll be an utterly unwatchable three hours of a dude fishing.

  • Rich||

    There's a thin line between fishing and standing on the shore looking like an idiot.

  • Citizen X||

    Even better is Donald Glover: already a star, he gives the movie's standout performance, taking over the role of shady gambler Lando Calrissian as if Billy Dee Williams had never inhabited it.

    It was pretty clear just from the previews that Glover had a whole case of Colt 45 hidden under his cape. For inspiration.

  • Rich||

    The movie is built around a MacGuffin called coaxial

    Well, at least it's not built around unobtainium.

  • Citizen X||

    +1 Dances With Fern Gully

  • Rich||

    You know, Fern Gully would be a nice name for a lap dancer.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Not really. The only women I've ever seen named Fern we all at least 80 years old, and I have no interest in seeing an old woman's gully.

  • Ariki||

    A desert gully. Dust and tumble weeds.

  • Ariki||

    :( i missed the obvious /insert Tatooine reference.

    Getting old.

  • John||

    There are so many comically stupid aspects to that movie. I think my favorite, however, is the idea that everyone in what amounts to a stone age civilization would choose to remain in the stone age after a civilization capable of interstellar travel showed up. They were all these noble savages who would never think of trading any unobtainium for a cure to whatever disease ails them or some other technology that they could not even dream of. Yeah, that makes sense.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Yep, the noble savage schtick has be done...and done and done and done. I'd love to see a movie that punctured that stereotype, and showed the "savages" for what they really were (or in a realistic light, for aliens).

    They weren't dumb, they changed their landscapes radically for their own benefit, and they were eager for technological advancements. Movies and lit either portray them as moronic beasts (Apocalypto) or noble but naive purists (Avatar, Dances with Wolves).

  • Rev. Arthur Ꮮ. Kirkland||

    Avatar II:

    "Yeah, you remember the guys who had to go home, tails between their legs? The company fired 'em all. The new team came in, used a mix of orbital bombardment methods to raze the areas around the deposits for a thirty-mile radius. Then they set up a perimeter of computer-controlled autocannon slaved to a detection array. Every time something tries to come in from outside to interfere with the strip mining, there's a brief pink mist as a dozen rounds of 30 mm high-explosive blow it to shreds. Oh, they got in once with some burrowing animals, but since then we've added a ring of seismic detectors and buried land mines."

    "So, what's the story?"

    "Social struggle between factions in the native tribes now that they see the absolute superiority of human technology over their traditions. Mostly modernizers who want to emulate humans and learn from us, and fundamentalists who say the problem is they haven't been fanatical enough in devotion to their planet-god. All the humans that defected have either been traded to us by the former or murdered by the latter."

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    So what you're saying is, King Leopold did nothing wrong?

  • Rich||

    *coaxium*

    Autocorrect: A We Know What You Mean Story

  • FreeRadical||

    Way back when I was a young nothing working on the Space Shuttle, I got to give a tour to surprisingly hot school teachers. One of them ask why NASA hadn't yet built a single stage to orbit vehicle.

    I mustered my best NASA deadpan and said, "Well, once we find unobtainium and strongasshitium, we'll be able to do it!"

    They laughed and laughed and for a moment I felt like a real man.

  • TuIpa||

    They were humoring you.

  • Trollificus||

    Did you do a hand wave and mutter "This is the joke you've been looking for."?

    Also, did you hit on her?

  • ThomasD||

    "did you hit on her?"

    What part of NASA and geekspeak did you not get?

  • Siegzon||

    +1 You made it worth scanning the comments section. Fun anecdote.

  • Unemployed Armenian Tranny||

    ....or midichlorians.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    I read that and could only think that the writer does not know what a McGuffin is. Not surprising.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Among other issues, the incoherent tone of all these movies causes me to lose interest. Rogue One was fairly dark and as "serious" as this genre gets, while other ones are child-like and silly, if not laughably stupid. (Ok, they are all childlike, but still).

    This whole thing probably would have worked better as a multi-year TV series like Breaking Bad/GOT/etc where there was some continuity in story, tone, etc. These movies are just glorified fan fiction.

  • Rich||

    How about if these movies became like the Rocky Horror Picture Show?

    Don't just show up dressed like Darth Vader. Every time he makes an appearance, the audience yells "Where's you fucking neck?!"

    When the Falcon enters an asteroid field, the audience throws abound chunks of styrofoam.

    ....

  • John||

    The first two Star Wars and Empire were fun and worthy of being taken seriously. Everything after that has just been vehicles for selling toys, though I heard Rogue One was good.

    What annoys me most about most of the movies is that they could have been so easily made better than they were. The Force Awakens has the bones of a decent movie. But they ruin it by having this ridiculous plot device where the Empire is somehow sucking the life out of a star and yet has to do it on a planet. You can't come up with a better doomsday technology? Really? Then they made the protagonist a size zero 17 year old fashion model who somehow manages to kick the evil, Luke Skywalker trained villain's ass despite having no training herself.

  • Iheartskeet||

    RO was pretty good. Agree on the rest. I am willing to suspend disbelief for what amounts to space opera, but WITHIN the world of the story, the characters have to act rationally and it has to make sense.

  • John||

    Exactly. I will buy into a fantasy premise, but the movie better live with that premise.

  • Gary Trieste||

    She is the archetypal Mary Sue, embarrassingly so.

  • BYODB||

    Rogue One was 'good' in one way only: the cinematography. Everything else was literal shit. Everything.

  • Iheartskeet||

    By "literal" I guess you mean "figurative".

    Seriously though, I thought it was the best since the first two. The smart ass robot (K-2SO ?) was great.

  • Trollificus||

    Also, the underdeveloped characters all died in the end. Elevated the whole movie.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    Nor did it help that Ren was little more than a snot-nosed spoiled brat showing his power by throwing temper tantrums at the drop of a hat. Force Awakens was nothing more than a rehash of every Star Wars theme and device, and they knew it when they made it. "Sucked" is too pale a word.

  • FreeRadical||

    I really liked Rogue One. But all of the Star Wars movies since the original trilogy have sucked huge dicks in my opinion.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Agree except for: Ewoks. That was a signal of bad things to come.

  • FreeRadical||

    Yes. At least they killed a few.

    I really really wanted to like 7 and 8. Reviewers said they were a "return to form". There seemed to be cultural pressure to like them.

    But I finally got honest with myself and realized they suck. The same level of suckage as the prequels. The main story is dead to me.

    But these offshoots make me happy.

  • Trollificus||

    Ep 7 was a little too much a scene-for-scene remake of "A New Hope", pandering to nostalgia,which can be forgiven because it made SO much money. The only other good thing about TFA was the set-ups, plot threads and suspense-filled situations we were left with. This is just good storytelling, The powerful "what happens next?" feeling generated by the last scene had me impatient for Ep 8.

    But then that roundheaded assfuck one-trick-pony Rian Johnson decided to "subvert expectations". This is hardly the daring, bold, innovative creative direction he thinks it is, since he decided to "subvert expectations" for every subgke character, every plot thread, every situation...it isn't even clever after the first few times. When everybody expects their expectations to be subverted, and you do so every time...not genius, Rian.

    Then there's the deliberate and gratuitous destruction/emasculation of every male character, the complete disregard for consistency within the mythos, and the glaringly shoehorned "lecture pieces" like Canto Bight and Vice Admirable Holdo My Beer...I've had to spend some time analyzing the movie to realize how uniquely bad and deliberately destructive The Last Jedi actually is. Killed Star Wars for me, and certainly killed any interest I had in what follows.

    Maybe LucasFilm can revive some of the material from the EU and go back to telling stories about a galaxy long ago and far away, without any "current year political issues".

  • Trollificus||

    PS) TLJ did, however, do a service in combating the irrational erotic idolization of Asian women. Pudgy, bad haircut dressed in a potato sack...not arousing. Good work, Roundhead.

  • Ron||

    All i can say is after they introduced JarJar I lost all interest and that was the last film I saw in a theater

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Sounds like they didn't fuck it up after all. I'll definitely plan on seeing this.

  • TuIpa||

    Why on earth do you think anyone cares.

  • Azathoth!!||

    The problem with movies like this is that we know Han is never in any danger. That he's going to live through all of this. That he's going to be killed for no good reason after all his efforts come to naught.

    There's no suspense.

  • ||

    The problem with movies like this is that we know Han is never in any danger. That he's going to live through all of this. That he's going to be killed for no good reason after all his efforts come to naught.

    Phbbbt. George C. Scott in Patton what's the point? We all know the guy lives!

    Really, The Godfather, Dirty Harry, Rocky, Die Hard, etc. all you really have to do is watch the last one to see if the protagonist lives or dies. Otherwise, what's the point?

    All those sports games every weekend, nobody ever really dies. Where's the suspense?

  • Iheartskeet||

    Agree, 99% of the time, we already know the hero is going to make it, so I don't think prequels are at an inherent disadvantage.

  • ByteRot||

    Agreed, though there was a related note where I felt they needlessly telegraphed events based on our knowledge of the future.

    When Han gave his dice to Qi'ra, I was like "Well, I guess we know he makes good on that promise somehow..." since they had been so prominently featured in The Last Jedi so recently.

  • Azathoth!!||

    You know, I just skimmed this, having seen your post referring to it.

    You know you can be really stupid sometimes?

    First, Patton was an historical biopic. Not a fantasy epic. Totally different expectations.

    "all you really have to do is watch the last one to see if the protagonist lives or dies"

    Did you really say that? The 'last one'? So, watching the last in a series of films is what you think I'm equating this to? You are aware that the last film, at least for Han, was 7?

    Death at sports games? What the hell?

    Ah, you focused on this-- "That he's going to be killed for no good reason after all his efforts come to naught" --when you should have focused on this-- " we know Han is never in any danger'

    Fantasy epics need one to want to turn the page, to see the next installment to be involved with what's happening to the protagonist.

    And, while you might want to hear about young Han, this story can't deliver any of that.

    As the box office showed.

  • BYODB||

    I think this is less of an issue than, say, Rogue One where you know for a fact all of the people are definitely going to die.

    That is a much, much more pointless movie to watch.

  • Dillinger||

    >>>That he's going to be killed for no good reason after all his efforts come to naught.

    somebody needs to be smacked in the face for that.

  • FreeRadical||

    The prequel I want to see is the formation of Hogwarts by the four original wizards.

  • Azathoth!!||

    I want to see whatever war it was that reduced house elves to slavery, took away goblins wands, defeated the giants--you know, the one the wizards have a statue to in the Ministry of Magic.

  • ||

    You already know the outcome of the war, what's the point?

  • FreeRadical||

    Oh come on. If done right, prequels can be fun and entertaining just for filling in mysterious details and answering "how in the world could that have happened?" plot details.

    All that matters to me is that it's a good story.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Experience had taught me it is very difficult to do prequels right. Especially if it touches on an important yet vaguely described plot point in the original.

  • ||

    Oh come on.

    See Azathoth!!'s post above where he poo-poo's Solo because we know the protagonist lives.

    I'm with you a bit, prequels can be tricky but a protagonist surviving the story or knowing the final state of affairs is a teeny fraction of the possible interesting story lines even in a self-narrated retrospective piece.

  • FreeRadical||

    Yeah, I should have caught that you were yanking his chain a bit

  • Azathoth!!||

    Oh, no--I'm not pooh-poohing.

    I'm pointing out a flaw. Some suspense is lost in expensive scenes because we know there's no danger to our protagonist.

    There are still things we want to see.

    I want the Kessel Run. THAT needs to be in this movie.

  • Thomas O.||

    If it's not in this movie, I'd like to see it done Cannonball Run-style. Which director could emulate Hal Needham best?

  • Azathoth!!||

    You already know the outcome of the war, what's the point?

    But that's just it--we don't.

    The giants and the goblins are still fighting it.

    It has none of the same characters, and has questions that could have interesting answers. What did humans do to beat so many magically superior creatures? What was the world like before?

    It may be the underpinning of the Rowling world--but the Harry Potter story is tangential to it. As LoTR is tangential to the Silmarillion.

  • LarryA||

    You already know the outcome of the war, what's the point?

    We already know the outcome of every major war in history. Still, we get war fiction, from 300 to 13 Hours. The U.S. Civil War alone would fill a library.

  • A_Spellman||

    Shhh...I still haven't watched that one. Don't spoil WW2's ending, i want to be surprised! :)

  • perlchpr||

    Those both sound like movies I would watch.

  • viviciiv||

    "Lady Proxima"

    Like, Proxima Midnight? Ripoff.

  • ||

    Saw it last night and was thoroughly impressed. Alden Ehrenreich does a fantastic job. Script is solid, action was top notch, and it was just a lot of fun. There were some nods back to previous films and the lore, but didn't feel rehashed at all. There's a sequence in the middle that definitely was riffing on some stuff from Empire thematically and even musically, but it all worked. I really don't have any complaints with the film at all. Go see it.

  • Gary Trieste||

    There has been a lot of backlash on the overpumping of SJW progressive tropes to sell an ideology over telling a good story.
    They certainly have had their way with loved and established characters, changing them into strangely sexually different beings, e.g. Lando Calrissian turned into a pan-sexual, instead of the very straight hetero he was in the original Star Wars movies.
    There are boycotts for this and other top-heavy political progressive messaging.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Lando: A Disney Princess Story

  • BYODB||

    I...don't give a fuck about this movie. Disney is out of idea's, but fortunately the movie-going public doesn't give a fuck about ideas they want special effects and not much else. In that sense, I'm sure Disney will at least make their money back on this 'film'.

  • Dillinger||

    I swear to Christ if I don't get to see the goddam Kessel Run...

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    See, that's the problem with Disney's shameless fan service. "It did the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs!" was one of those charming little bon mots that made Han Solo, and the early movies themselves, compelling in their own right. It's the equivalent of Calvin and Hobbes' "The Noodle Incident" or "Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie"--they acknowledge that your imagination will do far more to build these stories in your head than any socially stunted Hollywood writer could possibly accomplish. What the hell's a parsec? Who gives a shit? But that ambiguous phrase tells a lot about what you need to know of Solo's character and what he brings to the table.

  • LynchPin1477||

    A parsec is 206265 astronomical units (mean distance between the Earth and the Sun), or the distance at which annual parallax is one arcsecond

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    Again, who gives a shit?

  • Trollificus||

    I'd like to see them address the Kessel Run in a way that makes the "12 parsecs" boast make sense...like, it's a bad, bad part of space: gravitational anomalies, mini-black holes, time warps, unpredictable power discharges, etc...it interferes with a useful shipping/smuggling route, requiring a 30 parsec detour. Brave or desperate space pilots will dare to cut into it and reduce the detour to 20 parsecs. Crazy or desperate flyboys might risk cutting it to 15, though few survive.

    So, TWELVE parsecs is beyond bold, beyond courageous, nearing insanity levels of daring...and that's our bwoy Han Solo.

    Something like that.

  • perlchpr||

    That...

    That's the only explanation I've ever heard that makes that line sound not completely stupid. Nice.

  • ByteRot||

    It's the stock explanation from the EU, long-accepted as standard by Star Wars fans.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    I saw the first Star Wars the first weekend it hit the screens in New York. I've watched it throughout, hating it more and more with every new sequel. The last three were horrific. Is "Solo" any good? I don't know and I no longer care. If Hollywood really has people with Sci-Fi imagination and vision, how about some of them show it by stepping off of the Star Bores gravy train and doing something new? Oh, I forgot. They know something with "Star Wars" in the title will make money, and something new might not. As always, just follow the money. Hollywood has now successfully squeezed all the water out of Star Wars as well as the Marvel-based movies but they still make money not because they are any good but because the audience is built-in and over-impressed with CGI. So be it. I couldn't wait for that Saturday night subway trip to Times Square to catch the first one, but I'm damned if I'm going to waste any time or money chasing this stuff.

  • Brian Whittle||

    I'm not a great fan of the Star Wars woowoo but I am a fan of SciFi movies as this has little "the force" and light swordfights nonsense. it's a winner for me.

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