Spoilerific Thoughts On “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

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Rosé All Day In The GFFA!  (Seriously, what’s this movie’s fascination with rosé wine?)

Spoilers ahoy!

As of writing, I’ve seen the movie twice and I really enjoyed it both times.   Forget those tales of a troubled production; Ron Howard made a solidly entertaining, fun film with lots of goodies and surprises for fans of most stripes.

“Solo” is basically a heist movie and a Marvel-esque origin story at the same time.  When we meet Everyone’s Favorite Smuggler, he’s a runaway living in Corellia’s dark and filthy underworld hoping for the big score to get him and his girlfriend Qi’ra away from their Fagin-like “master.”   We march through Han’s escape from Corellia, how he ended up with his last name, his abrupt and necessary decision to go to the Imperial Academy, his time as an Imperial officer, his first meeting with Chewbacca, and his re-entry into the galaxy’s underworld with his mentor, Tobias Beckett.  We witness his first meeting with Lando Calrissian and finding the love of his life, at least the one that isn’t a breathing person, the Millennium Falcon.  The famous sabacc game?  It’s there.  So’s the legendary Kessel Run.  All of the while, Han’s penchant for trouble and not listening to anyone but himself puts him in danger over and over.  It’s all great character development and enjoyable to watch.  But there’s more!  In “Solo,” we see the gray and topsy-turvy world of the galaxy’s criminal class.  Sometimes it appears glamorous and beautiful, sometimes it looks just like what it is:  dirty and awful.  The good turns out to be bad and the bad turns out to be good.  All of the while, Beckett reminds Han never to trust anyone.

So, you might ask, what did you think of Alden Ehrenreich?  Alden was in the same crappy position that Chris Pine was in while playing Captain Kirk in the more recent Star Trek films; it’s very difficult to step into a very famous role played by a very famous actor.  Ewan McGregor had a similar problem but because he played Obi-Wan decades younger, it gave him a lot more wiggle room to define the character himself while making it credible he and Alec Guinness were playing the same guy.  Ehrenreich and Pine were playing their respective roles less than 20 years younger than their more legendary incarnations.  That’s tough.  I’m certain some people are blowing off this film simply because they can’t accept someone else playing Han Solo.  The other side of that coin is it’s precarious in HOW you play the character.  Take on too much of Ford’s affectations, it looks like an impersonation, one that could descend into parody fast.  Completely ignore them and people won’t connect that it’s Han Solo at all.  Now, Ehrenreich doesn’t really look much like Ford.  He’s shorter, his nose is smaller, the whole shape of his face is different.  There’s only a bit of resemblance around the eyes and the makeup people thoughtfully added Ford’s chin scar.  It’s a little jarring when you realize that eventual son Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) really does look related to Ford while Ehrenreich looks like neither one of them.  My mom the movie critic, who saw the movie with me and my brother the first time, thought Ehrenreich is actually better-looking than Ford.  But (and there’s always a but) attitude can make up for a lack of resemblance.  More on that in a second.  For what it’s worth, Ehrenreich does have the right attitude.  It’s like seeing a more boyish Han, one who gets by on b.s. and bluster, who’s a tiny bit full of himself, and who hasn’t experienced a decade’s worth of betrayals yet to come and other things that made him far more world-weary in ANH.  This Han is charming and self-assured, a cinnamon roll whose circumstances define him but won’t defeat him and turn him into well, Qi’ra.  From this movie, it’s easy to see why he was drawn to Rey in TFA.  He saw a lot of himself in her.

Everyone does a pretty bang up job in the film performance-wise.  I have to say Donald Glover absolutely kills it as Lando.  Glover doesn’t really look like Billy Dee Williams but he’s got the Lando-ness down perfectly:  the smoothness, the vague sleaziness, the flair for fashion, and all around cool.  He even nailed Williams’s way of speaking without making it an impersonation.  Glover has so much charisma in the part, I really wouldn’t mind seeing him again in his own adventure.  Woody Harrelson was an excellent fit as Beckett.  Harrelson brings his own charisma and worldliness as the father figure who initiates Han into the life that as prophesized, he never got out of.  Casting him was a great idea.  Also worthy of mention is Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37, or simply “L3.”  Funny and sassy, you’ll be touched by her short time onscreen.  And the mysterious Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman) who turns out to be not quite what we thought.

The surprise in this turned out to be Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra.  Of all the new characters, she’s easily the most fascinating.  She’s beautiful, smart, resourceful, and tough but also a bit of a femme fatale.  She has a heart but she’s also hungry and hell bent on not ending up a Corellian street rat again.   She is what Han could have been with a few degrees of difference in his personality or more time spent a virtual slave on Corellia, what Rey could have been had she decided to trade on her looks and feminine wiles for material security from crime bosses.  The interesting thing about her is she clearly cares about Han.  I don’t know if she loves him per se but she does care about him enough to know she has to protect him from her.  She’s sort of like that old Amy Winehouse song, “You Know I’m No Good.” Paul Bettany’s character and Beckett both warn Han that he doesn’t know her as well as he thinks he does and that she’s done some pretty bad things.  We know for sure she allied herself with a crime syndicate that has committed atrocities and well, we find out toward the end how far her darkness extends.  She accepts Han’s affections but to a point.  Why?  She knows they can’t get attached.  At the end, when she splits in the mobile Crimson Dawn HQ, it seems to parallel the last Force bond seen in TLJ.  In TLJ, Rey has to do it for her own sake as well as Kylo’s.  In this movie, Qi’ra does it for Han’s own good.  The more he’s kept away from this stuff the better, not so much IMO she fears that lifestyle would destroy him as she realizes at some point her knife has to go between Han’s shoulder blades if he keeps hanging around.

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Poor Han.  Not only can the guy never escape trouble, he’s constantly faced with betrayal throughout his life, which it is easy to see why he leans so much on Chewie.  Say what you will about Chewbacca, but he’s the one of the very few beings who never lets Han down.  Sadder yet are the implications of Han’s upbringing and his relationships with authority/father figures.  In one conversation with Lando, Han mentions his blue collar dad that he wasn’t close to.  Who knows what THAT relationship was like?  Han tells his Imperial recruitment officer that he “has no people,” so the officer christens him Solo.  (For all we know, Han’s real last name is Wallbanger or Horowitz or Seymour-Butts.)  Why Han was on the streets is still a mystery.  Did Han simply run away from home?  Was it disagreement and butting heads or was there severe dysfunction, i.e. addiction, abuse, neglect?  Did Han do something to the old man?  We don’t know and it’s not like Han to tell.  Han takes to Beckett as a surrogate father figure who of course betrays him.  Another fascinating and tragic parallel takes place near the end of the movie.  Most people pay attention more to the “Han shot first” aspect of it rather than how this scene predicts Han’s eventual fate in TFA.  Han kills his father figure just as his own son will eventually kill him.  Han of course was acting in self-defense but it’s tragic all the same.  Han’s family situation also predicts the struggles he has in his relationship with Ben Solo.  In this context it makes sense that a man who had no idea what a dad is like would struggle to be one himself, especially since he’s almost or at middle age when it finally happens.

Another thing to love about “Solo” is its careful attention to the mythos.  The film has the style and feel of Brian Daley’s novels from back in the day, while much of Han’s backstory, known to Star Wars lore fans for decades, is in here.  Moreover, elements from the expanded universe, video games, The Clone Wars, and the prequels are brought in to great effect.  Teras Kasi?  Glee Anselm?  The Maw?  Carrida?  Aurra Sing’s fate? Colo claw fish roe as an appetizer?  It’s all in here!

I will say this:  DARTH MAUL’S SHOCK CAMEO GIVES ME LIFE!!!

I blurted out, “What the hell?!”  when he turned up at the end of the film.  (I also had to explain to my brother, who had never seen The Clone Wars or Rebels, why Maul was still alive.)  A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one.  That Qi’ra is working for him has a whole host of implications for her and possibilities for Maul to return in other Star Wars canon.  And yes, that’s Ray Park reprising his role and Sam Witwer voicing him.

“Solo”’s score is pretty good, a mix of original and unique music and John Williams’s classic scores.  Listen for some fun callbacks like “Asteroid Chase” from TESB.

Like “Rogue One,” “Solo” is a smaller movie than the bigger, sweeping main saga flicks.  It doesn’t have TLJ’s artistic ambitions or haunting quality.  But there’s room for a movie that’s pure fun with a few more layers than expected.

On a related note, check out this article from Wired.  Never a pro-prequel publication, it acknowledges that we’re winning!

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