SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY
Author's Note: There are spoilers here. You've been warned.
Han. Shot. First.
I never understood why this was so controversial, controversial enough to require a little reediting to satisfy some fans who demanded things be altered to fit their wishes rather than the facts. Han Solo was never meant to be thoroughly heroic. He was a mercenary, a man who cared only about himself and who eventually grew to care about the Rebellion and Princess Leia.
In short, I got all I needed to know about Han Solo in the original series.
That, however, was not good enough for either some rabid Star Wars fans or the Disney Corporation, which figured it needed more money and to create an Expanded Universe to rival Marvel or DC. As such, we are getting a plethora of Star Wars prequels, sequels and origin stories. As such, we have Solo: A Star Wars Story. The end result is not horrible, a credit to director Ron Howard in keeping the chaotic production concluding with a somewhat coherent finish. However, for being an origin story it isn't very original or informative on the early years of our lovable scoundrel.
A (much) longer time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is an orphan of sorts on the planet Corellia. He has a lady love, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) and the two have something that will finance their leaving this sewer planet. They manage an escape from the Fagin-like creature Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt) and then get separated. Han, sad and lonely, joins the Imperial Navy as a pilot, but three years later he's still stuck in the trenches.
Here, he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a criminal who is masquerading as a Captain for some reason.
I'd like to pause at this moment to state that 'Tobias Beckett' is probably the most Earth-like name I can recall as part of the Star Wars universe.
Tobias, along with alien Rio Durant (Jon Favreau) and Tobias' partner/partner-in-crime Val (Thandie Newton), don't want to take Han with them, but after failing in getting him killed by the Wookie known as Chewbacca, reluctantly take him on as part of their crew. They're going to steal coaxium, a valuable material. The plot fails in part because despite Val's warning, Tobias failed to take into account that another thief, Enfys Nest, might try to get at them. Val and Rio die, and worse, Tobias is now on the hook with criminal overlord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).
As it so happens, who should turn up with Dryden Vos but Qi'ra, who appears to be his moll. Now, the criminal gang finds that to placate Dryden, they offer to steal another batch of coaxium, only this time unprocessed. For that, they need a ship, one that Qi'ra can help find through her contact, Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).
Lando, along with his fiery feminist revolutionary droid L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) come up with a plan to go to the planet Kessell and steal the coaxium, then take it to the planet Savareen to process it.
Eventually, Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman) reveals herself, not as a thief, but as the seeds of the early Rebellion against the Galactic Empire, stopping them from letting Dryden get the coaxium which he would have sold to the Empire. Some double and triple crosses and upmanships later, Han and Chewy decline the chance to join the nascent Rebellion, win back the Millennium Falcon from Lando, and we find the Dryden and his mistress Qi'ra are in cahoots with Darth Maul.
Here is the thing with Origin Stories: they almost always fail to be truly original. I think it comes from the fact that no matter what kind of danger the characters are put through, we know that somehow they will make it because if they didn't, we wouldn't have the characters when we first see them. Now, an origin story can fill in blanks and give us new insight into those characters.
Solo: A Star Wars Story didn't.
Instead, it seemed more interested in giving fans a checklist of things that might excite them but that for others would mean little to nothing. Solo seemed dead-set on showing us everything we learned about Han from the original films: the famous sabbac game where he wins the Millennium Falcon, the 'Kessell Run in 12 parsecs', even how Han got his surname: apparently, some random Imperial Navy recruiter named him 'Solo' because Han had no people and thus, was 'alone'.
I think my eyes rolled at that.
I kept hearing about Enfrys Nest, Dryden Vos and Crimson Dawn to where I kept forgetting which was which, unaware that Crimson Dawn was a group and not a person.
One of Solo's greatest flaws is in having so much in it. Perhaps if the Kasdans and Howard had focused on having one major heist, we could have actually gotten to know the first batch of thieves. Instead, Rio and Val are killed off quickly, and frankly, there is no way I could feel sad for characters I barely knew. A stronger focus on one central story rather than a hodgepodge of them with shout-outs to fans might have been more logical, but I think the pressure was on to give hardcore fans what they thought they wanted; more focus was given to all the cool bits of 'oh look, there's THE sabbac game', rather than in giving us actual insight into Han's beginning.
Perhaps the worst aspect of Solo is in inserting Darth Maul into the proceedings. Going only by the movies, I'm pretty sure he was killed off in The Phantom Menace, when the future Darth Vader was a child. Now, somehow, he not only managed to survive something that happened long before the events of Solo but has his own apprentice.
It just seems so outlandish, petty fan service for those who know intimately all the goings on in this galaxy but which seem irrational. The Sith Lord was cut in half and fell into a pit, and now he's back? It certainly makes for interesting chronology to figure out.
I figure Darth Maul's inclusion is to make him part of more Solo prequels, but I genuinely don't see why we would need more backstories when the first one seems so long, convoluted and frankly boring.
It isn't as if Solo does not have some qualities. Chief among them is Glover as Lando, making him the suave, elegant figure that we got to know when Billy Dee Williams played the older Lando in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. There's a reason Williams was nicknamed 'Dark Gable', and Glover gets the smooth sophistication of Williams and Lando.
The sets are nice too. Other than that, I'm working hard to find much to celebrate.
Glover's Lando being a highlight, I guess that makes his 'romance' with L3-37 just bonkers. Some have commented on this droid being more annoying than Jar Jar Binks, a tall order. I didn't think 'she' was, but only because she wasn't on screen long enough. From what I understood, L3-37's love for Lando was mostly one-sided, but this droid was just dumb. In her 'droid rights' rampages and rages, I did not find 'her' to be pushing a social justice warrior agenda.
If that was the reason for 'her' instigating a robot rebellion, then she failed. I took her to be a parody of SJW, comically bad and unnecessary, annoying to no end.
Bless Glover for trying to make Lando mourning her death real when it was more hilarious.
Apart from Glover and Harrelson, who at least has motivation and makes for a more compelling figure, there is nothing among the performances that makes one really believe these will become the iconic characters we'll get to know.
For the most part, however, it's hit and miss to believe Ehrenreich will become Ford, mostly miss. However, I'm giving Ehrenreich some slack because the script would have flustered anyone. Must all heroes/antiheroes all be motivated by thwarted love?
Clarke was decent but not spectacular as the love interest, especially since she didn't seem all that in love to begin with. Bettany at least has the excuse of having been brought in later, but he wasn't menacing as Dryden Efrin Delta Dawn, whatever his name was.
Solo: A Star Wars Story was not horrible. It was just too long for the story it was not telling and generally unoriginal for an origin story. After I left the theater, I was hard-pressed to remember much of it, apart from how long it was and trying to keep the criminals names straight. It was not worthy of the figure who grew in stature during the original saga.
I have a bad feeling about this: we might have worse Solo or other Star Wars origin stories coming.