Han shot first! Seriously this time!
by Thom Yee
If you asked me when I was a kid which movie hero I liked better — Indiana Jones or Han Solo — I probably would’ve answered “… was Han Solo the guy in the vest?” And if you asked me how smooth or cool a character I thought Lando Calrissian was in Empire, I don’t think there’s any way you would’ve been able to remind me of who Lando is, what he did, or how he acted in that movie (and I probably wouldn’t have been one hundred percent sure which movie you were referring to when you called it “Empire” [_______of the Sun? _______Records?]). Such was the importance of Star Wars in my childhood. Which is why I don’t feel at all precious about a Han Solo origin movie.
To be clear though, I don’t think a Han Solo origin story was necessarily a smart idea either. But how poorly fans reacted to just the idea of a Han Solo movie? Really, really stupid. Mostly because who cares? Like, I get why you have an attachment to Star Wars, I get that Star Wars was a big and maybe even formative part of your childhood, and I get that there were and are some very valid concerns about the concept of telling the origin of a character who’s never really needed his background to be fleshed out, but a Han Solo origin is something new that some people might like to see. You know that Star Wars isn’t yours, right? Star Wars isn’t yours and yours alone. You get that right? When the prospect of a Han Solo origin movie comes up, your hatred for it can be speculated, but it shouldn’t be presupposed. It’s not like a Robocop or a Psycho remake. It’s not an attempt to retell an already perfectly told story that brings nothing new or interesting to the table. It’s not an artless new take that attempts to go no further and, thus, falls far short of works that were very specific visions from very specific directors. It’s not purely an exercise in futility. It’s just more stories on a character we like. To paraphrase equally beloved/hated actor Matt Damon’s equally supported/hated take on a much more serious topic, there’s a difference. There’s a spectrum. We shouldn’t conflate movies some of us don’t like the prospects of with movies that clearly have no reason to exist.
The pre-release backlash against the very idea of a solo Han Solo movie isn’t quite something I would call unprecedented, but I think it’s reflective of the backlash culture we live in now and all of the weird little cultures we’re sharing in when we’re so easily able to share everything that we’re doing and thinking about at will. Whether it’s reaction, clickbait, outrage, or backlash, there’s a race to the bottom that all of these cultures exhibit, a shared feeling of anger that swirls and collects and collides and explodes in this age where it’s so easy to share our feelings, and I think it all points to the fact that while the arc of the moral universe might bend towards justice in the long, in the short we all just kind of hate each other, and we don’t know what the right and wrong ways to freak out are. In the short-term, we’re all just kind of f*cked. On the other hand, even this little bit of thought and rumination I’ve collected here, just now in trying to sum up some of my feelings (such as they are) towards a Han Solo movie and the people who have hated the idea as we’ve rocketed our way towards Solo: A Star Wars Story’s release last weekend? There might be more thought in this last paragraph than the creators of Solo: A Star Wars Story ever put towards the movie itself. And I get why that might be a little worrying.
What’s it about?
Y’know that guy? That guy in the vest? The guy you actually liked better than the main character in those old Star Wars movies? The guy you thought shot first but never really thought about it until it became a big, huge, stupid issue years later? This is him when he was younger (played by Alden Ehrenreich).
So… you guys really didn’t go for this particular Star Wars story. Early last month, Solo: A Star Wars Story was tracking for a very strong weekend, with projections placing it at well over $150 million dollars in its opening, but by the time the May 25th American long weekend was over, Solo only managed to pull in just over $103 million. Now, I know for most of you these numbers are a bit of an abstraction and ultimately meaningless, but $103 million? That’s a really low number. That’s clearly far less than $150 million. That’s, like, early 2000’s-era opening numbers. That’s less money than Revenge of the Sith opened at in 2005, and I think we can all recognize, even without our Hollywood-Upstairs-Finance-College-issued calculators, that thirteen years of inflation equals that ain’t good.
If you’ve been at all privy to the troubled developments in the production of Solo in the last year, though, it’s kind of amazing that Solo resembles a movie at all. Like last year’s Justice League, a conflagration of strange events conspired to f*ck Solo: A Star Wars Story all up. You may already be aware of the troubles with 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, ostensibly directed by Gareth Edwards but extensively reshot by Tony Gilroy, and you may already have heard back in 2015 of director Josh Tranks “decision” to exit his own Star Wars Story spinoff before the project even got off the ground, but Solo was a movie already more than four months and three-quarters of the way into principal photography when directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were removed from the project and replaced by veteran director Ron Howard to reshoot pretty much the whole thing. Young new directing voices like Gareth Edwards (formerly of Godzilla), Josh Trank (formerly of Chronicle), and the team of Lord and Miller (formerly of The LEGO® Movie) were all brought in for their reverent but fresh takes on the Star Wars lore, but when push came to shove, all, to varying degrees, had their shots taken away from them. With Solo in particular, there were also reports of lead actor Alden Ehrenreich needing acting lessons, disputes between the acting talent and Lord and Miller, and directorial choices during the reshoot process specifically designed to save money. And none of that sounds good either. But y’know what was pretty good? Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Is it any Good?
Why do people like Rogue One?
Seriously. Why do you like Rogue One?
We’ve long ago (two whole years!) made our feelings known on the subject, but what is it that you like about Rogue One specifically? Is it that it’s a war movie? Is it that’s it’s something different in the Star Wars universe? Is it that it’s hard-edged and severe and has serious, irreversible consequences for its main characters? Those are all things I’ve heard about it, but I feel that those things were supposed to make it good far more than I actually felt them when I saw it. Nothing about Rogue One made me think of a war movie, it felt like a slow-moving ideologue (Save the rebellion! Save the dream!) with a big final action scene at the end. An action scene that felt like every other Star Wars movie (X-Wings! Death Star! AT-STs!). It felt like it was supposed to be hard, but it was still silly like most everything else in Star Wars, and sure, everyone died (not spoilers; that was the premise), but I didn’t care about any of those people at all. They were hollow and unexplored and all surface. And that’s why I don’t get why people like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Just like I don’t get why people don’t like Solo: A Star Wars Story. I really liked Solo.
Y’know what’s different about Solo: A Star Wars Story? It’s not important. It’s not trying to tell a story of planet-destroying proportions or galaxy-shaking consequences. It’s small. It’s a story about growing up, a heist story, at times it’s a story of betrayal, and mostly it’s just a fun adventure, albeit one that brushes up against things we’ve heard of before. It’s certainly not doing anything new, nor is it very special or necessary, it’s fairly predictable, and if you didn’t see it in its first weekend or decided to wait for it to hit home video, I wouldn’t blame you. You don’t have to see it right away. You don’t have to see it ever. And I think that’s why the public perception surrounding it right now, as a failure and a disappointment, is all wrong.
You see, way back when Disney bought Lucasfilm, it was an event that not only heralded the return of a big, new Star Wars story, it was an opening of the franchise to do something other than tell more stories of the Skywalker family. In order to support a model that demanded more than a series of movies separated by ten or more years between them, Disney had to do something different, and that’s what the “A Star Wars Story” tag is for. To tell stories that explore the universe and expand it into more than wondering about how the force works or how this character or that character must be related to Luke Skywalker or Obi Wan Kenobi. And if those types of stories are followed through to their potential or if Lucasfilm is even going to try to let those types of stories happen, they can’t all be blockbusters, nor should they be. What we’re learning here with Solo’s “disappointing” box office isn’t that Solo is a bad movie, it’s that the Star Wars label isn’t a guarantee of enormous box office earnings.
So, with that out of the way, if we’re judging Solo: A Star Wars Story as a movie, then I think it’s pretty good. It’s not great, it’s not bulletproof or unassailable, but it’s entertaining, especially if your guard isn’t up against it and if you don’t want to see it fail. The characters are fun and easy to understand and you get why they do what they do, even when they’re petty or self-serving or directly betraying the others, the action is involving and mostly easy to follow (I would even say I liked an early war-set scene in Solo better than anything I saw in Rogue One), and the monsters are well done and fit well in the universe.
We first meet young Han and his girl Qi’ra (Emiia Clarke) on the shipbuilding world of Corellia, we’re quickly on his side as the movie progresses briskly from Corellia to Han’s time as a soldier and to his first opportunities to become a scoundrel, and by the time the adventure is through, I feel like we know a little bit more about Han Solo without feeling like we know too much. And that’s really the trick. The best thing we get from meeting a younger Han Solo is vulnerability, a potential for growth only hinted at when you see Alden Ehrenreich’s version of Solo and how it compares to Harrison Ford’s. Ehrenreich has a version of Solo’s swagger and a suggestion of self-confidence, but there’s a twitch there, something under the surface that we know he’ll get better at hiding later, but for now he has a tell that lets you know he’s a good person on the inside even though that’s the furthest thing he wants you to think of him. I think it contrasts really well with the Solo we meet in A New Hope, and, to be honest, at this point I actually prefer Ehrenreich’s version of Han Solo more than Harrison Ford’s. And that’s a huge triumph for the movie.
Further, I believe in the relationships Han has with Qi’ra and where that goes, Solo and Chewie work really well together and you get why they would stay together, and the influence Beckett, Woody Harrelson’s character, has on Solo is sincere without the movie being too overwrought about how the character would be Solo’s mentor (plus I love the way Beckett handles himself in a fight, all flippy and dexterous and almost the opposite of that time Harrison Ford was too tired [or sick or something] to do the fight scene with the sword guy in Raiders of the Lost Ark). The only real complaint I have with the cast is Donald Glover’s Lando, and it’s not a big problem, there are times when Glover gives an effortlessly perfect recreation of the character with nothing more than a smile, it’s just that there are a few times in the movie where it equally felt like he was doing a Lando impression. And I didn’t love Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s turn as the droid L3-37 either, not because of the actress, I just didn’t love the character (though, on an entirely unrelated note, I will highly recommend Waller-Bridge’s writing on Killing Eve, which was excellent in its first season [maybe the show of the year so far]).
And sure, there are a few things I would change about Solo that I think would make it better, it could reach higher or mean more, I would agree that it’s not a movie that commits very hard to the idea of setting Han Solo on a darker path even though it could have and maybe even should have, and I won’t disagree with those of you that didn’t want to see the Kessel Run, but there are very few movies that we wouldn’t all make changes to given the chance, either for the audience or for ourselves, and I at least think there’s enough entertainment value here to let those things pass. Yeah, it’s dumb that there’s a train heist in a universe full of space ships, it’s questionable that Han and Qi’ra would ever have the chance to meet up again later, I didn’t like the surprise twist cameo towards the movie’s end at all, I would have ended the movie a little earlier and with slightly fewer double crosses, and there’s a weird darkness to the cinematography that I think gives away that they were reshooting the movie on the cheap after wasting so much money on Lord and Miller’s original version, but none of that takes away the fact that I had a good time with Solo.
So should I see it?
Look, I’m never going to be a big Star Wars fan. Aside from it never being presented in the right light for me to really take it all in (i.e., I saw it out of order, when I was older than ten, and after growing up with comicbook superheroes instead), I think I just had a thing against whiny, wimpy lead heroes when I was a kid. Maybe that’s why my favourite Star Wars movie was The Last Jedi. Because I don’t have a big attachment to Star Wars. And maybe that’s why, along with The Last Jedi, Solo is another of my favourite Star Wars movies.
If you’re going to Solo for traditional Star Wars reasons, then you might be disappointed. And if you’re going to Solo with all of the traditional Star Wars baggage, you may have already made up your mind. Solo takes place on a much smaller scale and nothing particularly meaningful or extraordinary happens in it. But you should know that by the very definition of what it is: Han Solo’s origin. It’s a small movie. Just like Marvel can’t have a new Avengers or Civil War every single year, Lucasfilm can’t tell a new part of the mainline saga every year. Those types of things need to be special, they need build up and timing to mean something special and make (i.e., earn) something special. That’s why you have Ant-Man movies, and that’s really what Solo: A Star Wars Story is — it’s Lucasfilm’s Ant-Man.
Ultimately I was really happy with Solo. Maybe not intellectually like The Last Jedi, but just in all the feels. Where most of the Star Wars entries left me cold, this one left me feeling something towards the characters, their struggles, who they are and who they want to be. It’s a cute movie that I really liked, sort of in the same way I actually end up liking a lot of romantic comedies even though they’re not my bag. It’s not perfect and nowhere near transcendent, if you feel differently about everything I’ve laid out here, I wouldn’t say you’re wrong, but if you’re bound and determined to hate it or if you think it’s cynical and everything that’s wrong with where Star Wars movies are headed, I think that’s putting a lot on and way overthinking what’s just a fun little movie in the Star Wars universe.
Although it was the most expensive one to make.
Thom’s Solo: A Star Wars Story final score
On the Edge
- Why did Han ever stop wearing that jacket?
- I never thought I’d love an afro on Thandie Newton this much!
- Oh Clint Howard. Will you ever win?