Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Film Review: Solo - A Star Wars Story

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity No objection
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

I think the last two years of Star Wars will be known as its "Dark Ages."  Rogue One and The Last Jedi were two of the darkest entries in the entire saga (and this in relation to Revenge of the Sith).

But Solo: A Star Wars Story is a return to the fun adventure movie in pulp serial tradition.

This movie takes place between Episode III and Episode IV.  We come to find a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) as he tries to escape the slums of Corellia with his girlfriend Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke).  Things become complicated and he ends up a soldier in the Empire where he happens upon the wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suatomo), the rogue Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his partners in crime Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio Durant (Jon Favreu).  Together they begin a caper that has a lot of twists and turns that I will not spoil here.

I will be the first to admit that I came in with incredibly low expectation.  This may contribute to my generally positive impression of the movie.

Director Ron Howard understands Star Wars better than the last two directors in the franchise.  It is a place of danger, but also of excitement and fun.  Han's adventures are thoroughly fun to watch. The chases and action set pieces carry with it a strong visual flair, but they also are full of charm.  Writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan know how to make our anti-hero roguish enough to make him relatable, but heroic enough to make him likeable.  Han is skilled, but he is too cocky and so much of his survival is a combination of that arrogance and dumb luck.   Some critics have pointed out how much Solo comes off as a lovesick boy in this film, but it works because we are seeing how he slowly becomes the man we find in A New Hope.  On top of this, the writers make the dialogue fun and slick.  You feel like you are on the inside of a cool heist gig.

Ehrenreich is surprisingly good in the role.  No one can touch the iconic work of Harrison Ford, but he makes the wise decision of voiding an impression of his predecessor.  Instead, he plays him a lot closer to Mark Hamill in the original Star Wars: full of unearned confidence and not enough world-weary experience.  But part of the fun of the movie is watching the cynicism of the world creep into his world-view while still maintaining a generally virtuous disposition.  He wants to be good, but he learns to not be naive.  In particular, I loved watching the relationship between Han and Tobias develop throughout the film as Tobias plays a kind of dark Yoda, guiding Han through the underworld.  But each of Han's relationships takes on a different flavor, whether it be with Tobias, Qi'ra, Chewie, or Lando (Donald Glover).  And each different type of chemistry adds some enjoyable texture to the character's journey.

The most controversial character is probably L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Lando's droid co-pilot whose dialogue feels like it was written by a college freshmen who just took their first gender-studies class with a Marxist professor who gives extra credit for "die-in" protests.  L3 is constantly hectoring the other character about equality and their own bigotries, which makes her horribly unpleasant.  But she played much more for laughs as indicated by how the other characters roll their eyes when she begins ranting like Britta from the TV show Community.  This is in sharp contrast to Rose Tico from The Last Jedi, who was not only preachy and condescending, but had a completely morally insane morality.  L3 may be cut from the same cloth, but Solo has enough sense to understand how annoying such a character is.  This allows audiences to both laugh at and/or with the character.

Glover is also fantastic as Lando.  Like Billy Dee Williams, he oozes confidence and charm but is markedly different than the rougher-around-the-edges Han.  He looks down on Han the way Han looked down on Luke and constantly emasculates him by calling him "kid."  You can see the seeds of the friendship/rivalry that are planted in this movie and you want to see it develop more.

This movie explores some of the moral murkiness that Rogue One and The Last Jedi explored, but the tone was very different.  Although the movie swims in shades of gray, it is not dark.  The Han we find at the beginning of the movie is in some ways better and worse than the one we find at the beginning of A New Hope.  Han is not a saint, but he is someone who is trying very hard to live by his conscience, which is something that his experience should have crushed out of him.  In some sense his virtue is more heroic because he has no one on which to model his morals.  And it is this daring that is admirable despite his moral flaws, some of which become deeper as the story progresses.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Solo is a great movie.  While it is long on fun and high on spectacle, it is low on depth.  Although, the movie's final confrontation is one that I found surprisingly compelling.  I look forward to seeing this movie again, which is not something I thought I would have said going in.

If Solo is an indication of the direction the Star Wars franchise is headed, then I am ready to strap myself in for the ride.

image by Yasir72.multan

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