Jeez, I just thought that movie was tapioca. No structure to the heist, no progression to the plot, not much of a tone or a sense of the state of the world. We were promised a World War II-style heist thriller, a desperate plot to sneak behind enemy lines and snatch the Enigma machine, and instead we got a rambling progression of scenes with a few minor highlights—Mads Mikkelsen as a conscience-wracked engineer and a wonderfully diverse cast of newcomers. But to my eyes, it didn’t feel like a World War II movie … or much of anything really.
Before I go on, let me pause to concede just how little we — or anyone — needs these extra STAR WARS movies. Mostly, I dig ‘em because they’ll give me, as an old-timer, more topics to discuss with my niece and nephew. In essence, these movies are bringing to the fore some of the vast ancillary material that youngsters have been inhaling for years—the CLONE WARS and REBELS cartoons, for example, both of which are excellent, as well as material culled from the supposedly-but-not-really-abandoned “extended universe” novels. To wit, the reappearance of Darth Maul was a huge surprise for me but not for anyone who’s been watching those shows or reading any of those books.
So maybe we *do* need ‘em? Maybe a little? I’ll admit, it brings me great joy to see my niece and nephew growing into such STAR WARS nerds.
Anyway, let’s talk about SOLO. My basic reactions are as follows:
• I liked it way more than ROGUE ONE.
• I liked it way more than I thought I was going to.
• I thought the lead actor, Ehrenreich (?) was surprisingly good.
• The rest of the cast was great.
But more than anything, I was surprised at how the filmmakers conjured such a vivid sense of place and time. One of STAR WARS' structural advantages as a universe is that it afford its creative team a wide array of values, worlds, genres, modes, tones, historical backdrops, and other devices to draw on. Or in other words, when you write a STAR WARS movie, you’re not limited to simple genre pastiche. You can write a war movie. You can write a Kurosawa-style samurai epic. Or a western. Or a crime thriller. (Etc.)
My chief complaint about ROGUE ONE was that the filmmakers didn’t keep their promise to deliver a WW2-style heist thriller. I wasn’t expecting much of anything with SOLO, but to my surprise—I can’t quite say “delight”—the filmmakers depicted a hectic and dangerous frontier that recalled the West Indies of the 17th or 18th century. They situated their lead at the outer edge—or “rim,” in STAR WARS parlance—of a vast colonial government’s influence; an influence that’s quickly fraying. Regional governors and garrisons struggle to maintain control over an empire, only to be subverted by a loosely aligned network of rebels, as well as their own internal corruption. (One story beat that rang especially true—when Han and Qi’Ra plotted to bribe their way past that Imperial guard on Correlia, the possibility of encountering an ethical Imperial official never occurred to them.)
The filmmakers also depicted a world driven by an open slave trade that touched the lives of all the main characters, up to and including Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s fiery L3, a droid driven by the cause of droid- (and human-) rights. Han and Qi'Ra grew up as slaves on Corellia. Both escaped, but Qi’Ra wound up as a kind of courtesan (or indentured servant?) to the movie’s archvillain, Dryden Vos. (A game but miscast Paul Bettany.) When we meet Chewbacca, he’s chained into a mud pit and tasked with devouring Imperial deserters and malefactors. It’s interesting how this scene rhymes with the Rancor battle in RETURN OF THE JEDI. After Luke bested the Rancor, the creature’s caretakers wept at its demise in a moment played for comedy; all these years later, the Rancor has been replaced by one of the most beloved characters in the franchise in a scene played for triumph and empathy. Our sensibilities and values have changed a lot since 1983. That Chewbacca's entire homeworld had been enslaved by the Empire was a bracing revelation, an unexpectedly bold real-world value to import into such a commercial enterprise. I'm still processing how I felt about it.
How could I forget Lando? Donald Glover was, of course, fantastic. His performance was just the right cocktail of a loving recreation and his own thing. Awesome. But unfortunately, Lando himself wasn't given much to do other than be cool—which he is, of course. One symptom of this problem you could detect at the screenwriting level: during their assault on the spice mines of Kessel, they left Lando on the ship.
Rest assured: any time you leave a character on the ship, so to speak, you're goofing up.
Another follow-up thought: I dug how this was a STAR WARS movie in which sex ... existed. Let's face it, Han and Lando are canonically two of the sexiest characters ever, and I loved that this movie was packed with people who clearly had deep feelings for one another — up to and including the delightful L3. Her scene with Qi'Ra where they dished about the men in their lives may not pass muster for the Bechdel test, but man, was it a hoot.
"How does it work?"
"It works," L3 says. Classic!
I’ve got more to say, and I may expand this into a longer review, but for now I’ll hit pause. What say you, gang?