While Evan Dossey’s stance on Solo: A Star Wars Story remains the MFJ’s official assessment, we reserve the right — when revved up about something we want to say — to launch the Bonus Round, which includes supplemental thoughts from MFJ staffers or contributing guests.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is both not entirely a good movie and precisely the sort of necessary risk no other Star Wars film going forward is likely to take — especially in a box-office climate where even a six-figure opening weekend can still add up to a negative number.
That’s not to say Solo is some unsung classic denied its due by a fickle public. It’s a modestly enjoyable entry in the canon, ultimately more notable for the quality of how it looks than the power of the themes on its mind. Woe unto those with dim-projection theaters – and unto a business that lets such atrocities propagate – for being unable to fully enjoy slivers of light and shadow with which Bradford Young stages this terrific, tactile totem to visual communication.
Is Ron Howard a milquetoast filmmaker? Sometimes. But between this and Anthony Dod Mantle’s inside-the-helmet work on Rush, he’s aligning himself with some of the most adrenalized cinematographers around. (No, I don’t think the Phil Lord and Chris Miller version would have been superior; in fact, parts of Solo that work the least feel like their phantom limb.)
Call Solo’s “underwhelming” debut the result of fatigue with a franchise that has, in under three years, given us the same number of live-action films as we’d had in the previous twenty-three. Call it the usual prequel malaise, perhaps amplified by its focus on a character whom we last saw dying by his own son’s hand. Definitely call it Disney and Lucasfilm’s marketing teams screwing the pooch by just assuming crowds. (Hear hear for trailers concealing things, but you’d have thought Lando Calrissian was only in one scene by all accounts.) It’s a little taste of all that bitterness rolled into one package.
But Solo neatly cleaves all four of the new-regime Star Wars films – entertaining to various degrees – into two camps of easy nostalgic beats and challenging re-contextualization. There are some groaning concessions to the former here, a handful of futile attempts to swipe away a spoonful of member-berry puree while your nose is plugged and it’s shoved down your gullet. The namesake, the nicknames, the coda that explains in triple-camera coverage a circumstance we already know, that who-cares character cameo in which screenwriters Lawrence and Jon Kasdan try to make this feel like the MCU. However, Solo generally falls into that far more interesting second group.
Look, everyone loves Harrison Ford. Howard may sometimes be dry toast, but he’s not so dumb as to simply insist that we see the same smirks and quirks with fewer frown lines and mileage.
He’s also smart enough to recognize, within reason, the too-bro path that the Lord & Miller version might have headed down. Granted, their name isn’t on the screenplay, and the Kasdans are ultimately to blame for the utter embarrassment that is the fate of the L3 character (and, perhaps, her big-booty design). It feels like an inexcusable, hardy-har-har hand-wave after the purposeful, and powerful, progressiveness of The Last Jedi.
(OK, so what does Howard bring to it himself? A cliffhanger confidence to the action sequences here that gooses just about every big-ticket moment even if the connective tissue isn’t always there. I’ve seen some screenwriters whom I like dragging on Twitter the train robbery that closes the film’s first act as “action for action’s sake.” If you can’t understand why people trying to lift one specific car from a train wouldn’t want to blow the bridge and destroy their evidence, I can’t do much for you, friend.)
From concept to execution, everything about L3 is one of a few legitimate reasons to dislike chunks of Solo. Another could be the first act’s glacial pace. Or the Vince Vaughn-aping Catskills comedian voice Jon Favreau brings to a useless alien supporting character. Or that this is all that Thandie Newton’s Westworld cred can get her these days.
Again, one of those reasons is not “That doesn’t seem like the precise angle at which Harrison Ford would arch his brow.” Hey, dummies: It’s not supposed to look like that. My general disinterest in prequels is well-chronicled, and while I’m not over the moon on this one, I appreciate its willingness to let Alden Ehrenreich (mostly) do his own thing – which is to say let Han Solo find himself and a compass (however small or wonky it may be). So what if he’s not as interesting as the characters surrounding him? They should be more interesting; they’re the ones from whom he imparts the lessons in who he becomes. There’s fine work all around from Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany and Donald Glover (from whom, after a lethargic turn in Spider-Man: Homecoming, it’s nice to see an equivalent damn given in a project not sprung from his own mind).
Yes, Solo is my second-least-favorite Star Wars movie. There are still about twelve-thousand parsecs between this and Attack of the … Sorry, I Fell Asleep But What Were We Talking About Again? Sand? SAND?! It’s the sort of entry I can imagine enjoying slightly more upon a rewatch.
But I guess Luke Skywalker’s just going to come back to life now and be all over Episode IX because a surplus of dough-bros have written four damn diatribes a piece about why they thought The Last Jedi sucked.