After letting this sit a few days, I think I can say that this is the first Star Wars movie that I will not see a second time in theatres and that I really don't care to see again.
I went on Thursday night and the theatre was more than half empty. I have never experienced that for a Star Wars movie before. It looks like Solo is set to severely underperform at the BO (originally projected to do $175M for the holiday weekend and will likely end the 3-day weekend at $95-100M), which hopefully LF internalizes as this being a dreadful ($250M) mistake.
Listen, I just can't separate Han Solo from Harrison Ford and I acknowledge that's going to be a problem for me before I even walk into the theatre. But as I said before, the marketing started to get me and did have hope that I could be surprised. I say this because the majority of my issues with Solo are at a filmmaking level. Yes, I've got a few nits but they would have been forgivable if I thought the film worked overall.
I'll start with what I thought worked:
- the set design, and practical settings are great, as is typical with this new batch of Star Wars. Like the movies or not, it's not like the production design teams are mailing it in. I liked how Corellia was imagined as a Detroit-like industrial urban wasteland. I wish we got to see more of the city, rather than the Flint, Michigan-esque industrial outskirts, but I dug that. It makes total sense that Han would come from a place like that.
- I really liked the creature design. Mother Proxima felt like something I'd seen in Total Recall. Straight out of the 80s in appearance and performance. I agree that it would be nice to see more of the OT/PT creatures, but that would be more of a nit for me.
- The idea of the Kessel run behind a treacherous path to the planet, which required flyers to navigate on/off world via number of checkpoints was very neat.
- References to the other movies: Liked how Lando's salute to Han in ROTJ was worked into something he had done with L3; Lando's skiff disguise; "fair and square!" might have been my favourite line of the movie; using the Imperial March as diegetic music was cute, and I loved hearing it on Mimban.
- Darth Maul's clone wars/rebels backstory making it into a feature film was very cool to see. His igniting his lightsaber was silly and unnecessary, though.
- Threepio having difficulty communicating with the Falcon makes a bit more sense now. L3 is a giant pain in the ass (but she's sassy!).
- Alden's performance. Yes, even despite the fact that I don't think this film works as a Han Solo origin story, a heist movie or a Star Wars underworld movie, I think he did the best he could to channel the spirit of the character and try and make it his own. I definitely had to force myself to believe that this was Han Solo, and I never got there, but it's not his fault. This entire production was a fool's errand.
- Donald's performance. I don't think there was ever a doubt that Gambino would deliver here, but the mountain was far less steep to climb. Billy Dee Williams is awesome, and his Lando is still the guy I'll always think of, but he ain't the star of Harrison Ford.
- The pacing. I can't say this film didn't move, or engage me for two hours and change. I had some fun with it, but in the same way I'd say I had fun with Jurassic Park 3. A competently made film by a director who can get us from point A to point B, but with a story that is frustratingly pedestrian, which for franchises of the caliber of Star Wars or Jurassic Park feels painful to experience. Even the action beats don't feel clever; they're simply competent. What was interesting about the conveyex heist? Two guys unhook the car with the goods, Val blows the bridge, Beckett hooks the car so it can be lifted by the freighter. So what? We've seen this kind of stunt dozens of times before and done better. This is even dumber when you stop to consider why the Empire would even need to transport important materials through treacherous terrain when they have fucking spaceships.
That's a good segway to what I don't think works:
- There are far too many moments where I felt like the script wasn't just taking lazy shortcuts to progress the plot, it was being flat out stupid. For example, saying your plan for getting through customs is to bribe the Imperial officer, and then it just working according to plan, is ridiculous in a movie like this. They play this scene like it's some kind of exchange, except Han takes a leap of faith and gives the goods without the door being opened. So after she gets the stuff, why again does this POLICE OFFICER have reason to give him what he wants? They’re space Nazis, but apparently this woman is so honourable that she lets this thief pass, even though she could have gotten what she wanted AND become a hero for detaining a criminal. This absolutely made no god damn sense to me. It was manufactured simply to separate Han from Q'ira. The script is full of this kind of shit.
- Han…Solo. I actually don’t hate the idea of Solo not being Han's birth name, but for this scrub of an Imperial recruitment officer to name him felt strange and meta. If Han had come up with the name himself in that moment, realizing that he’s on his own now with nobody to trust but himself, I might not have had as much a problem with it. Still, it is the answer to a question absolutely nobody cared to ask.
- Alright, so in the opening act this movie tells us that it's going to be about Han’s journey to becoming a great pilot, right? So why do we skip over his entire time at the academy where he, you know, learned to fly? This is supposed to be the guy's reason for being - his superpower - but we don't know if he's ever any good by the time he joins Beckett; he just keeps telling us he's a great flyer. For an origin story, this feels completely unearned and relies entirely on what we know of Han from the other movies. That's the massive problem with this script - it doesn't even fucking know what this movie's about. Is it about Han becoming a pilot? His love affair with the Falcon? Is it about him trying to find a way to get home to his girl so they can run away together (he doesn't need to be a pilot, or own a ship to do this, by the way)? Is it about him meeting Chewbacca and building a friendship that will last a lifetime? Is it about Han getting his stuff, like his trusty DL-44 (also an answer to a question nobody asked)? Is it about him turning on the Empire after realizing it's up to no good? Is it about Han getting wrapped up in the wrong business and becoming an outlaw? For some reason the film also thinks it could be about the formation of the rebellion. Ultimately, it can't be all of these things and expect to do any of them well, and it doesn't.
- OK, so let's back up a second. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is the stuff that's not in it, namely that Han Solo got kicked out of the academy. Why did he clash with his superiors? How did he end up as an infantry grunt? I'm imagining a sort of Top Gun in space, which could totally have worked because Han IS that maverick. Funny enough, the best movie Ron Howard has directed in the last decade was Rush, which could have totally translated to the character and action beats of this film. Missed opportunity.
- The film tries to squeeze all the lore we know about the character Han Solo (how he met Chewie, how he got his blaster, how he met Lando, how he won the Falcon, the Kessel run, how he came to work for Jabba, etc) in one movie, and means to tell us that this all happened over the span of a week. Think to your own life for a second, and everything that defines you as an individual: how does this make any goddamn sense? I get it - it's a movie - but it's the absolute worst case scenario of what a Han Solo prequel would be.
- I guess we don’t really need to learn how Han learned to speak Shyriiwook but I have got to think there was a better set up for Han meeting Chewie (namely, after he was kicked out of the academy, being sent to work in the spice mines with the Wookiees) and one that would better explain how he picked up this language that nobody except three known human characters (including Obi-wan) have understood. I’ll admit this is a sheep nit but considering this movie DOES go to Kessel, the planet that’s famous for using wookiees as slaves, it seems strange that Han meets Chewie on Mimban.
- Forget a Han Solo origin story, this film fails as a heist movie. When I think of great heist movies, in my mind the most important set of scenes are those that deal with the planning/preparation of the heist. That’s how the stakes are set up, and it’s actually what gets us emotionally invested with its execution. None of this really happens in Solo, so I didn’t really care about the conveyex job (or the characters who perish during it) and aside from knowing what the “goal” was for the Kessel job, I could hardly get excited about the execution of that sequence because there was no build up to it. It just felt like random things were happening, which eventually leads to a firefight. Compare this with Ant Man, the Marvel “heist movie,” where the film takes its time plotting out the implications for failure and the heroes’ recipe for success so that the Yellow Jacket job actually has emotional stakes. It’s not like I’d ordinarily use Ant Man as an example of an exemplary heist movie, it’s just that it accomplishes the job that much better than Solo (and it’s also the child of a troubled production).
- So what was the actual arc for Han in this film? And how doesn't his support for the rebels in the last act cheapen his character development in the OT? He’s optimistic at the beginning of Solo, a good guy, and he’s practically the same dude at the end of the film. If we really wanted to tell an origin story for the Han Solo we meet in ANH, shouldn’t it have been the story of how he went from being a selfless optimist to selfish pessimist? We never get any world weariness from this Han Solo, and we even end the movie with his spirits having never been higher. <But CoGro! He shot first! Good guys don't shoot first!> Lousy fan service is not character development. This is the type of prequel that makes the original films worse.
- Do we really buy Q’ira’s turn? Is it a turn? Is she even evil? Why would she be evil? I honestly do not understand what this character wants to accomplish in this movie or in her life. I don’t believe that this is a performance problem, because I actually didn’t mind Clarke in the film, I just don’t know what motivates this person since we never get to see her in a scene where she isn’t subservient to the other characters. We never see the world from her perspective. She just keeps saying some version of "I'm not the person who I used to be." That isn't character development. Maybe her desire to be a crime boss would have made more sense had the script allowed us to spend time with her independently.
- I'm this far into talking about the film and I haven't said the name Woody Harrelson. Not that he wasn't alright, but because I found the character Beckett pretty forgettable. He's the guy who tells Han not to trust anyone...because by saying this, the audience can believe that Han will develop into someone who doesn't trust anyone.
- So, the Kessel run is set up to be the major set piece of the film, but I didn’t feel the weight of it in the moment. And I might be forgetting something, but is it ever actually explained what the Kessel run is? The fact that I’m having to figure this out without the movie explicitly providing this information makes the entire sequence feel underserved. This is literally the thing Han Solo and the Falcon are known for - hell, IT’S THE REASON WHY YOU’D MAKE A HAN SOLO MOVIE TO BEGIN WITH - and it just happens ho hum.
- Referencing the asteroid field music reminded me a far, far better movie.
- The opening titles looked awkward and cheap.
- I really don’t want Darth Maul to figure into any future Solo movies. I also don’t want there to be any future Solo movies.
- Not only does John Williams’ theme for Han Solo feel invisible in the film, but when you actually listen to it, it doesn’t feel like a Han Solo theme at all. It doesn’t remind me of a rogue smuggler: it feels heroic and majestic, which is supposed to be the opposite of who Han is at this time of his life.
- Please, no more token droids in these movies. Not every Star Wars story needs one.
Long post but yeah, despite having a bad feeling about this movie since it was rumoured in 2012, I actually think there was a way to make it tell a story I’d enjoy. Strangely, this might be the script that had the most time and attention paid to it of any of the new movies. Unfortunately, I think it gets more wrong than it does right. A truly baffling effort from Kasdan.
If you enjoyed the film, good on you. I'm happy you had a fun time at the movies. I just can't see how this movie represents anything but the demystifying of this character and the cheapening of this brand.
EDIT: $83M opening weekend, which is putrid. I hope this answers the only question anyone could have asked about a Han Solo movie, which is: does anybody want to see this? Answer: No. Not really.