Solo, a beverage (link) and a man. A man who was given his iconic name not through simply being Han Solo, but because an Imperial bureaucrat lacked imagination. Solo, the delicious Norwegian soda, was famous the drink that only did one thing: satisfy your thirst. Solo, a Star Wars story, does not satisfy. Solo, the heist/adventure movie, manages a soft “meh.” This angered me more than I expected as I left the cinema. I’m usually not one to care that much. What struck me constantly during the film was how little I cared for anything. Let’s try to find out why, shall we?
Han Solo is the quintessential rogue character. What satisfies me about his character will not be the same thing that does it for you. My main concern is what can his origin story even be when the ending must birth the character we all hold so dear? The task seems impossible.
This review contains all the spoilers
The imdb summary that meets you when you search Solo (2018) is this: “During an adventure into the criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.” That sure sounds exciting, for two scenes of a film. The real plot is that Solo and his love-interest, Qi’ra (played by Alden Ehrenreich and Emilia Clarke), try to escape their lives on a horrible crime-ridden planet, but only Han escapes. He vows to get enough money to buy a ship so he can return and get her. The film has two heists, a lot of action, and several great actors, but all of it just rolled off me. Perhaps I over-categorise, especially with Star Wars movies, but I kept trying to figure out Han Solo’s driving force. What is this movie, really?
(Side-not: if you have your own theory about this question, or disagree with mine, please comment!)
Obviously it’s not a hero’s journey in the traditional sense. Neither is it a redemptive arc. A man who starts his next chapter shooting first can’t end this one having learnt to be the hero. The logical choice is a fall from innocence. How did Solo become the sarcastic cynical criminal we all meet in A New Hope? But, the film shows us that Han Solo has always been the cheeky, space-poker-playing sonofabitch. He has no qualms about joining either side, willing to kill for the Empire as well as steal from it so long as he gets paid.
Perhaps the story is that of a man who goes from loving street urchin, doing whatever it takes to save his love, to a cynical criminal, trusting no one. This is the narrative the film pushes the hardest, and it works in some ways, but it’s also understated and told, not shown, to a large degree. Over mid-way there is a conversation that takes place between Qi’ra and Solo in which he tells her, in an attempt at classic-Solo bravado, that he is not the “hero type.” But other than the fact that he joined the army (as he was fleeing for his life), and stealing (from said evil Empire), we have no basis to judge this statement. He seems nice enough, and the other criminals treat him as the naïve, loving, kid. Not exactly the “hey, I’m no hero!” type, yet.
The point is, I can’t judge him, or nail down his character. I don’t know what his life was like on Corellia, if he was a good employee to that slug queen thing, if he helped other kids there or had enough to keep himself alive. I don’t know what he really did in the service of the Empire other than complain. When he flushed out of the pilot program did he even care about the Empire’s goals or his part in them? Did he kill people? Did he struggle with justifying his actions by thinking of Qi’ra? Might that guilt grow heavier when he realised she betrayed him in the end? After he gave the space-fuel to the rebels, did he never assist the rebels until A New Hope? What was the lesson he learned at the end of this film? To help the rebels, just this once, and then hold on to his cynical broken heart until Princess Leia awakens his humanity?
If you disliked The Last Jedi, and felt it did a disservice to Luke Skywalker, this is my reaction to Solo. I know, eventually, that I won’t feel this way. The film is fine. It’s a story that tells us what happened in a coherent way and at the end nothing big is made or destroyed. Han’s one great trait is that he yearns to fly through the stars on his own ship, Firefly style. Oh, how I wish this Han Solo became half the man Malcolm Reynolds was, a true noble rogue. At no point did this film let Han be a real character. He felt like a vessel to drive a simple heist film. And that would be fine, if this were Baby Driver, but this is an iconic character. Should not an origin story give us a little more than a standard heist film, with iconic elements sprinkled all over like any old fan-service?
Alden Ehrenreich is not terribly good at an Harrison Ford impression. I actually thought he was kind of cute in the Twilight rip-off Beautiful Creatures (2013), but his acting was about level with that film. Donald Glover lit up his scenes, and was the most fun part. Other than that, no one stood out.
I read somewhere that Harrelson does a great job, and he is always great with what he’s given, but I had issues with his character, perhaps even more so than with Han. In the beginning, Han Solo vows to return for his love. When he teams up with Woody Harrelson’s team, there is some light teasing of him doing all this for a girl. But, we are shown that having someone is important, and Harrelson has a soft side. So, there is no real conflict between hardened criminals and Han’s naïve, loving idealism. Then, Val (Harrelson’s partner) dies – for some inexplicable reason – and we learn that Harrelson is a complete psychopath. He shows no emotion at his lover’s death, and tells Solo that he doesn’t really subscribe to the sharing-one’s-life philosophy. So now, suddenly, we are introduced to the conflict between Solo’s trusting nature and Harrelson’s cynical distrust. A bit late, but OK, let’s roll with this theme. Harrelson is surprisingly flat for the rest of the film, his death an exception.
Qi’ra is another blank spot for me. When Qi’ra leaves at the end we are told nothing of her true motivations. She seems to have had a fascinating journey on her own, but her departure feels like a tease for a franchise, a most unwelcome feeling in a movie titled Solo. I can’t imagine a film I would be less excited for than Qi’ra (2020) or, god forbid, Solo 2: Duo (2021).
The ending is meant to harden Han’s heart. He now trusts no one. Fine, I say, except he doesn’t seem to be a particularly naïve youth to begin with. He easily spots deception, cheats and criminals, he easily plays soldier or thief, and yet he also seems to value life over profit, love over distrust. It’s like the film wants to have both A New Hope Han Solo and pre-A New Hope Han Solo at the same time because the thought of filming or playing any other type of Han Solo was too scary. The lesson at the end therefore falls flat. The film hasn’t really shown us a change, or a turning point, to justify the shoot first guy we meet later. They even undercut it by having him help the rebels, because god forbid Han Solo is anything but a tragic noble guy right from the start.
Perhaps I just love seeing my heroes being torn down? I like The Last Jedi because it sort of ruins Luke’s legacy. I like Man of Steel because it makes Superman morally murky. I even watch The Hobbit because of Thorin’s rather dark storyline compared to the book, to name three often disliked films just randomly. But Solo doesn’t question the myth of Solo. It’s just a heist film.
Is it a passable heist film? I couldn’t say. The sound design was difficult for me. It messed with my tinnitus a lot, so the action scenes were difficult to get into. It was a darkly lit movie, so the visuals didn’t really match the adventurous plot. The music was beautiful, and there were some really cool visuals. But this does not amount to a heist film that gets me excited for the success of the criminals. I didn’t even get who was stealing what from whom until at least halfway through the film.
So in conclusion: Expectations were dashed, but not enough to make a lasting impact. This ranting review will be the last time I think about the film for a long, long while. And isn’t that a bit of a shame?
Dice roll: 2