Hopefully enough time has passed to avoid spoilers. But still, if you haven’t seen it yet, be warned that there will be spoilers!
Let’s do this.
Episode Number: X – Released: 2018 – Production Number: 10
“Hey, it’s me!”
To be honest, I wasn’t super enthused about a Solo movie, since we already had A.C. Crispin’s AMAZING Han Solo trilogy, and the character himself always had a sort of inexplicable quality to it, kind of like Shane or James Bond. He just was. Plus, all of his exploits had a mythic quality to them. The Kessel Run, the abandoning of Jabba’s cargo shipment, the life debt that Chewie swears to Han, they all happened, but I wasn’t sure how much of it we needed to see.
Now Star Wars started out as a very Homeric type of story with larger-than life characters and sweeping events. The sequel trilogy as well as the standalone films have been taking a different approach, tearing down the walls of untouchable myth and injecting some humanization into the whole thing. Rogue One wasn’t about mythic heroes we’ve heard so much about. It’s about normal, desperate people. The Last Jedi gave force powers to a poor stable boy and featured the heroic acts of everyday people trying to stay alive. So, in THAT vein, I think it was time to add some human dimensions to Han Solo, and I think this film does that very well.
Plus, hats off to Alden Ehrenreich for a fantastic performance. I like how Ron Howard didn’t get him to copy Harrison Ford completely. Instead, he took aspects of the character and was able to create a new take on the character, one who’s younger, more naive, less confident, and more willing to trust others. I hope he sticks around for future films.
The Dark Times
I also like that we get more of a look at what life under the Empire was. Rogue One did a good job of showing things from a street level. Solo shows us a look at what it was like inside the ranks of the soldiers fighting the Empire’s campaign of conquest. They’re not stormtroopers. They’re normal grimy soldiers. And I like how we see the tenuous hold the Empire has on their own people. There’s dissent and there’s corruption, and it’s easy to see how, once the Emperor was defeated, the Empire itself didn’t last long after that.
Plus, I appreciate how we saw some likable Imperials, especially the guy who gave Solo his name. It gives a sense of scale to the Empire we didn’t get before. The farther we get away from the Emperor (and Vader), the less of a stranglehold (literally) they have on their people. In past movies, we were always on the Imperial flagship or the Death Star, places where everyone died immediately if they didn’t obey. Solo gives us a look at the disenchanted fringes of the Empire, which makes the whole thing feel much more real.
Plus, I like how the Empire isn’t central to the plot, but they’re always there. When that massive star destroyer shows up near the end (accompanied by John Williams’ original Imperial fanfare from A New Hope nonetheless!) we don’t get a view into the workings of the bridge. It’s just part of this pervasive presence, something our main characters would always be living in fear of.
Big Walking Carpet
One thing I am surprised wasn’t mentioned in the film was Chewie’s life debt to Han. We see Han save his life multiple times, kicking it all off by liberating him from an Imperial pit, but we never get a formal declaration of said debt. I find myself wondering if the life debt is strictly an EU thing. We always figured it was there, and the expanded universe formalized it, but it’s never brought up in any of the films. We know that Jar-Jar swears a life debt to Qui-Gon, but we never hear Han mention it in any of his appearances.
I wonder if Lucasfilm decided to veer away from the life debt thing. Either that, or it will be mentioned in later films (there have been hints that there will be more Solo films). Either way, it was great to see Chewie get the limelight for once.
I really appreciated how Chewie almost eclipsed Han at first. When they’re hired, it’s because Chewie is an impressive ally (and Han is the unpredictable tag along), so we get to see some amazing action scenes with Chewie beating everyone up and being generally heroic and incredible, which he deserves! Chewie’s the best, and I’m glad this film shows that off, and not just in one scene or so. The bond that develops between Chewie and Han is believable and well-written, but it’s nice to see the reversal of the dynamic we’re used to, with Chewie being the one more or less in charge, and Han’s the goofy sidekick (not that Chewie is ever goofy, per se, but you know what I mean).
A More Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy
The supporting cast in this one is great, though I think Rogue One still wins for “Best Ragtag Group Ever.” But this is still a great bunch of characters. I like how Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra comes back with a lot more weighing on her soul (as we find out later, said weight comes from getting involved in ex-Sith crime boss Maul, which makes sense why she has become so corrupt) from the rather flat person we meet in the beginning.
First off, I’ll say that Donald Glover’s Lando is PERFECT. He feels very much like a young Billy Dee Williams. He captures Lando’s feel perfectly, and I like how he’s still a bit of a dandy here, but by the time we meet him in Cloud City, he’s graduated to self-assured bamf. This movie makes his whole redemption arc so much more powerful because we see the sort of antagonistic relationship he and Han had, and then when Solo is able to forgive his betrayal in between Empire and Jedi, it shows just how far they’ve gone. Lando is a HUGE favorite of mine, and I was happy to see his character done justice.
Woody Harrelson’s Beckett is a charming rogue whose ultimate betrayal unfortunately is pretty easy to call, hearkening back to Donovan in The Last Crusade from another Lucasfilm tentpole who tells Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones not to trust anyone in the beginning, only to reveal himself as a Nazi later on.
A major shout-out goes to L3, the social justice droid who casually creates a droid rebellion, all because she wants to get to a single console. She’s a sassy delight, and easily one of the film’s best characters, though I think Lucasfilm should dial back the sassy droid characters for the time being, lest they fall into a repetitive trend.
I wish Jon Favreau’s Rio and Thandie Newton’s Val had more to do rather than being expendable characters early on. They were both fantastic.
A Score to Settle
I also want to give a shout out to John Powell’s score. He composes slick, catchy modern music. His “Assassin’s Tango” from Mr. and Mrs. Smith is one of my favorite movie music moments. I wasn’t sure how that sort of aesthetic would work with the Wagnerian complexity of John Williams’ Star Wars musical palette. Michael Giacchino did an amazing job with Rogue One, but he did so by following Williams’ style very closely and respecfully. Powell’s score has the benefit of a special Han Solo theme composed for the film specially by Williams to give him a sort of musical anchor in the Star Wars world, but I think he does a beautiful job of branching out and giving Star Wars a bit of modern slickness that fits the Solo character without damaging the integrity of the Star Wars feel.
His score has more digital flourishes than Williams or Giacchino used, but they fit, giving the whole thing a Mission Impossible feel, which is great, since a great deal of the film is a caper. I’m actually really excited to see the Star Wars musical landscape open up to other composers, each bringing something a little new to the beautiful musical tapestry that Williams created. I like how each new composer is very respectful of Williams’ library of themes (the chase scene in the maw was filled with classic Williams musical cues) but they’re also not afraid to push things in new directions. I look forward to seeing how new composers are able to expand the horizons of the Star Wars universe.
My one gripe about the film is that a lot of things don’t carry a lot of heft because we know that Han, Lando, Chewie, and the Falcon will 100% survive. We know Han will complete the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs (a journey that is originally a much zig-zaggier 20 parsecs of travel), and we know that as soon as we see Han dropped into a pit with a muddy angry Wookiee, he’s not in any real danger because that’s OBVIOUSLY Chewie.
But it is great to see Han’s journey from roguish optimist to the roguish cynic we meet in A New Hope. I love how it expands the Star Wars universe in general, and I love how it sets up some fantastic future storylines (perhaps in another Solo movie or maybe in an animated Solo series) featuring Maul who’s easily one of the greatest parts of the Star Wars animated canon.
I look forward to the future! Now, it’s on to Episode IX!