Solo: A Ruff Around the Edges Story

Only five months after its last film, Star Wars is back in theaters to make the Kessel Run.

The much anticipated Solo: A Star Wars Story released last week to a very mixed reception. Judging by a vast number of the reviews, such as those from Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, for anyone who has yet to see the film for themselves, it seems to be decent at best. While a movie requires viewing for one to form one’s own opinion, from a critical standpoint, the reviews might not be too different.

Solo is the brand new origin story of the infamous smuggler from a galaxy far, far away, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) himself. Han and his new found friend, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), must team up with a band of smugglers in order to earn himself a shiny penny to buy a ship to follow his dream of exploring the galaxy.

To make a long story short, the film starts strong, weakens some, pick backs up, weakens again and then picks up a little to finish things off.

The first act is a great ball of fun and exposition. After a surprise twist on the classic opening crawl, which was noticeably absent from the last “Star Wars Story”, we are immediately shown a young Han struggling to make a getaway after thieving very valuable resource. Together with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), Han tires to escape the desolate slave environment of Corellia, ends up earning his surname, but loses his lover as she is held back by law enforcement. Skip ahead three years, and Han is fighting for the Imperial infantry after having been kicked from the flight academy in what is a dark, muddy and exciting battle ground beautifully reminiscent of World War I.

On this war torn planet of Mimban, Han meets his new pal Chewie as well as a band of scoundrels on a mission. Following their escape from Mimban, Han, Chewie, and the scoundrels make their way to the snowy planet Vandor. Here, one of the film’s most exciting scenes takes place in a train heist for coaxium (extremely explosive fuel) along a rugged mountain side kilometers above ground, any fall sure to guarantee certain death. The heist is exciting, invigorating and full of adrenaline as Imperial Range Troopers come to intercept the Beckett and co., all while a gang of bandits led by the mysterious Enfys Nest (casting withheld for spoilers), rival to Beckett, put up a mighty fight to claim the coaxium for themselves.

One thing leads to another and we are introduced to the crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) who appears to be one of the two main antagonists of the film. Han and the gang meet up with Qi’ra, soon after heading off to meet the lavish Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), one of the most anticipated roles in the film. Lando’s droid sidekick, L3-37 (Phoebe Wall-Bridge), in tow, they set off on their mission to obtain yet more coaxium.

While the film remains entertaining and more fun lies just around the corner, this is where it starts to take somewhat of a dive. L3 is a funny personality, cracking a fair number of humorous jokes and poking fun at the other characters, all the while showing a tad of vulnerability. She is also a very passionate “soul” who stands by her beliefs and is determined to achieve her goals. To put those goals under specification, they are to free droids from enslavement under organic beings. Think civil rights, but for robots programmed with feelings and emotions by organic beings only to be enslaved or forced into lives not too different from dog fighting. A noble and admirable cause, if you will.

Yet in spite of her humorous nature and vital spirit she, at the behest of the writers, goes a bit overboard her “mission” for droid equality. Nothing at all wrong with her goals, and they are a nice addition to the film, but it feels as though the majority of her dialogue is nothing but remarks to the oppressive organics and droids rebelling. The original story of Star Wars was sticking it to the man, and in this day and age equal rights is a very prevalent topic, but L3 somehow managed to push the narrative too far, to a point where it became more about politics than a subplot of a righteous mission to give liberty to others like herself, even managing to detract from the film quite a bit. L3 is a loveable character, but she’s hampered by righting that feels more like pushing an agenda down the audience’s throat than creating fun story with memorable characters, and she suffers because of that.

Soon after the Kessel Run, first alluded to in the original film 41 years ago is finally shown on the big screen. The sequence is a fantastically fun ride that also serves up nostalgia for the famous asteroid field scene from The Empire Strikes Back. The old problem of Han making the Kessel Run in “less than 12 parsecs”, where parsecs was thought to have incorrectly been referred to time while actually a measure of distance is finally solved, which is sure to please many.

From there, the plot begins to slow down until ultimately, the time comes to face down one last time with Nest – and soon after, Vos. What happens is a bit underwhelming to say the least, but is followed up with a plot twist of galactic sale and a satisfying ending that’s hard not to smile at.

Vos, while he may be comparable to a run-of-the-mill crime boss often seen in heist and gangster movies, a a pleasant and charismatic twist to him and made the film a little more enjoyable every time he graced the screen.  Nest, on the other hand, made a spectacular debut and was built up to be this powerful, foreboding foe, but wound up being a bit of a let down (I’ll refrain from going into specifics on how). As sad as it may be to say, the faulty route taken with Nest hurts the film.

Qi’ra is an interestingly gray character who keeps the audience guessing what path she’ll take until the very end. However, the movie give frequent reminders that she’s done things that if Han knew about, he wouldn’t see her in the same light ever again, and completely fails to shed any light on what these were. In a movie that succeeds in answering the questions of other films, failing to answer its own questions is a major drawback.

Answering questions, in fact, are some of the film’s strongest and weakest points. Every time a reference is made, from something as small as Han obtaining his famous blaster to the fateful moment Han and Chewbacca met, nostalgia fills the screen, but at the cost of everything conveniently happening within the span of a few days (bar the aforementioned three year timeskip). In addition to these suspiciously convenient consecutive occurrences, the way in which some of these – specifically Han meeting Chewie – are themselves a bit too convenient. The meeting between the scoundrel and his hairy friend is no doubt fun, hilarious, and heartwarming, all the while following a similar path of Han freeing his new friend from slavery, but after reflecting on it, it feels too, you guessed it, convenient (although, I suppose that could be cut some slack due to how entertaining it was to watch). Addressing the meeting and the Kessel Run were essential to the film, but more time could have been dedicated to Han’s time at the Imperial Academy and the seeds of his path towards becoming the jaded outlaw we first met 41 years ago.

Not to beat a dead horse, but the politics cannot be ignored. Shedding light and inserting a small metaphor to modern social issues is no big deal, but when it’s done on the scale it is in Solo to the point where it feels forced, that’s when it becomes a problem. Star Wars is first and foremost a family film of wild space adventures, an escape from the troubles of the real world to the magic of a galaxy far, far away, not a bulletin board for an individual to pin a banner stating their political beliefs in bright colors on. While they may play a small part in the film, politics in Star Wars has become a problem, starting primarily with last year’s The Last Jedi, and is a problem that most soon come to an end.

Moving back to the film’s strong suits, writers Jon and Lawrence took amazing consideration for not just the expanded universe, but the old “Legends” material, or the old continuity outside of the films and major TV programs before it was wiped clean under the leadership of Disney to make room for brand new stories. Dedicated fans of the franchise will squeal when at these references, and although they may be a shot in the dark to casual viewers, they may just be enough to entice some to do some research when they go home. This type of consideration and universe building that are necessary to a franchise on the scale of Star Wars has been noticeably  absent from the recent films released under Disney, and the dedication to setting up stories outside the film’s plot and showing it is just one tale that’s part of something far bigger than itself is undoubtedly one of the greatest aspects of the movie. The events of the film also make room for a number of potential sequels, so that’s a plus.

Finally, we come to the performances of Glover and Ehrenreich. I did not have too many worries about how Glover would portray Lando, but I was anticipating it nonetheless. Glover matched the charm and charisma of Billy Dee Williams and Lando perfectly, managing not just to play Lando, but to make him his own character.

When it comes to Alden, I has a great amount of concern for the longest time. As the film grew closer to release, however, I slowly grew more confident in his role. Within the first minute or two of the film, I fell in love with Ehrenreich as Han. I knew this was the new Solo – he was perfect. He has the mannerisms, cocky attitude, and unconvincing swindling nature Harrison Ford brought to life all those years ago. He even managed, just like Glover, to give Han his own, younger charm, showing he had yet to become the scruff, Jaded man he would one day become – all the while, of course, making the character his own. Both performances was spectacular, but Ehrenreich’s left me blown away – not to mention that pulling off a character made famous by another actor decades prior is no easy task.

So, was Solo a great film? Not particularly. However, it’s far from a bad film. Maybe it sits around “good”, but it is nonetheless a fun watch that anyone should see if they get the chance. Like the half witted scruffy looking nerf herder to whom the film is dedicated to, Solo: A Star Wars Story is rough around the edges, but does not fail to entertain.