Solo (2018) Review

This article contains more spoilers than the film contains plot holes.

Let me start by saying that I am a big Star Wars fan, or was when I was younger. I am old enought to have worn pre-Phantom Menace late 90s Yoda shirts to elementary school, get bullied, bury my nerdy interests (the most intense of them being my encyclopedic knowledge of Star Wars), and then see that kids were playing Pokemon in college and realize, "oh, I am allowed to do this." I still have my massive toy collection at my family home, I still have a few really dumb tattoos I got referencing my favorite characters. No, dumber. Dumber than that. Imagine Admiral Ackbar's best known line as a tramp stamp. Slightly dumber. That's it. I distanced myself from Star Wars when they started churning out terrible movies. I enjoyed the most recent half dozen since Disney became the great Galactic Media Empire. I haven't felt like any of them really captured how the originals made me feel. Though, I don't think my body produces seratonin the way it did when I was 12, anyway.


"This is the ideal male body. You may not like it, but this is what peak performance looks like." - Me, 1998

Solo felt like a great adventure from the start. Ignoring all of the media hubub about the production struggle, I didn't come in expecting much and got more than I expected. At times, it felt like something between Star Wars and Indiana Jones, a perilous adventure of an intrepid rogue. I have read the Han Solo Trilogy and, aside from the harlequin romance aspects of the series that compare every man in a fictional galaxy to the protagonist and find them comparatively disappointing, it's a good story that builds a background for a mysterious, underexplained character. At it's best, Solo felt like that series. I had a good time. It was fun. That said, I would like to discuss some things that felt like true missteps and blatant storytelling misfires that sat somewhere between a stormtrooper's aim at a target and Luke kicking that skiff guard that he never makes contact with but somehow reels from the impact anyway. There, I got the "prove you're a fan through outdated references" requirement out of my system.

Firstly, the timeline seems really peculiar. Han is a raised by an evil orphanage lady stereotype that forces them to commit crime to eat. How old is he? Three years after we first see him, and he confronts and flees his orphanage crime lord, he is participating in the Imperial army. At youngest, he would be, presumably, 15. At oldest, he's 18. He's far too old in the orphanage to be a teenager and he's far too young at the end of the story, only a few years after, to be working for Jabba briefly after the story ends. He's 32 during the story of A New Hope (yikes that makes me feel old). Wookiepedia suggests Solo takes place 13-10 years prior. There's no way he survived dicking around for Jabba for that long. There's no way he didn't wreck the Millenium Falcon for that long. There's no way he didn't misplace his blaster for that long.


Secondly, key elements of the character felt unceremonious. This was a short film given how much time it took the Han Solo trilogy to do the same job, roughly 135 pages of script against far better than a thousands for the series. Some are true to well documented bits of canon: he won the Falcon from Lando in a card game, Chewbacca honors a life debt to him for saving him. However, the card game, and Lando's friendship, something arguably more important to canon, were incredibly rushed and glossed over. At the beginning of the third act, Lando tells Han he hates and never wants to see him again. I thought "so their next meeting is on Bespin? That's weak." I reminded myself that he hadn't won the Falcon yet. Then, he does, and their relationship isn't any firmer for it. Chewbacca, despite being one of the best characters in the film, doesn't assert a life debt vocally, whether I could understand it or not. He feels obligated not by honor and culture but lack of other options. Han gets tossed what we can assume is his signature weapon, or one identical to it, and he never suggests that he has any affinity for it. Not only were these weak executions disappointing, they feel like simple opportunities to make fans happy. The Millenium Falcon looks very different from the films set later in the timeline and, unlike the satellite swap in The Force Awakens, it isn't explained.


As well as the canon being played pretty fast and loose, the universe itself that the story takes place in does, as well. At this point, we have seen elements of the Empire established through nine films. What we see of the Empire here not only feels off kilter (the Imperial March is now a piece of in-canon music, what the shit), but entirely unlike the Empire at points. Han is a good pilot but a bad boy, so he is demoted to grunt. Grunts wear heavy armor and fight like Colonial soldiers in uniform lines, not slightly altered uniforms and sets from Wonder Woman's WWI.

Speaking of super heroes, let's talk about Disney as a media conglomerate. Quippy sidekicks (tm) have become an expected standard of Star Wars, particularly since Disney took over. L3-37 was a really uninteresting character to me. I appreciated Lando's relationship with her, and that was the most redeeming attribute of the character. I felt for him when his closest true friend died and became part of his beloved ship (another missed opportunity, how fucked up is it that Han watched a man mourn for his droid then willingly took what was left of her in a card game). That said, I know what the character was intended to represent. She shouted at strangers of her kind about revolution, she started fights in public with people who slighted her about extreme politics that few around her support or understand. She demands "equal rights" in one of the few comic relief moments a comic relief character is allowed. She is built with strange, wide hips that resemble a large woman's sway. She has delusions of someone literally out of her league, like another species, being in love with her and being in control of their lack of a relationship. She's a cartoon representation of what a certain type of person calls an "SJW feminist" and she's played for laughs. Not a fan. An aside of an aside, the battle in which L3 leads a droid revolt absolutely felt like a director that can't stage battles mostly letting their characters stand in place, unharmed by wild blaster fire, while each one performs their needed action as if the movie briefly became an RPG. Oh, and the wookies other than Chewbacca look like apes. We briefly humored that they might be another species, but they speak Shyiiwook. Alright.


Intimidating vague bad guys (tm) have become an expected standard of Star Wars, particularly since Disney took over. It's Darth Vader's fault. He was vague, frightening, and cool as shit. The Emperor was less cool, but his mystery made up for it (I didn't grow up with the films coming out in theaters, but know many found the reveal of him being Nicola Tesla-powers Mr. Burns a disappointment in 1983). Darth Maul was vague, frightening, and looked cool as shit, but he didn't survive long enough to be worth much (I unsubscribed from Star Wars fandom when Lucasfilm/arts worked to make him cool again). Darth Sidious was vague, fake frightening, and laughable. Snoke is essentially Palpatine lite. Hux is essentially Tarkin lite. No one should be surprised when Star Wars pitches it's audience a bad guy with a fucked up face that's half a foot taller than everyone else, has almost no explanation, and is supposed to be scary. Dryden Vos was all of these things, and I had hoped we were beyond that. Bettany plays him well (if Disney continues doubledipping at this point, someone is going to get Hepatitis), despite the character offering essentially nothing. His face seemed to occasionally pulsate or change, making me wonder if he was an alien or if his deformity were scars, though that was unexplained. These giant movie franchises love shorthand, and "scary gangster boss" is definitely that. I had no reason to find him interesting, outside of Bettany being pretty rad, and definitely no inclination to find him scary. My partner argued that Jabba was similarly written, a crime boss that is only scary because of their authority, but I would assert that Jabba was scary specifically because he's a huge space turd that struggles to move his head but can have our main character stalked for a decade or so and consistently in fear for his life despite it. Vos didn't scare me. What scares me less? Darth Maul. I have heard there might be an explanation offered in The Clone Wars animated series as to how he goes from half from a Sith Lord in the ending to Phantom Menace to the leader of a feared crime syndicate over about twenty years, but honestly, I both shouldn't have to watch a TV show from a decade ago to understand a movie and couldn't give a shit less about Darth Maul. He was cool when I was 13 and stopped being cool around the time that I understood how my dick worked. Speaking of flexing your phallus, why does he ignite his lightsaber? What benefit does it serve? I know one of his three primary coolness tentpoles is having a double lightsaber (the other two being spikey face and a few sweet oneliners), but what purpose does it meet in-canon? Also, shouldn't he have thought "my hubris made me half a dude, maybe I should have half a double lightsaber like a normal non-edgelord force user?" His inclusion felt like a fanfiction that had written out ideas it wanted to include but the author stopped trying to write well at the third act and phoned in their references and sweet ideas as more concept than story. It's Darth Maul, he's crazy, you get the idea. A friend I watched the movie with thought that, because Maul was still alive and he has no knowledge of pre-Disney canon beyond the movies (which, again, shouldn't be needed to enjoy this movie), that Solo needed to take place before The Phantom Menace in order for Darth Maul to meet the, you know, being alive requirement of his involvement in the plot. I said that it sounded like his legs made metallic noises when he stood, which suggested to me he survived and got new non-spider legs, but if we both had to justify it, that implies to me it wasn't clear enough.

Mostly importantly, this leads us to the biggest issue I took with the story itself: motivation and story as a whole. Beckett's significant other and only other crew member die and he could easily blame it on Han. He punches him, yes, but he immediately works with him again and creates a closer bond. He doesn't mourn at any point. He doesn't get tense when his love interest is mentioned after her death by the hands of what are essentially probe droids (seriously?). Had there been no indication that the two had a relationship, the issue wouldn't exist. They presented a motivation that never paid off. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Qi'ra is motivated to leave her chance to run away with Han and instead take control of Crimson Dawn answering to Darth Maul. Why? She's never shown as greedy. She's never shown as motivated to take command. She is shown once glancing at jewels and they are never mentioned before or again. It isn't a mystery that makes me curious to see what happens to her. It's just confusing and underexplained. It's Claudette's medical ailments in The Room. As mentioned, Lando has a relationship with Han that is at no point positive; true, Han saves him, but then he takes his most prized possession and the robosoul of his best friend. Why would he spend the first act of Jedi saving him and the third act working for his cause? Chewbacca never gains a true connection to Han, nothing like the relationship shown in any other media. Han's dice are introduced in the beginning of the film and promptly given to Qi'ra, making their involvement in the rest of the films, in particular The Last Jedi, intrinsically linked to her. Remember when they were given to his grief-stricken wife? Pretty shitty retcon. The marauders that kill Beckett's family are turned into heroes. He takes no issue with it. Because of her appearance, I thought, at first, that the leader was Beckett and Val's child, but immediately understood that it didn't make sense in the timeline of the film. You know how it does make sense, though? Narratively, because Beckett accepts working with them in a second for some reason. Hell, so long as we're on missed opportunities, Beckett calls the gangster on Tatooine "big" and Han later repeats that to Chewbacca. Make a joke of it. The dude is a massive slug. Make Beckett aware of what big means and Han unaware. Callbacks. Comedy. Fuck.

Solo wasn't an unpleasant experience. At times, I loved the feel of the film. Aesthetically, many scenes felt pulled completely from early Ralph Mcquarrie art (except the last scene, which was straight up an Ewok village and that doesn't make sense, but let's be positive for a few). Many elements felt like they referenced the established pre-Disney canon. Vos seemed to me to be a Xizor character, Qi'ra seemed to be a Guri character. Alden Ehrenreich isn't Harrison Ford, but I at no point was offended by his inability to duplicate the performance on another human. Donald Glover as Lando was as satisfying as anyone hoped for, if a bit toned down. The film was enjoyable, but as a fan of Star Wars and coherent storytelling, I walked away from a movie that was pitched as simple fun with a list of questions.