Special Effects: B
Solo is fine. And, yes, it’s fun – but I’m going to start off with a chief complaint: even this exact same movie would be a more thrilling experience without oversaturation of the market with Star Wars movies. This has been my beef with the relentless movie release schedule since the very announcement that we’d be getting one of these movies every year for the foreseeable future: audience, if not quite tiring of the movies, are progressively going to lose their enthusiasm for them.
That’s certainly what’s happening already: as usual, I went to see the film on opening night. Remember, way back in 2015, opening night of The Force Awakens, theatre lobbies were packed with fans in line for sold-out screenings hours before showtime? Last night at my theatre’s first showing of the film, the lobby was empty. Granted, trailers had already begun so everyone was inside – but three years ago, under the same circumstances, the lobby would have been full of fans still waiting for subsequent screenings. Hell, even the friend I went with, who scoffed at my complaints about over-saturation in the beginning because he’s such a lifelong die-hard Star Wars fan, commented on how even his excitement level isn’t the same with this movie. I felt so vindicated!
The point is, even when the movies are good – as this one is – a movie every year is just too much. It robs audiences of the thrill of anticipation, which has always been half the fun of Star Wars. As of 2015, we were getting one prequel series basically once every other decade. I’m not saying it should be required to spend fifteen years whetting the appetite, but even the first two trilogies released each of their films once every three years – that alone intensified expectations. Now, we we’ve had four Star Wars movies in not quite three and a half years. The primary “Episodes VII-IX” trilogy episodes are coming every two years instead of the previously-standard three, and each off year is getting filled with these “A Star Wars Story” stand-alone films. It’s hard not to look at this cynically: is there any necessity to it other than a cash-grab? Ironically, this oversaturation clearly affects each individual film’s box office take. They remain successful, of course – Solo is still expected to top Memorial Day Weekend – so presumably a profit strategy clearly taken out of the Marvel playbook is a better play for studios. Is it better for audiences?
Solo is neither the Star Wars movie fans were clamoring for, nor the Star Wars movie they need. But! Once you open up to it, there really is no resisting it. Complain all you want about The Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being replaced by Ron Howard due to “creative differences,” even after such production conflicts, to be honest, Howard’s populist approach works for it. Solo is much more light and breezy compared to either the current trilogy installments (whose increasingly morally ambiguous tones and themes take the series in a direction that’s exciting in its own right) or 2016’s Rogue One. It’s also true that both Rogue One and Solo effectively qualify as just more prequels, with both of them offering Easter eggs and puzzle pieces to connect themselves to the original trilogy. Solo doesn’t end with a direct lead-in to the original Star Wars like Rogue One did (and, mercifully, doesn’t feature any original cast members digitally de-aged), but it has plenty about it that directly connects itself to 1977’s A New Hope in particular. A lot of lines are spoken that are familiar from other films, and if you’re not paying attention you might miss Han saying “I’ve got a good feeling about this!”
If nothing else, Solo should please the fanboys who were stupidly irate about The Last Jedi, even though anyone with half a brain can see that installment eventually earning a respect in a similar vein to The Empire Strikes Back. In any case, Solo doesn’t much bother itself with taking risks, or taking the Star Wars universe into uncomfortably unfamiliar territory. It’s also much less dark than Star Wars movies have been in some time. To me, that makes it broadly less compelling – but it also makes it, at least superficially and on its own terms, more entertaining. It’s got less thinking, more action. And it has some great action sequences, including when Han first meets Chewbacca (with Peter Mayhew finally retiring from the role after six Star Wars movies, previous body double Joonas Suatomo now steps into the role full time). It should be noted, though, that it doesn't get particularly cutting edge with its special effects, which used to be the hallmark of this franchise.
It was slightly difficult to see Alden Ehrenreich as a guy who eventually became the older Han Solo we were first introduced to, based only on the trailers. But Solo (which offers an amusingly random origin to that last name) as a full movie makes it pretty easy. Everything this movie shows us offers an insight into what Han Solo would eventually become. And, as always, it features great actors in a supporting cast: top-billed Woody Harrelson as Beckett, the smuggler with whom Han joins forces; Thandie Newton as Val, Beckett’s partner; Game of Thrones’s Emilia Clarke as Han’s childhood flame, Qi’ra; Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos, Qui’ra’s villainous boss; Jon Favreau voices the four-armed monkey creature Rio Durant; and of course, arguably the MVP of the cast, Donald Glover is Lando Calrissian, impressively weaved into the narrative of Han’s back story. Phoebe Waller-Bridge must also be mentioned as the voice of Lando’s beloved social justice warrior droid L3, providing a good majority of the best comedic lines of the film’s first half.
It could be argued that most of what we see in Solo is just a rehash of the same sorts of things we’ve seen in other Star Wars movies, but whatever. It’s still fun to see new characters in different roles, even if they’re doing basically the same things. At least we’re not seeing another Death Star getting blown up yet again. This is becoming a very familiar universe, even when we visit new locations within it. There remains an element of comfort in being there, though, so even if the thrill of anticipation is seeing clearly diminishing returns, we keep coming back, so far not quite disappointed in it.