Saturday, October 6, 2018

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

Many people drew conclusions about the Han Solo prequel once the intended auteurs, Miller and Lord of Lego Movie fame, were seen off by Disney in favor of Ron Howard, who promised nothing visionary, irreverent or even fresh. Public opinion has turned against Disney's Star Wars franchise for a number of reasons, ranging from a reflexive distrust of large corporations to a worrisome revulsion at the studio's commitment to diversity in the official episodes. Many people no doubt went into Solo, or stayed away from it, convinced that it could only be a soulless, mindless piece of hackwork. I stayed away myself, having recently seen and hated The Last Jedi for reasons having nothing to do with the race or gender of its protagonists. Now that I've seen it at home, I can say that at a minimum Solo is better than Episodes 7 and 8. It's nothing great, but it's what it was meant to be: entertaining in an easygoing way. Its weakest part comes early when young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is a low-level thief on Corellia. The vaguely Fagin-esque milieu and Han's efforts at nervous con-man patter make this the most retrograde and corny part of the picture. It picks up once Han is off-planet, an imperial academy washout reduced to foot soldiery in some absurd before he manages to fall in with a band of smugglers who've infiltrated the military. He finds a mentor in the boss smuggler (Woody Harrelson) and an unlikely friend in Chewbacca the Wookie, briefly a fellow prisoner. In this meet-cute bit we finally see that Han can speak the Wookie language, and I found it appropriate that while his efforts in that enigmatic tongue are subtitled, we are never to be privy to the plain meaning of Chewie's own remarks.

Anyway, for a time we practically have a poor man's Guardians of the Galaxy, with Han in the Star Lord protege role and Harrelson as his Yondu-like mentor, plus a sort of Gamora (Thandie Newton), a sort of Rocket (a talkative multi-armed CGI critter) and Chewie as Groot. The filmmakers (Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan are the credited writers) know better than to let the resemblance sink in, so some of the characters are eliminated before the core group reports to their employer, a vicious space gangster (Paul Bettany) whose moll (Emilia Clarke) is the girl poor Han had to leave behind back on Corellia. To save their lives after a recent failure, our merry band must steal a cargo of raw, volatile superfuel from a mining colony and transport it tout suite (via the legendary Kessel Run) to a refining facility. Along the way Han must match his raw wits with crooked gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), who ends up tagging along, along with his uppity feminist droid, while looking out for the pirates who ruined their previous caper. There are surprises yet to come but there's nothing really novel to the proceedings, compared to the drastic difference in tone you get in Rogue One. Comparing the two standalone "stories" is really unfair, though, since Rogue One was ambitious in a way Solo probably never was meant to be. Whatever the original creative team had in mind, Solo was always going to be cinematic comfort food, and for that sort of thing Ron Howard is a reliable chef. What holds the thing together and makes it tolerable is Alden Ehrenreich's title performance. With admirable quickness he makes you stop comparing him to Harrison Ford and turns young Han into a viable, likable character in his own right, with issues yet to be resolved (though probably never on screen now) before he becomes the man we got to know back in 1977. In retrospect, Solo got a bad rap, but that's probably inevitable when so essentially ordinary (yet satisfactory) an adventure film is packaged as a blockbuster event by corporate imperative. Would it have been better had it been left to the intended auteurs? The fact that we'll never know shouldn't be held against the film we have.

1 comment:

J.D. Lafrance said...

Yep, you pretty much nailed what makes this movie work. Watching SOLO confirmed my belief that I enjoy it and ROGUE ONE more than the new "saga" movies because they aren't constrained by the stylistic and narrative constraints of those movies. What I like about RO and especially SOLO is that they are allowed to go off and explore the nooks and crannies of the STAR WARS universe and in the process introduce us to a rich cast of colorful characters and exotic worlds we haven't seen before.