Solo is a fun watch, it has a lot of laughs, and some great performances; especially from Donald Glover, who sounded so much like Billy Dee Williams that at first I thought they got him to dub over Donald Glover’s lines. Yet it was also an intensely disappointing film for me, not because it was a bad film, but because it came so close to being truly great that it just broke my heart that it didn’t get there. Had a little more time been spent on the story, and on building up the relationships between characters, this might have been my favorite Star Wars film of all time.
Now this is a negative review of the film, but it’s also meant to be constructive, as I hope all my reviews are. I’ve been hearing some distressing things about fans harassing actors, writers, and other creators of Star Wars because they’re unhappy with one element or another. While I’d hope all my readers are upstanding citizens of the human race, I do not want to see anyone using my reviews as an excuse to attack, harass, or threaten any of the creators of Solo. If you do, I will be very upset, and as someone who is big and hairy enough to be mistaken for a Wookie, I may very well rip your arms out of your sockets if you upset me.
As a good friend of mine says: “Don’t be a dick.”
Now, sit back, relax, and read my thoughts on why Solo missed out on being a truly epic film.
All That Matters is the Ending:
This film reminds me a little of Battlestar Galactica, in that Solo somehow ends up being less than the sum of its parts. It has great performances, stunning scenes, and certain parts have some terrific writing. Yet it never reaches its full potential. I kept waiting for a scene that would make me cry, or give me a warm fuzzy feeling like hugging a Wookie, or make me laugh so hard my sides would ache.
Yet it never managed to, as Han would put it, “punch it” and instead just coasts along on its Star Wars laurels. It never pushes the envelope, never takes a risk, and thus never truly soars. To use a metaphor from The Good Place, if I were ever condemned to The Medium Place, the only Star Wars film available would be Solo.
So why is it such a medium film? Well:
3. Not Enough Focus on the Details
Solo has a great premise: showing us Han’s life on Corellia, how Chewie and Han became friends, and the beginning of Han’s career as a smuggler. There’s a strong plot to keep the story moving: the heist of Hyperfuel for Dryden Vos. And of course there’s such a great cast of characters to play off each other. Yet Solo never delves below the surface, it introduces characters, ideas, and settings but never truly explores them.
We start on Corellia, but the story is in such a rush to get where it’s going that it glosses over the most important parts. For instance apparently Han pulls a brilliant (or possibly just foolhardy) bait-and-switch, and narrowly escapes a gang with some refined Hyperfuel. Yet instead of showing us how he pulled off this scam, and thus giving his character some credibility as a con artist and criminal, it skips that part and starts with his escape. The film does this again and again.
Han’s time with the Imperial Navy; Qi’ra’s dark history with the Crimson Dawn; Chewie’s life as a slave; Lando’s life as a smuggler and gambler.
All of these elements are introduced, and then quickly abandoned as the plot rushes to its next story point. The plot feels like it’s in such a rush to get where it’s going, that it glosses over important elements of its own story, especially during the Kessel Run.
People have speculated on the exact nature of the “The Kessel Run” since Han Solo first mentioned it in A New Hope. Yet the version we see on screen is so haphazardly presented that it doesn’t feel like the amazing accomplishment that it should. L3-37 pilots the Falcon through the Maelstrom so easily she’s obviously bored doing it, and if there are markers lighting the way then why is making the Kessel Run such a big deal?
The worst part is the actual heist on Kessel itself. Not only did I not understand the plan, I felt like the characters didn’t even have a plan. I mean aside from Qi’ra pretending to be a slaver to get their foot in the door, the rest of the heist seems to consist of “start shooting and hope for the best”. Yet just before it starts Beckett tells Han to stick to the plan and not to improvise, but if anything it seemed like the entire team was improvising the entire time.
I mean it would be one thing if the team had gone in with a plan and then it all went to hell and they were forced to improvise, but it’s quite another to attempt to pull off this ambitious heist with no plan whatsoever. The fact that the characters succeed through dumb luck rather than careful planing undermines their credibility as skilled thieves and con artists.
Without seeing the finer points of these events, and the planning involved, we never get to see how Han learns to be a outlaw. Solo is in such a rush to tell its story that it misses the finer details, and loses all the subtle nuances that make stories truly come alive. It’s this lack of nuance that leads to:
2. The Characters Never Come Alive
The biggest misstep Solo makes is in ignoring its characters in favor of a breakneck pace of plot development.
Going back to the Kessel Run: Chewie finds his family, or tribe, or maybe just fellow Wookies (the film fails to make clear what exactly is happening there.) Based on his goodbye with the other Wookie, I’m assuming it was family, but who knows. At the end though, Chewie chooses to go back to help Han and abandons his people to do it.
I never felt like Chewie and Han’s relationship was given enough time to grow, and definitely not enough to justify that kind of loyalty. This scene might have made more sense had Han actually helped Chewie free the Wookies. Instead Han essentially abandons the big guy, just tosses him a weapon and says good luck. That was the most disappointing moment in this whole Kessel sequence, because if Han couldn’t be bothered to help free Chewie’s family… then why does Chewie feel such loyalty toward him? Why do all the Wookies come back to help him carry the fuel when he didn’t lift a finger to help their escape?
Han and Chewie are such an iconic pair and yet the film spends precious little time actually developing their relationship. Or actively sabotaging it.
Instead the film takes the relationship for granted. “You know these guys are best friends in Star Wars right? Well it was always like that!” The film seems to tell us. In fact it takes every relationship and every character for granted.
Han for instance: “Best Pilot in the Galaxy” he boasts. Yet the movie skips over his entire career in the Imperial Navy and we never even get to see the moment he first learns to fly a ship or even his first trip into space. Pivotal moments in the life of a young man who dreamed of flying. More to the point, we don’t get to see how young Han reacts to the strict discipline of a military institution. Yes, a rebellious young man like Han is going to hate the military, but how he rebels is an important part of his story. Again, without the details, there is no story.
Worse still is Han’s relationship with Beckett.
Han Solo tries to convince Beckett to take him on his crew after their battle, and when that fails tries to blackmail him by threatening to turn Beckett into the authorities. Beckett then expertly turns this around on Han and has him arrested as a deserter. This is an important scene because the way Beckett coolly tells the ranking officer that they’ve apprehended a deserter, is the same cool confidence that Harrison Ford embodied as Han Solo. This, I thought, is where Han Solo learned how to play the game. Beckett is the mentor that taught Solo how to survive. That’s the story Solo tries to tell, but because again, it didn’t actually focus on their relationship, it fails to tell it well.
Beckett never teaches Han anything, the one piece of wisdom he imparts of not trusting anyone, Han dismisses as a lonely way of living. Nor do we see Han observe how Beckett works and try to emulate him. It felt like watching The Sting but with 90% of Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s scenes cut, leaving us with just the barest whiff of a relationship. And unfortunately it’s this lack of development between Beckett and Solo that leads to the ending feeling so flat.
1. The Ending is Unearned
At the end of the film, when Han turns the tables on Beckett, he tells him:
I was paying attention – Han Solo to Beckett
Unfortunately the film never shows us Solo paying attention or learning anything at all, and thus this whole scene falls flat. Eventually conning the conman doesn’t work unless we see Han Solo become a con man himself. Regardless of the fact Han has lived a rough life on Corellia, the character we meet in this film is actually very naive. And that’s fine, seeing how Solo learned how to turn a trick and stay alive was a big part of the appeal of this film, but not only does it not show us that, it actually shows us the opposite.
Han fails in his every attempt to con the people around him. First he fails trying to intimidate Beckett. Then he tries to bluff his way through a conversation with Qi’ra, acting like he’s a big shot, and fails to convince her. He tries to beat Lando at cards, and ends up being hustled himself. This scene really damages his credibility as an outlaw. Han grew up on the streets of Corellia running scams but it never occurs to him that maybe an infamous card shark who is known to risk his ship on wagers, might just be cheating?
When Enfys Nest corners them, he tries to bluff his way past them too, and again he fails spectacularly. It would be one thing if we’d see him learn something, anything, from all these failures, but we never see him try new strategies or change his approach at all.
He’s consistently and repeatedly outplayed by everyone around him. Yet in the end, the movie expects us to believe that this kid manages to outplay not only Beckett, his mentor and a man with decades of experience, but also Dryden Vos, a ruthless criminal kingpin that even Beckett is afraid of? No, the story simply doesn’t earn that kind of ending.
Toward’s the end of the film Qi’ra calls him the good guy and Han responds:
I’m an Outlaw!
To which the entire audience laughed, but the fact the line is so funny is the core of the problem. For this ending to work, at this point in the film Han needed to have been established as someone who can come across as an outlaw, even if we all know he’s the good guy. If he can’t even sell that one line, the simple declaration that he’s an outlaw, then I literally can’t believe that he’d be able to outplay both Beckett and Dryden Voss. I also can’t believe that he would shoot his mentor through the heart.
This wasn’t in the middle of a battle in the heat of the moment, this was a cold and ruthless move. This should have been the emotional climax of Han’s story arc, where the naive kid we met at the start of the film becomes the cynical and jaded outlaw that does what he has to to survive. I wanted to be moved when Han shot Beckett. I really did, I wanted this film to be that good. However Han never earns this moment; nothing about the affable and ultimately harmless Han that I’d been watching for the entire film gave me any indication he was capable of this kind of ruthlessness.
Perhaps Disney didn’t want to show how Han Solo became the cynical smuggler in a single film and wants to draw it out over a trilogy. Fair enough, but if that’s the case, then this was the wrong story to be telling.
This could have been fixed by changing the ending, of course. As it is, aside from Han shooting his mentor through the heart, this is as close to a “happily ever after” as we were ever going to get from a Han Solo film. Instead it should have embraced the darkness of the world it was showing. This Star Wars showed us the ugly side of this universe, where there are no Jedi to hide the poverty and suffering. This is the world so devoid of mercy and compassion that it made Han think The Force was “superstitious nonsense.”
In fact the cold, matter-of-fact way in which Beckett’s entire crew dies (including his girlfriend) made me think this was the way the story was originally heading. That was only reinforced by the rather haunting way L3-37 dies later on in the film.
Instead of Han’s plan succeeding, despite having failed to distinguished himself as a conman for virtually the entire movie, show his plan failing utterly. Show us Qi’ra being gutted by Dryden Voss, and the resistance fighters being cut to pieces by his ruthless mercenaries. Show us this as the moment when Han Solo realized the world he was living in: a brutal and unforgiving one. Give us the moment where all his youthful enthusiasm, the same trait that he finds so repulsive in Luke’s character, is viciously murdered by the circumstances of his life.
Imagine how much more poignant that would have been when taken in a larger context of the original trilogy. For instance, when Han Solo listens dismissively to the briefing for the attack on the Death Star, we could see this scene from a new perspective. Suddenly he’s not just dismissive because of the odds stacked against the Rebels, but because it sounds like the brash optimistic plan he once had… the one that got everyone killed.
The Han Solo we meet in A New Hope regards Luke as an idealistic, naive kid and Solo shows us that Han started off in much the same way. What the film should have showed is how life on Corellia, and later as a deserter and outlaw, ground Han down and hardened him into the cynical smuggler that Harrison Ford embodied. Instead it shows us Han succeeding through odds so incredible he probably deserves a lightsaber of his own. So what was it in his life that turned Han from the affable kid in Solo to the world-weary smuggler? Why doesn’t he fly off with Enfys Nest at the end, what is it about their struggle he doesn’t sympathize with if everything worked out just fine for them?
Solo needed to bridge the gap between the young Han we meet in the film and the jaded Han Solo we meet in A New Hope. Or at the very least, lay the foundation for that story for it to continue into another film. Yet it didn’t do either of those things. Instead it asked us to believe that the young Han Solo is exactly the same as the Han Solo that Luke meets in Mos Eisley, even though the film shows him constantly failing to live up to that reputation. That was too much to ask of the audience, or at least too much to ask of me.
Here’s hoping that Han Solo film will finally introduce us to Han Solo.