‘Solo’ was a solidly enjoyable adventure film. In fact, ‘Solo’ is basically what the original ‘Star Wars’ would have been if it was made today. There are some issues, though, most of which come from my nerdy background. There’s also a lot of great moments. Let’s dig through. Spoilers from here on out.
- Han is Good, and that’s bad. This story starts with Han being a relatively reckless young man devoted to a young woman, and ends with him being a relatively altruistic and sentimental hero. Which is fine from a “making a movie” perspective, but problematic because it’s very difficult to go from Han Solo at the end of ‘Solo’ to Han Solo at the beginning of ‘A New Hope’.
- But admittedly, that doesn’t harm this film in its own right – it just makes it sit awkwardly in the franchise.
- The final scene should have ended with Han sitting down at the card table. We already know he’s going to win the game and hence the Falcon, we don’t need to see it happen at that point, especially when it’s as exciting as watching two people play a card game that we don’t understand.
- The film also didn’t sell me on the connection between Han and the Falcon. Specifically, I couldn’t understand why Han would chase down Lando at the very end just to gamble for the Falcon, when he could instead just buy a ship that he knows isn’t ripped to shreds. Put simply, it doesn’t feel like an organic character motivation, and if this wasn’t an origin story for Han Solo, captain of the Millennium Falcon, that scene wouldn’t even exist.
- The constant heel-face-turns of almost every character at the end was dizzying. Everybody was up to something, leaving it all feeling a bit ‘Where Eagles Dare’. Qi’Ra’s seeming betrayal of Han, then her actual betrayal of Paul Bettany, then her betrayal of Han again all seemed a bit ropey, and didn’t make much sense except to wind the finale out a bit more and force in a little extra tension.
- Specifically, her knocking the gun out of Han’s hand as he’s about to shoot Paul, then getting into a fight with Paul and killing him, just to then turn on Han for real – it was all a bit weird. If she needs to kill Paul, do it whilst he’s fighting with Han, right?
- Darth Maul’s presence bugged me, mostly because it further validates the Prequels. Admittedly, he was one of the few memorable parts of the Prequels that isn’t painful to think about, but still.
- I really, really, really wish we could put this whole Parsec thing behind us as a species. It’s become the low-hanging fruit of wannabe cosmic intellectuals to point out that, yes, a parsec is a distance not a time, despite the fact that not only is Han’s intentional attempt at misinformation pointed out in the original script, it’s even made clear by the sceptical “Cut the Crap” expression that Obi Wan pulls when Han tries it on. We did not need to devote a significant part of the plot of this film just to try and paper over the imagined narrative cracks caused by a single throwaway line of dialogue from forty years ago that was intended as bullshit in the first place. Jesus.
- I had originally written in the first draft of this review:
‘Solo’ teases passing Bechdel, but falls short. However, it has got some decent representation, with a moralistic masked mercenary, a self-sufficient and suave gang lieutenant, a radical civil rights activist droid and a seasoned, ruthless scoundrel who sadly dies too early in the film – all played by women. Also a weird water-centipede thing who’s a crime boss, if that counts.
- HOWEVER, this article was shared to me by a friend and it provides a pretty key insight that I had missed, which is that two of those cool female characters get fridged, i.e. brutally killed off just to further the character development of the men in the story. This is uncool (and, admittedly, a sign that my privileged perspective meant I didn’t even notice at first, which is shitty of me.)
- Names have always been a bit weird and inconsistent in Star Wars, and I think ‘Solo’ amplifies that to a new level. Alongside Qi’ra, Dryden Vos and Enfys Nest, we have Val and Toby Beckett. That’s his actual name. Tobias Beckett. And it’s fairly distracting in the context of a fantastical space opera. Luke Skywalker, Ben Kenobi – they work as names because they’re a mix of generic and outlandish. “Ben Kenobi” could be a space wizard – “Toby Beckett” is never doing anything except selling used cars on the outskirts of Coventry. Or maybe playing Rugby for Macclesfield or something.
- Chewbacca now canonically eats people. That is a thing that is true. He also literally pulls people’s arms from their bodies. He is very literally a people-eating murderer. Remember when Han jokes in ‘A New Hope’ about Chewie dismembering people for losing a game? That’s not a joke anymore, that’s true. Do you love re-watching the old movies? Every time you do, you will now do so knowing that our heroes are wandering around with Chewbacca, WHO EATS PEOPLE. Fun times. Fun Times.
- All the performances were solid. I had read that the two directors (who were later fired) claimed that Alden Ehrenreich was terrible as Han, but he seemed pretty good to me. Emilia Clarke was great, and Donald Glover was fucking on-point as Lando, as I’m sure we all knew he would be.
- The action was exciting, and mostly not overdone. There was a fight on top of a speeding train and it felt like a fight on top of a speeding train, rather than some massively choreographed flip-and-spin fest. Getting shot seemed to matter. Chewie literally pulls a man’s arms out of his sockets. People get brutally tased. Droids revolt. Spaceships fly.
- It’s worth pointing out, however, that it all got a bit martial-artsy towards the end with a the dagger fighting.
- It’s shallow, I know, but seeing the Falcon in its fancy, clean state was nice. Also nice was Lando’s cape closet. Literally a room dedicated to holding capes. So absolutely Lando.
- L3 was brilliant, and it’s a great shame that she was killed off half-way through the film. Her characterisation and her motivations were excellent, as was her animation. However, the context around her motivations – that of civil rights – brings us onto the next section.
- Speaking of L3, her response “Good luck finding it,” to Clint Howard’s “I’m going to flip your switch,” easily constitutes the first clitoris joke in Star Wars. What an age we live in.
Star Wars has always, always had issues with race. And Gender. And sexuality. Let’s just be frank, here, in a Galaxy full of different species, planets and cultures, it took:
- Two films to get an on-screen black actor (Billy Dee Williams as Lando).
- Four films to get a total of four named female characters (Beru, Leia, Shmi and Padme, not counting the unnamed Mon Mothma).
- Four films to get a second and third on-screen black actor (Hugh Quarshie and Samuel L. Jackson as Panaka and Mace Windu, respectively, not counting Jar Jar Binks).
- Seven films to get a fourth on-screen black actor (John Boyega as Finn), and still no on-screen black women (Lupita Nyong’o played the CGI Maz Kanata).
- Seven films to get the total named female characters up to eight (Maz, Rey and Phasma, plus the assassin Zam Wessel in ‘Attack of the Clones’) – I think I missed a couple of Padme’s handmaidens but they got about six lines between them so whatever.
- EIGHT FILMS to get the second, third and fourth on-screen named Asian characters (Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang, both Chinese, as Chirrut and Baze, plus Riz Ahmed as Bodhi, in ‘Rogue One’). The first named Asian character is “Tasu Leech” in ‘The Force Awakens’, who, as this article points out, hardly plays a major role and is definitely not an example of positive representation.
- ‘Solo’, the TENTH film, is the first time we meet an on-screen, named black woman.
In a Galaxy full of all sorts of weird aliens and strange creatures, we have roughly nineteen hours of screentime before we meet a black woman with a name.
Star Wars has still not passed the Bechdel Test.
Star Wars has still not featured any LGBT+ characters.
Which, whilst not cool, isn’t the issue I want to talk about right now. Star Wars is famous for its representational issues, but ‘Solo’ gets weird with it.
The finale of ‘Solo’ features the heroes travelling to a desert planet to refine their magical space fuel. This planet is inhabited solely by humans. We learn that these humans all had their tongues cut out by a bunch of off-world gangsters working with the Empire. They were brutally punished for attempting to resist colonialist oppression and exploitation.
And they’re all black.
Specifically, we see more black people on screen in this scene than we have in every other Star Wars movie combined.
And none of them can talk.
And they live in a desert.
And they’re all dressed in stereotypes of African clothing.
And they get saved by the handsome white dude.
Meanwhile, the one named black character who’s still alive, Lando, leaves as soon as the situation gets dicey. Lando, played by Childish Gambino, flies off to leave Han Solo and his white girlfriend to save the desert planet of mute black people from his white former mentor and a white gang boss.
And I’m not saying that all of this is inherently bad. But the context of it all makes it feel like a film that would be made in the ’60s. It couldn’t be more socially troubling if Sean Connery appeared in a wig and fake eyebrows pretending to be Japanese.
‘Solo’ tries to raise the issue of droids in Star Wars being sentient but being essentially treated like slaves. Which I’m fine with. Except that this charge is led by L3, a droid voiced by a white woman, who at one point in the film demands equal rites from her owner – a black man, played by Childish Gambino. And that’s just weird.
It’s weird because, as we all know, Star Wars has a near-infinite number of weird and wonderful aliens to draw from when populating scenes. In ‘A New Hope’, when we first enter the Mos Eisley cantina, humans make up about 3% of the clientele. And yet on the desert planet at the end of ‘Solo’, they’re all human, and they’re all black.
And the point is, that had to have been a decision. At some point when making this movie, somebody decided that that was how they were going to cast this scene. Somebody put together the list of extras, and somebody, somewhere, made sure they were almost all black. And that is so weird.
I’m not trying to make the argument that ‘Solo’ is an inherently racist movie. I don’t think it is. But it does feel bizarrely tone-deaf for a movie released in 2018. Starring Childish Gambino. Especially given that it actively chooses to address issues of slavery and civil liberties.
Ultimately, ‘Solo’ is a movie that will probably be broadly forgotten years from now. Where ‘Rogue One’ is beautifully tragic, ‘Solo’ is adequately middle-of-the-road. There’s nothing to inherently dislike about it, but neither is there anything particularly exciting either.
But it’s still really weird.