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Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story opened this month and everyone who has seen it has an opinion about it. Here is mine.

BEWARE: Here be minor spoilers!

I’ve heard multiple detractors say no one wanted this movie, that Han Solo is not a particularly popular character. It seems these critics consider The Clone Wars cartoon series as the standard by which they measure their appreciation for the Star Wars universe.

To be clear, I saw the original Star Wars when it was just called STAR WARS (no episode IV or subtitle) in the theater when I was three years old. Han Solo is my favorite character in the entire Star Wars universe. I have always wanted a Han Solo focused back-story in a spin-off since before the prequels were released, so I was eager for this film to be produced, released and to be sitting, popcorn in hand in a dark theater hoping they didn’t screw it up. I love the Star Wars universe, but I think the Skywalker/Vader, Jedi/Sith, Rebellion/Empire storyline is kind of played out, and I’d like to see explorations into other storylines, lineages and professions. The universe has so much to offer, why get bogged down with one family? Solo, I think was a good first step in that direction.

Like many Star Wars fans, I had a lot of concerns about this movie. Reports of production problems with fired directors, harsh criticism of the cast’s acting abilities and the need for scene reshoots were so dismal that I was genuinely concerned this movie would be a total disaster. I was confident however; if Episode I, The Phantom Menace didn’t ruin the franchise we’d survive any misfortune that might befall us with Solo.

I was worried that Alden Ehrenreich couldn’t pull off the character of Han Solo. Han’s persona is so entrenched with Harrison Ford’s depiction it makes for some rather large shoes to fill. Similarly, I was concerned that Lando Calrissian couldn’t be duplicated by Donald Glover or anyone else. Billy Dee Williams IS Lando, after all. Those worries were assuaged, I’m glad to say. Both actors did great jobs depicting their roles. I didn’t have any trouble believing Ehrenreich was Solo, and Glover’s Lando was spot on.

Solo is essentially a space western, and like a good western it’s all based around a train heist. It delivers the scenes and answers to questions we’ve had for four decades such as how Han found his way into the smuggling racket. We learn Han’s origins as an orphan, forced to steal to survive in the shadowy underworld of Corellia. We see Han acquire his surname almost like a mobster’s nickname because he is a loner; none of this “House of Solo” nobility from the now (thankfully) de-canonized Legends which I always thought detracted from his roguish nature.

Criticism

The movie did have a few drawbacks. I thought the first ten minutes on Corellia were a bit cartoony, but that didn’t really diminish the story. I would have liked to see a closer friendship and working relationship between Han and Lando before Han obtained the Millennium Falcon, and I would like to have seen him win the ship in a different manner than as depicted, but alas the writers and producers didn’t call me and ask for my pre-production opinions on the matter. Similarly, the initial meeting between Han and Chewbacca didn’t go exactly as I had imagined it, but it was one of the best scenes in the movie. The Kessle Run is something I always envisioned taking place much differently and at a time well into Han’s career as a smuggler rather than at the beginning, but the way it was depicted worked just fine.

A major disappointment in the film comes when the chief of Enfys Nest who gave our protagonists such trouble during the train heist, killing two of the major supporting characters turns out to be a teenage girl leading the incubation of the Rebellion. It’s not a particularly compelling plot twist, and it’s not very believable. It’s all too much Wesley Crusher for me, and it ruins an adversary with a lot of potential. Besides, she was responsible for the deaths of two of Tobias Beckett’s (Woody Harrelson) friends and rather endearing characters, and it’s never even addressed.

The worst character in the movie is without a doubt Lando’s droid L3-37 who is a rather accurate portrayal of the bothersome and trollish sjws she was modeled after. She added a level of cringe reminiscent of, but not as severe as Jar Jar Binks. I could have done without her character altogether and was glad when she was removed from further screen time.

         

Other reviewers have complained that Ehrenreich’s Solo was not as dark or grumpy as Ford’s, and that’s true. It’s what I would expect. This is a Han Solo who is a good ten years younger than Ford’s initial introduction of the character. This Solo is just entering a life of smuggling and piracy that would without a doubt offer plenty of opportunities for the disillusioning experiences that would turn the cocky and ambitious twenty-something year old Solo into the more selfish, and cynical thirty-something year old Solo we meet at the Cantina on Tatooine in Episode IV. Time and experience, especially in crime syndicates can change a man.

Solo is a good movie. Not a great movie, but the only Star Wars movie that comes close to being great since The Empire Strikes Back was Rogue One. It’s going to continue to be hard to measure any new Star Wars flicks up next to the originals. There will never be another Star Wars at that level, but Solo was a fun ride nonetheless. It was better than the prequels and the follow-ups so far, and I think well deserving of a place in the Star Wars canon.


The Movie “Silence” was Painfully Boring

Silence theatrical release poster

I went with a friend to see the movie Silence.  It looked good and seemed interesting in the previews, and has good reviews online, but to me , it was really slow and boring.

The plot revolves around two Catholic Priests from Portugal in the early half of the 17th century who embark on a trek to Japan to find their missing comrade, and to further missionize the island during a time a great suppression of the religion by the Tokugawa shogunate.

With such subject matter you might think this would be an epic masterpiece of, but instead it was just undynamic and uninspired.  The characters seemed flat and undeveloped, and there was virtually no action at all.  Good movies tend to have peaks and valleys. This was all valleys. The subject matter was pretty heavy, with the persecution of Christians in Japan during the early half of the 17th century, but I didn’t sense any real depth to the story or characters and comic relief was almost non-existent. That’s just the production side.

I also felt like it portrayed Buddhism as a sinister, despondent cult with no redeemable doctrine. While it emphasized the atrocities committed by the Japanese government against the Christians, portraying Christianity as if it would deliver the people from such abuse, it ignored that at the exact same time in Europe the witch-burnings and torture and killings of heretics was at its height. So, not only did I find the movie boring, I felt like it insulted my intelligence.

If you’re interested in watching Silence because you hope to see representations of feudal Japanese society and samurai customs you’ll be disappointed as there is virtually no culture portrayed in this film.

While watching it I felt like director Martin Scorsese and writer Jay Cocks were more interested in creating sympathy and a sense of righteousness for the Jesuit priests than they were in telling a good story.  I can understand why practicing Catholics and other Christians may find the film as providing some form of credibility for their faith, but  I just was not satisfied.

I really found the movie to be uninspired, uninteresting, and unenjoyable. It was painfully boring.

    


Rogue One: The Best Thing Since The Empire Strikes Back

Rogue One theatrical release poster, wikipedia commons

Like the movie-slacker I am, I waited until Christmas Day to go see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story because I don’t care much for long lines and crowded movie theaters.

I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I saw Episode IV: A New Hope in the theater on its first run. I was three years old.  Like a lot of old school Star Wars fans, I loved A New Hope (which we always just called Star Wars), and found The Empire Strikes Back to be an even better movie. Return of the Jedi was not as good as the others, but provided us with the answers and closure we needed.

Then sixteen years later the prequels happened and my confidence in the franchise was shaken.  After this and Lucas selling the rights to Disney, I was skeptical about Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but it turned out to be a pretty decent reboot from George Lucas’ blunders with episodes I, II, and III.  Then with the announcement of Rogue One, I was certainly full of anticipation but was careful not to have too high expectations.

Well, any concerns I had about the quality of this movie were thoroughly assuaged. Rogue One is a brilliant addition to the Star Wars franchise.

It’s Star Wars

Rogue One is a Star Wars story. Unlike the prequels which barely resembled the Star Wars we old-schoolers know and love, and even The Force Awakens to some degree, Rogue One is built from the ground up with the imagery, style and elements of the original trilogy.  There are enough Easter eggs and callbacks to the previous films to plant it firmly in the classic Star Wars universe, but done effectively in a manner that didn’t appear cheap or uninspired.  Rogue One was more Star Wars than I have seen in years.

It’s a War Movie

Rogue One is a war movie to its core.  There’s not a lot of mucking about with deep philosophical themes, political intrigue, romance, or building big mysteries to be revealed in later installments. In fact it resolves some questions we had about aspects of the storyline of A New Hope instead.  It’s darker, grittier and more violent than any of those that have come before it.  The ground combat scenes are as intense as those in classic war films such as The Thin Red Line, or Full Metal Jacket.  The space battle scenes are some of the most epic and action-packed of any of the films.

A Troubled Alliance

I think a lot of times in the past movies it seemed like the Rebel Alliance was a wholly unified and cooperative effort of revolutionaries with only the galaxy’s best interests at heart.  In Rogue One we get to see a more nuanced rebellion, a complex network of disenfranchised and dysfunctional systems.  We get to see a diverse range of Rebels from senators like Mon Mothma, to radical guerilla fighters, spies of questionable morals, and former imperials.

Darth Vader

The impact of seeing Darth Vader in action again is a quality of the film that can’t be overstated. He doesn’t play a huge role in the story, but it’s a significant one that really makes an impression and builds upon the menacing character we got to know in the original trilogy.

A Deeper Perspective on “A New Hope”

Rogue One takes place over a matter of a few days leading up to the opening scene of “A New Hope.” Multiple loose ends are tied and questions answered that had always lingered from the original story.  Perhaps most significantly, the two movies fit together more fluidly than any of the prequels or the original trilogy, or most sequels of any movies.  They almost seem like two acts of the same very long movie.  It’s hard to walk out of Rogue One and not feel compelled to rewatch A New Hope shortly afterward.

Cons

No movie is flawless and I’m not such a Star Wars fan boy to not admit flaws when they are present. There are a few criticisms worth mentioning.  To begin with the first thirty minutes or so of the movie is a little too fast-paced with scenes jumping around so much that it seems disjointed.  Fortunately this a rectified and everything becomes clear in the later acts of the film.  While Vader’s scenes are dynamic and dramatic, his suit looks a little off.  The chain that holds his cape around his neck in all the other movies is absent and his helmet doesn’t seem to fit properly as the neckline sticks out in front of the chest plate too much.  It’s a bit distracting and seems inauthentic but it’s the rest of Vader’s scenes are so great it hardly matters.  Michael Giacchino’s musical score isn’t quite up to par with John Williams’ masterpieces in the previous films, but it doesn’t detract from the movie in the least.

In many ways Rogue One is the Star Wars movie I have always wanted, but I got the Skywalker prequels instead.  Rogue One is well out of the league of the prequels.  It’s more intense than The Force Awakens, and a better all-around production than Return of the Jedi.  To me, it’s the best movie since The Empire Strikes Back.