Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story is polished and sleek, a fine demonstration of the well-oiled machine that is Disney. The cast is talented, the effects bright and shiny, the story exciting enough if a little too long. But I think Solo would have been so much better if it weren’t about Han Solo at all.

No new hope, here (just a few spoilers)

Solo is amusing, but it doesn’t offer any substance. It’s just lightweight summer fare–superficial and forgettable. This is no sin for a summer movie, but as an addition to the Star Wars franchise it should offer something more. Solo: A Star Wars Story has nothing to emotionally invest in–and that is the fatal flaw. The core saga gives us characters we can care about–passionately. This second outing into A Star Wars Story-land can put on the trappings but lacks the foundations.

It’s too determined to show us all the references from the original trilogy. While it’s fun to see Han meet Chewie and Lando, the familiar scenes can’t carry the whole movie.

The dialogue is often simplistic and obvious. And yet despite all the exposition, there is no insight into how Han Solo developed into the reluctant hero we know and love. We have only the overemphasized statement that he is a good guy. This shortcut reduces him to a cartoon cowboy and not much else.

This is not the scruffy nerf-herder we’re looking for

Solo largely suffers from the same problems that bothered me in Rogue One–good actors with far too little to work with.  While entertaining in the moment, this is not a movie I will go back to. There is no emotional growth here–Solo’s Han is, was, and always has been. Why should we care about his backstory?

Solo: A Star Wars Story
A new Han

Alden Ehrenreich is the younger Han, and he is genuinely likeable in the role. But he seems to be doing nothing more than a broad imitation of Harrison Ford’s smirk and swagger–and I know Ehrenreich is capable of better. And while young Solo should resemble the older character, it’s really hard to watch Solo: A Star Wars Story and not wish they had just CGI’d in Harrison Ford.

Emilia Clarke is also likeable as Qi’ra, but she fails to convey any heat with Solo or any cold calculation with Dryden Voss. She’s sweet, and we are told she is dangerous. Her threat just doesn’t come through.

Lando Calrissian is a wasted character, for all Donald Glover’s suave moves. But Glover gets points for showing more emotional connection to Lando’s droid, L3, than Han does to Q’ira.

Woody Harrelson’s good-natured performance as Beckett can’t save his character from being a straight-up plot device. It’s particularly galling when Beckett’s death is milked mercilessly to show that Han really is a good person, even when he shoots first.

Paul Bettany as Dryden Voss is probably the most believable actor in the film. Bettany brings a certain convincingly dangerous psychopathy to his crime lord, and is lucky enough to simply be killed in combat. And Thandie Newton’s Val is a brief, pleasant surprise who is also allowed to die with her dignity intact.

So, what’s left?

Solo: A Star Wars Story is ultimately, for me, an empty suit of a film that puts well-known characters through predictable paces with no payoff for either them or a nostalgic audience. Which is a shame.

A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi created many, many lifelong fans. Sixteen years later, the next trilogy introduced another generation of fans to the Star Wars universe. And now we have Episodes VII and VIII, with IX on the horizon, and maybe we should let the current generation become enamored of their trilogy in peace.

So perhaps that’s the deeper meaning of Solo hidden in the gravity well: it’s time to finally let Luke, Leia, Han, and Obi Wan rest, and let the saga continue without constantly looking backward for slick, flashy, and forgettable content fill up space. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

SPOILER ALERT!

 

SERIOUSLY. SPOILERS.

J.J. Abrams continuation/reboot of the venerable Star Wars franchise is exactly what we need after the travesties that were Episodes I, II, and III. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is spectacular, it is funny, and it is instantly relatable. Pretty darn good for an update to a forty year old space opera.

The Force Awakens digs deep into the original trilogy to remind us why these movies are so iconic and why we love them as much as we do. The wreckage of star cruisers and AT-ATs on Jakkar was beautifully done, and gave both continuity and a good visual sense of the epic sweep of the story. The Force Awakens happens on new planets, but it feels like we are returning to Tatooine, Endor, and Hoth. The legendary Cantina scene is loosely recreated, as is Luke’s vision in the cave. Sets and costumes and even actors are meant to recall the originals in all their glory– Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata stands in for Yoda, while Max von Sydow lasted just long enough to resemble Obi Wan. Of course, all this goes on against the background of another fantastic John Williams score.

One reminder from the original trilogy stands out above all the others. The return of the Millennium Falcon more than anything is the bridge between the old and the new, and a spectacular bridge it is. The way the Falcon endures, the way Rey handles it, and the way Han trusts Rey with it could not symbolize the changing of the guard any more clearly.

The First Order is The Force Awakens’s revived version of the Galactic Empire, and uses most of the same structure and devices as the originals. As always, the political environment is an indecipherable mess and the dark side’s epic weapons are really poorly designed. It’s always best with Star Wars to gloss over the politics and avoid deep thoughts on the technology—that’s not what any of this is about. As in the original trilogy, the true strength of Star Wars: The Force Awakens lies in its characters

Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron is a wonder. He brings a little crazy to every role, and as a hotshot rebel pilot, it is perfect. Poe actually reminds me a bit of Han—and that’s a good thing. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a tough, sympathetic lead even more capable than Leia because of her newly discovered command of the Force. That, and Luke’s lightsaber. It’s a formula for another icon. As Rey’s sidekick/partner, John Boyega’s Finn is charming and funny and convincing as a developing rebel warrior. There is an easy camaraderie between Rey and Finn and promises of substantial character development built on a strong foundation.

The dark side is a little less well-defined. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren has presence, but he also looks unnervingly like Severus Snape when he takes his mask off. And although he has his grandfather’s melted helmet as a symbol of his intentions (and a good indicator of what will happen when Han finally catches up with him), Kylo has a long way to go to measure up to Darth Vader. As General Hux, Domhnall Gleeson makes an interesting foil to the conflicted Kylo Ren much as Grand Moff Tarkin was for Vader. Gleeson does his best Peter Cushing impersonation, stiff and clipped and cold, but comes off as one-dimensional where Ren is allowed some depth.

The CGI characters were a little too Disneyfied for me, and too obviously CGI—both Maz Kanata and Supreme Leader Snoke were overly elfin for my taste, with tiny noses and chins and an almost childish appearance. This was the only aspect that reminded me of the terrible prequels, and pulled me out of the action.

I did think most of the veteran Star Wars characters were actually underutilized. The audience went wild with each new appearance of a beloved familiar face. But while Han and Chewbacca had a pivotal role to play in handing over the reins to the new guard, Leia, C3PO, and R2D2 are in The Force Awakens more for nostalgia points than for plot. I hope they will play larger roles in Episode 8, when Luke makes his return.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens certainly has the Disney touch on it, with skilled emotional manipulation and more cutesy characters than usual for the films, but the Star Wars universe can handle it. The Star Wars universe still has a story to tell, and new blood to tell it with. Pretty darn good indeed.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

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