Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is the second standalone Star Wars movie separate from the numbered episodes of the Skywalker saga to come out following Disney’s takeover of the franchise. Whereas 2016’s Rogue One focused on a new group of characters only referred to as “rebel spies” in the opening crawl of the original 1977 film, Solo seeks to tell the backstory of one of the franchise’s most beloved characters. That could be seen as an advantage for the new film as audiences are already familiar with and have an affinity for its lead character, but it may ultimately prove a bigger challenge than anything. After all, how do you tell the backstory of a character whose mysterious background is one of the most intriguing things about him, and make it live up to expectations? One need look no further than Star Wars prequels for a perfect example of how this has played out in the past. And one knows how that went.
We are first introduced to young Han on the ship-building planet of Corellia under the control of a Fagin-like character named Lady Proxima. Proxima has Han and his fellow orphans scavenging for riches in exchange for food. Han has found a prize that he thinks could be his ticket off the planet and attempts to escape with his girlfriend Qi’ra, but they are separated. Looking to escape capture, Han signs up for the imperial army and is given the surname Solo when he explains that he has no people. Hoping to become a pilot, he is instead thrown into the trenches. During a battle, he falls in with a group of mercenaries and is whisked away on an adventure with his new Wookie friend Chewbacca in tow.
When Han and his new compatriots find themselves in debt to a vicious crime lord, he proposes a major score on the mining planet of Kessel. In order to pull this mission off, they need a ship. Enter the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian and his pristine new freighter called the Millennium Falcon.
If the name of the mining planet sounds familiar, it is because the “Kessel Run” has already gone down in Star Wars lore as one of Han and the Millennium Falcon’s greatest accomplishments. After all, “it’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs,” Harrison Ford’s Han boasted in the original film. It was just a single line of dialogue in the original film, but now Solo attempts to make it into a set piece, for better or worse. Honestly, now that I have supposedly seen the “Kessel Run,” I am still not exactly sure what part of what I saw was the actual “run.”
It is a shame that the Kessel Run sequence does not entirely work, because the film clearly intends the sequence to be its centerpiece action moment. Unfortunately, what it ends up feeling like is an excuse for the movie to turn the then pristine Millennium Falcon into the “piece of junk” it was in the original film. It is just one example of fan service that feels a little too blatant throughout the film. One of the most egregious examples is a clear acknowledgment of the “Han Shot First” debate that has raged on the Internet ever since Lucas released his updated version of A New Hope in 1997. The way it is handled within the film is fine, but because it is such a well-known debate that exists outside the universe of the films, it feels false.
Fan service is not necessarily a bad thing and it has been littered throughout all of the modern era Star Wars films, but like the light and dark sides of the force, there needs to be balance. Representing the dark side is last year’s The Last Jedi, which essentially slapped fan service across the face with its dismissal of fan theories about Snoke’s origin and Rey’s family, while Solo appears to overcorrect towards the light, constantly giving us haphazardly forced moments like the “Oh, this is when Chewbacca became his co-pilot” moment. It should come as no surprise that the highest grossing Star Wars movie to date is The Force Awakens, considering it feels the most balanced when it comes to fan service and new ideas.
Solo does have some new ideas of its own. One of the highlights of the movie from an action standpoint is a fast-paced train robbery sequence as Han’s crew attempts to steal a loaded train car right off the tracks while it is moving at high speeds, all while fighting off a crew of rival mercenaries. This movie has been described as a space western, so having a train robbery sequence as one of the film’s signature actions scenes feels like an appropriate touch.
The movie introduces a few fun new characters, but the emphasis is certainly on the main trio of iconic characters: Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian. The seven-foot-tall Joonas Suotamo takes over the role of Chewbacca and you will never even know that there was a switch. And Donald Glover is a perfect fit for Lando, taking over the role from Billy Dee Williams. Glover brings just the right level of suavity and style to the role. With his stylish facial hair and never-ending supply of capes, he looks the part and sometimes even sounds like a dead ringer.
Meanwhile, Alden Ehrenreich has the challenging task of taking over the iconic role of Han Solo from Harrison Ford. It is not the first time a younger actor has filled Ford’s iconic shoes. River Phoenix’s portrayal of a young Indiana Jones in the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade remains one of the late actor’s most memorable roles. Ehernreich has to carry an entire film and he pulls it off by making the character his own. He may not look or sound much like Ford and sometimes you can see the gears turning, but he nails the character’s braggadocio and roguish nature.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a perfectly entertaining romp and moves along fairly quickly for a 135-minute movie. The movie also introduces some interesting elements that could make for good story points in future films, both films that follow the further adventures of Han Solo and ones that branch off in other directions. Unlike Rogue One, however, which tells a story worth telling about heroes of the rebellion previously unheralded in the franchise, Solo never fully justifies its reason for being told. Han Solo already had a pretty solid character arc within the franchise and filling out his backstory feels more like a disservice to the character as a whole than a benefit.
Solo opens today at the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s The Landing 14.