We’ve reached a weird point in Star Wars fandom. Back in the 70s and 80s there were few popular franchises that received the amount of attention and mainstream exposure that the series did and as a result lots of then kids and teenagers grew to be adults in the 90s when the “extended universe” took off through the print medium. The fact that nearly two decades went by with no additions to the film canon allowed a solidification in ideas of what a Star Wars film should be. The next three movies…were not that. Although the prequels have been accepted by generation Z for different (mostly memetic) reasons, they have been overwhelmingly pegged as a stain on the Star Wars canvas.
Star Wars fans don’t like The Force Awakens because of its obviously pandering notes of nostalgia, and they don’t like The Last Jedi because of its painful destruction of that nostalgia. All of this long-windedness is to say, we really aren’t sure what we want. And it shows, in the way we have managed to lambast even the mostly inoffensive Solo. By no means am I saying it is a standout film in the series, or even in this summer but it’s not terrible, and quite frankly I enjoyed myself while seeing it.
I’ll get the negatives out of the way first, because there are several. For one, the movie is hopelessly infiltrated by the kitschy sense of humor that every pg-13 action film tends to have these days, and like with previous encounters it comes off as a bit awkward — quips here are far less endearing than when coming from the mouth of Robert Downey Jr. or Chris Pratt — like a senior citizen attempting to speak in contemporary slang.
There’s also a very sanitized sense of convenience that hangs over the story that, like this film’s brand of humor, is perfectly fine in a superhero flick but doesn’t work all that well in a story that’s supposed to be unpacking the deep mythology of one of pop culture’s most storied characters. The Millennium Falcon loses both its escape pod and its satellite dish, Han meets Chewie, Han gets into debt, Han meets Lando, Han starts the beginning of the rebellion? Everything falls into place in a way that just feels too perfect for the universe.
Speaking of Lando, Donald Glover’s anticipated performance veers sharply into caricature, while Alden Ehrenreich’s (much dreaded) turns out to nail the mannerisms and inflections of a young Harrison Ford pretty well. At least enough to hold up with some reasonable suspension of disbelief. I felt as though Glover was trying a little to hard in this role which tends to be what he’s known for, but his acting grated chiefly (I think) because Billy Dee Williams was never trying very hard at all. He barely pronounced “Chewbacca” correctly and made it pretty clear through interviews that he knew little more than he needed to about the universe he took part in.
That’s a lot of bad things I’ve said about this movie but the truth is, it’s done quite well. There’s action, adventure, and a budding friendship that many people have waited a long time to see onscreen.
Han’s meeting Chewbacca is actually one of the few instances of humor that works; Chewie’s confusion as Han struggles to wrench garbled (hilariously subtitled) shyriiwook from his vocal cords. This is of course second only to the opening scene in which an enemy points out in response to Han’s thermal detonator threat: “That’s a rock, and you just made a clicking sound with your mouth”.
Other highlights include a full throttle landspeeder chase through a dismal, foggy, Corellia; a gravity defying train heist that provides a new take on the tried and true western staple, and Han 100% inarguably shooting first.
It’s time for us to accept the fact that from here on out every film bearing the Star Wars name is for all intents and purposes, a fan film with an extremely large budget. Accordingly, nothing is ever going to replicate the magic of the originals. Let’s start appreciating these films for what they are, and not what they can never be.