Friday, May 25, 2018

Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

I walked into Solo pretty certain I knew what I was going to get and how I was going to feel about it. I'd been following the behind the scenes drama around the directors getting replaced at the last minute ("after the last minute" might be more accurate), I'd seen the trailers, I knew it was trending towards 70% on Rotten Tomatoes, and - let's face it - a prequel movie focused on Han's origin story only has so much breathing room.

With that in mind, let me tell about the movie I expected to see. It was going to be fairly dull, with rather uninspired spins on classic characters, enhanced by delving into corners of the Star Wars Universe we've only caught glimpses of. In other words, I expected to be underwhelmed by the characters but thrilled by the world (which was more or less my takeaway from Rogue One).

Turns out, I had it almost completely backwards. Solo's best asset is its characters. I might not agree with every choice they made for a young Han, but there's no denying he was fun to watch. And even with absurdly high expectations, Donald Glover still manages to over-deliver: he's absolutely fantastic. And those are maybe the third and fourth best characters in the movie. If you thought K-2SO was great, wait until you meet Lando's copilot.

On the other end of the spectrum, I was a little disappointed in the setting. There's definitely some great stuff - including the first portrayal of Imperial officers and soldiers who come off seeming like humans - but overall we got less than I'd hoped from the worlds and spaces. A few of the planets were essentially indistinguishable from each other, which represents a fairly large misstep in this franchise. Likewise, the movie passed up the opportunity to really delve into the seedier underbelly of Star Wars. I think we got a better sense of that from Jabba's palace in Return of the Jedi than we did from this entire film. Still, what we see is fun. Some locations and situations may borrow heavily from Firefly, but Firefly certainly borrowed a lot from Star Wars, and turnabout's fair play.

The movie's tone and style are a bit harder to dissect. You can definitely see the frayed edges left by the change in directors - this is clearly a movie where the vision shifted dramatically halfway through production. What's really astonishing is that this doesn't pose anywhere near as big an issue as you'd expect. In some ways, it may actually have resulted in a net positive.

Objectively, there's something off about the way the writing - often intentionally comical, bordering on farcical - clashes with the dark visuals and serious surroundings. But the end result is so weird, it's engrossing. You end up with a space western that doesn't take itself seriously until it does. I kept thinking what I was watching shouldn't work, but - for me, at least - it just did. I'm honestly not certain if this is a reflection of Ron Howard's skill and dedication, or if he's just the luckiest son of a bitch in the galaxy. But that's also always been the question at the core of Han Solo, so you've got to appreciate the synchronicity.

There's one other expectation I had walking in that the movie managed to subvert, and that's one I'm going to be a little careful about. I'd assumed there was absolutely no way Solo could possibly surprise me. But once again, I was mistaken. Solo delivered a moment I couldn't possibly have predicted, and I was completely surprised and delighted. I expect this moment will be divisive. A lot of people are going to call it stupid, and they won't be wrong. But I just absolutely loved it.

While Solo certainly had its share of flaws, the movie demonstrates Disney's ability to produce worthwhile blockbusters even when things go wrong. I had a lot of fun watching this, and I suspect you will, as well.

Now go see it, so we can talk about the stuff I'm leaving out. Who the hell expected Solo to have anything that could meaningfully be called a spoiler? That alone is impressive.

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