Solo: A Star Wars Story may not have the best “CGI” or plot twists or even the best film title in comparison to any of the “newer” Star Wars films, however, it is flat out my favorite Star Wars film outside of the originals ones.
That is an incredibly bold statement. Episodes VII and VIII advanced the story into the twentieth century through more diverse characters, fast action, quick quips, and graphics that Lucas could have only have dreamt off in the 1970’s. But what these films lack that it is hard to put your finger on is the “Star Wars” feel of the original films. Do they create that sense of style and nostalgia a space soap opera made in the late 1970’s had under the helm of George Lucas?
Solo commences with well, Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) doing what he does best, steal things and escape in fast vehicles. The viewer quickly meets Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who is clearly Solo’s love interest, and learns of their shared goal to escape the dump world they live in known as Corellia. Obstacles of course interfere in their goal of freedom and Han finds himself serving in the Empire’s army where he meets Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Val (Thandie Newton) and of course his main furry companion, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotama). This rag-tag group decides to take on a heist for the crime lord, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and conflict ensues.
Ehrenreich’s performance as the classic character, Han Solo, originally created by Harrison Ford is spot on. The first scenes of the film are definitely his weakest performance and seemed rather uncanny knowing who Solo is after seeing the original films countless time. The character just seemed off, which lead me to face a sense of dread knowing I was going to have experience this for the next two plus hours. But as the film progresses Ehrenreich’s falls more and more into the Solo mold with perfect timing in delivery of quick jabs and sarcastic puns accompanied by nonchalant smirks. A smirk only a character would make when replying to “I love you” with “ I know”.
It is not just Ehrenreich’s similar character creation to Ford’s that makes Solo feel more like a Star Wars film. It is mainly writing and directing. Solo is written by father and son team Lawrence and Jon Kasdan. Lawrence of course wrote Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI – Return of the Jedi amongst many other classic films, but also is the writer of Episode VII – The Force Awakens. One can make the argument why Force Awakens may be similar in plot to Episode IV – A New Hope, which Lucas wrote, not Kasdan, because Kasdan worked on original films. But one can say it was many Kathleen Kennedy, the producer, wanting to be risk averse and give the viewers something similar to what they know, which was a safe choice.
But regardless, Lawrence Kasdan knows these Star Wars characters because frankly he helped them grow. The writing style and dialogue flows like the originals. For example, in many of the new films, whenever there is a very serious moment, some sort of ironic joke usually breaks it. At the very start of Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, Rey finally returns Luke Skywalker’s light saber to him and what does he do? He immediately tosses it aside and destroys a possible meaningful scene. I understand that this was Rian Johnson’s idea to turn Star Wars on its head and to play up Skywalker’s quote “This is not going to go the way you think,” which becomes an overall theme to the film.
Kasdan instead allows these characters to respond and think about their actions or their potential actions. Characters will die in Solo. Surviving characters sit on it, discuss it, and then react. Through this “thinking” stage we learn more about the character’s backstory so when they do react, it has even more meaning because we care about these characters because we know more about them.
Looking at Rose Tico from The Last Jedi we know she hates the empire because her sister died, had a tough life growing up, and loves leading protagonist Finn because she tells him that. We never actually see a scene where Rose’s love for Finn grows, we just hear her say it. Most of what we know about Rose is what she tells us and not what she does.
Without spoiling Solo, we learn that many of these smugglers can’t be trusted because they say so and complete actions where you realize they cannot be trusted. Kasdan adds a healthy balance of dialogue and character actions and reactions to allow the viewer to know and grow with these characters. Beckett says he “can’t be trusted” and then commits actions that show this.
But the main person to give credit to where credit is due as to why this film feels more like a Star Wars film than the other is director, Ron Howard. When I learned the film was being passed to his leadership over Phil Lord and Christopher Miller I was a bit skeptical. Though Howard has made fantastic films like Apollo 13, Splash, Cocoon, and of course A Beautiful Mind, which he won the Academy Award for Best Director, but he also helmed all the Da Vinci Code films which were not up to par.
Howard did not want to reinvent Star Wars as Johnson clearly tried and accomplished, but instead wanted to create a film that felt like it was apart of the Star Wars universe. He accomplished this by continuing the style and feel of the original films. The original Star Wars films were essentially soap operas and westerns in space. Solo is a space cowboy that could easily steal a stagecoach in any spaghetti western. Like any films in these genres, they are dramatic, minimal humor, and simply dark.
Looking at the original Star Wars films, they are dark and gritty and not filled with a cacophony of bright colors and lights as are the prequels and the new films are. Space is a dark place as can be seen in many other space films that came out around the time. Look at such as films as Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey as examples of this dark grit. These films did not coat the eyes in color and CGI not only because it was not available technologically, but also because that is not what they wanted for the viewer.