SOLO is good enough. It’s a very well made film that tells a perfectly good story, in which the character Han Solo is represented by an actor who does an adequate job making us believe he could be Han Solo (by the end of the film, at least). It’s possible another actor could have done a better job, but it’s also plausible that no actor could truly make us believe they were a young Harrison Ford. So I can’t complain. I can’t really bring myself to feel too strongly about any aspect of the film, except to say that vocal naysayers are wrong: it’s a perfectly fine movie.
However, how we evaluate a film depends largely on the context in which we see it. If this story were filmed in the 1980’s, I think it would be lauded as one of the better Star Wars films. And it is, perhaps, a better made film than even A New Hope or Return of the Jedi, involving more thought and requiring more talent than anything included in those originals. But made in 2018, it feels like one of an ever growing crowd and — despite the talent and thought that clearly went into it — just feels like part of the relentless mediocrity of franchise filmmaking in general.
To be clear, it’s not mediocre. A lot of talent goes into all these films, and this one is no exception. It’s all really well done. It’s like each new installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Each film is a perfectly decent film. But any of them could feel mediocre standing side by side with its dozens of similarly-made peers. In short, SOLO is a excellent film that suffers from being so surrounded by other excellent films that we no longer regard any of them very highly. This is the nature of any movie franchise that grows too large for its own good.
In terms of Han’s character, SOLO tries to have its cake and eats it too
In the original film, Han shot Greedo preemptively. Further, multiple times Han reminds other characters and the audience that he looks after himself above anything else. He refuses to help princess Leia until Luke implies that she is wealthy. And at the end of the movie, he gets paid for helping. He almost doesn’t come back at all — when Han returns to save the day at the end of the movie, this represents a significant development in his character. It was a crucial moment when he first decides to put someone else ahead of himself. He was a man without loyalties, a smuggler interested in profits and who wasn’t afraid of casually killing a bounty hunter.
When George Lucas tinkered with the original series in the Special Edition release of the original series, he changed a crucial scene that was central to Han Solo’s character. In the recut Special Edition, Greedo shot at Han first, missed, and then Han shot him in retaliation and defense. This represented a seismic shift in Han Solo’s character. Lucas wanted him to be the type of person who wouldn’t pull his blaster out and shoot people unless they were already shooting at him. In this version, when Han returns to save the day, this is who he always was. He might tell you he’s only out for profit, and he might have put on an affectation of neutrality — but this is all bluster. We aren’t to believe him; he’s just masking a heart of gold.
SOLO tries to have its cake and eat it too. In a fairly hamfisted way, the movie drills it into us that this is a Han who shoots first. (There is a scene where he does, in fact, shoot first — and they tell us so.) In doing so, it gives fans of the original pre-special edition movies their Han Solo back. He shoots first, sure, but unlike the Han Solo we meet at the beginning of A New Hope, he is already willing to do the right thing at immense personal cost. He may not have any particular team loyalties, but he certainly doesn’t look out for himself above all. In fact, at the end of SOLO, Han freely gives away a fortune that he has worked hard to earn, with no expectations in return, just because it’s the “right” thing to do. Quite frankly, that’s not the Han we meet in A New Hope.
The movie needs to slow down and smell the roses
The biggest complaint I have about the film is that it has no room to breathe. There’s never a moment of quiet reflection because we move from plot point to plot point and from set piece to set piece with dynamic fluidity in a never ending stream of new and cool content without any downtime in between or any opportunity to pause and smell the roses or even to just show us the vistas or sets or to listen to the music swell or anything that would make any particular scene stand out in memory. In fact, the movie felt quite a bit like that sentence.
I felt like there could have been — or were — such moments, but they are probably on the cutting room floor, in an attempt to reduce the length of the movie. Many of the establishing shots — the scenes where a camera would “linger” in a slower paced film — feel truncated, on screen barely long enough for us to register them As a story editor I would suggest trimming the actual story content instead and giving a bit more room for what’s left to breathe. Yet, I couldn’t really say what they should trim. Nothing of the story seemed like it was essential, yet nothing of it seemed totally superfluous either. Perhaps that’s a good description of the film as a whole.
A secondary and minor complaint is that the movie is afraid to let small stories be small stories — sure, this is merely a heist film instead of a war story with galactic stakes, but the movie can’t resist making our heroes leave huge wakes in their path, wherever they go. What should have been just a heist turns into a slave and robot uprising. What should have been a meeting between a smuggler and a buyer turns into an opportunity to help arm a fledgling rebellion against the Empire. A truly small story wouldn’t leave such visible tracks.
I cannot say much about Gospel insights in the movie, for I saw none. To some degree this is unusual. A New Hope at least had lines about putting our trust in the Force, which could be analogized to the Spirit. Empire Strikes Back had plenty of lines from Yoda that could be treated as insightful from a Gospel point of view. Return of the Jedi had dialogue on the virtues of love and the perils of hate. The prequels never happened, of course. The Last Jedi was packed with Gospel-related insights. The Force Awakens or Rogue One? I don’t really remember. However, Solo didn’t have any at all.
And that’s OK — there’s nothing wrong with that. Most action movies are like that. But it does make it a little bit more spiritually sterile (thematically) than some of the others. There isn’t much more to say about the film. It was fun to watch, it was well done, and it served its purpose well as an origin story for Han Solo — even if the Han Solo we end up with isn’t the cynical chaotic neutral character we meet at the beginning of A New Hope.