Decided to check out the late night screening of Solo: A Star Wars story last night (thanks MoviePass, I’ll sure miss you when you die). Well, I guess this is what movies are now. One of my normal criticisms films that are franchise reboots or sequels or prequels clearly based on extending IP rather than telling a story is “would I have liked this if it weren’t connected to the other thing?” This was actually my main problem with the most recent Planet of the Apes movie. When I’m watching a movie, I want to enjoy the movie, not be hit constantly with the “franchise hammer” of “this is all connected, see! See! SEE!!!” The one thing I hated most about Rogue One was the bajillion times the movie just STOPS COLD to remind me “hey, in case you weren’t pay attention, this is a Star War!!!” as if the title weren’t enough. In fact, my least favorite part of Rogue One is all of the Darth Vader stuff that happens at the end, which I think most people love.
So I was worried about Solo. For one, there’s been a lot made in the geek and film press about the multitude of production problems the movie faced, including firing the directors half way through and reshooting almost the entire movie. Furthermore, given what the film is, a prequel to the story of a specific character with four other films and 40 years of immutable lore, it just seemed kind of pointless. It’s hard to put emotional stakes on a action story for a character who continuity demands is essentially invincible and immortal for the duration of your story. And I was not looking forward at all to the inevitable litany of forced cameos and easter eggs that usually pull me completely out of the story.
I was pleasantly surprised. I liked the movie a lot. Was it amazing? No. Was it world changing? No. But it was a pleasant and enjoyable action romp that I probably would have really enjoyed if it weren’t a Star War. In fact, I would have probably enjoyed it even more. Alden Ehrenreich never quite manages to “become” Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in the film. And in fact, anytime I started to try and compare them the movie begins to break down a little bit. But if I let it go, and allow myself to enjoy the film as it is… without assuming that the characters ever have to match up (in much the same way that I never assume that somehow Sean Connery has to become Roger Moore and eventually Daniel Craig) then I enjoy his performance quite nicely. The same is true of essentially every Easter Egg or cameo (and there aren’t that many). Unlike Rogue One or War for the Planet of the Apes, they never felt forced. They were references that one could easily ignore if one had never seen the other films in the series. They MOSTLY don’t seem hamfisted at all, actually. If I were to watch the movies for the first time “in order” so that this came before episode IV, as it does chronologically, I don’t think anything would really “bother me” so much as there might be a scene here or there that I’d think “well, that could be cut.”
Really, I might have enjoyed the story even more if it had simply been called Lance Nova and the Great Space Heist or something along those lines. The franchisness of it doesn’t really add anything at all. This of course begs the question of why it even exists in the franchise at all. It doesn’t really need to. Han’s (or Lance Nova’s if you will) story doesn’t really need to be a part of the greater Star Wars saga at all. Unlike Rogue One, nothing that happens in this film really enhances the greater mythos in any real way, nor does the greater mythos have much to do with the events of this film at all. In fact, the most relevant tie-ins to the greater story are sort of incidental and happen in the last ten minutes or so of the film… and really, they’re kind of dumb and I would have just cut them out entirely. They’re two points that most seem like director Ron Howard just said “look, I’ll fucking acknowledge the Rebel/Skywalker storyline… ok, just leave me the fuck alone!” It’s not awful, but out of context of the other films it they just feel like “ok, so what? I guess maybe they’re setting up a sequel? Sure, I’d like to see Lance Nova in other stuff if this does well, I guess.”
But since those movies are already made, that just seems… weird. There is a sense that I have to actively ignore things. I’m never worried about Han dying, because I know when Han dies. I’m never worried about Lando or Chewie either. And this is sort of a weird feeling, because the mortal peril of the rest of the cast seems very prevalent at all points. This isn’t exactly fair. I certainly know that Luke, Leia and Han don’t die in Episode IV every time I’ve watched it after the first one. But it somehow feels different than the disjointment of what has happened in these. A disjointment that disappears entirely if I am enjoying the protagonist as Lance Nova, but returns every time I notice someone calling him Han Solo.
I almost wish there was less connection. This would be all the more compelling if it were an alternate universe. I don’t at all expect the Tom Holland’s Spider-man to adhere to the timeline fo Andrew Garfield or Tobey Maguire, and as stated before I’m completely ok with the Bond continuity being entirely nonsensical. Perhaps that’s the best way to understand this as well. Perhaps Lance Nova isn’t the Han Solo we know and love. He is an action hero in the Han Solo mold… but unique unto himself. And so long as I can cling to that, this is a quite fun summer action flick.
But why do they keep calling him Han? Maybe it was a mistake in editing.
★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5 stars)