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Solo: A Star Wars Story: A Review

A mixed bag. Some great scenes, generally better than not. Music was forgettable. Acting was mixed. True to the Star Wars universe. Overall very enjoyable, for fans and newcomers alike. 7/10.

Spoilers Ahead

The title aside, I enjoyed Solo. It made useful contributions to the Star Wars universe, it looked very good cinematically, had decent acting from a good cast, and didn't try to be anything it wasn't.

I'm not exactly a Star Wars fan. I've seen all the movies and done some reading, sure, but they were passively consumed amongst all the other media I browse. I know very little of the universe outside of the movies. I know the main characters, and a few side ones, but Star Wars is too big a creation to be thoroughly enjoyed passively.

And it's for this reason I enjoyed Solo (and the other recent movies, Force Awakens, Rogue One, and the Star Wars games). They don't make the mistake of many other universes by trying to explain everything, to set the scene of the entire galaxy. The opening crawl does the exposition dump, letting you know the major players and locations. And throughout the movie, they do a fantastic job of Show and Don't Tell. Only the bare minimum needed to understand the scene is explained. We know Hyperfuel is valuable, but not why. We know it's volatile, but the science is presumably common knowledge in-universe, so we don't have characters stating the obvious for the sake of the audience. Chewbacca's comments aren't often translated; meaning is given through context and Han's responses. Groups of people, such as marauders and the Empire, have a reputation that proceeds them, shown through conversations that mention them, rather than being about them.

One issue this does raise - present in much of the Star Wars universe - is the McGuffin. A McGuffin is a thing that provides motivation for characters and events, but the McGuffin, despite being a focus of the story, is not important.
For example, let's say the Han and friends are not after Hyperfuel, but instead need to get the plans to an enemy base... sound familiar?
You can swap out a McGuffin for a different McGuffin and still tell the same story.
This is a minor niggle though, and hardly unique to Star Wars.

The characters in Solo are all good. There's the titular, established main character, Han, and buddy Chewie -already well-established and liked by fans.

Alden Ehrenreich plays an excellent Han, with the familiar optimistic charm and camaraderie with Chewie (which was established pretty quickly, but they did only have one movie to do it in, and it couldn't be a focus), but the movie also introduces lots of new characters. This does bother me a bit, because every movie is about new people, but I think the way characters overlap and link the new ones to other movies is well done.

Woody Harrelson plays Tobias Beckett, a smooth world-weary hired thief type, although Woody still has his re-occurring issue of feeling like a variation of himself in every role he plays. At times it feels like Haymitch from Hunger Games has dropped in. His emotional range is somewhat flat, but it does fit the character. Overall, as good a casting choice as any.

Emilia Clarke... eh. Qi'ra is an important character, as a motivator for Han and whatever is hinted towards the end of the movie, but Emilia's delivery felt off. It started well, but after Qi'ra and Han meet back up, she's a changed person, and the shift in tone is jarring. For about two minutes in the scene where the re-unite, I thought for sure there was a twist coming where it turned out to be an impersonator. It's hinted Qi'ra has done some terrible things under Dryden. To be honest, she was a generic female lead. Good, certainly not explicitly bad, but nothing mind-blowing.

And speaking of Dryden Vos, wow, Paul Bettany really nailed this one, he makes a better villain than he does Vision, in my opinion.
The delivery was chilling, switching between psychopathic monster and charming businessman at the drop of a hat. He's one of the few villains I've seen who felt truly dangerous, who actually inspired caution (rather than anger or fear) in the protagonists. He had a very mob-boss personality, with a hint of a more inhuman danger lurking underneath. Ultimately though, he was a stereotypical villain, and died after being outsmarted in a clearly telegraphed betrayal. He did put up a good fight though, so kudos where it's due.

L3, (full name L3-37, which was a nice nod) served as comic relief and sassy lady, demanding equal rights for droids, which felt like a thinly-veiled feminist political agenda. I had to step out the cinema in between the escape and her death, though I caught the end of the scene. Ultimately she was a copy of K3SO in Rogue One, with classic droid humor, brought on the adventure for a specific skill, and then a self-sacrificial death.

The next scene, I felt was the best in the movie. It was a tense piece of cinematic and meta brilliance. It hints at the scale of some of the horrors in the galaxy, with a giant eldritch-like space octopus and what was essentially a black hole, and also gives a cheeky nod to the famous 'kessel run in 12 parsecs'. I didn't catch it until my friend mentioned afterwards - they retroactively fixed the mistake. Until now, nerds the world over have been able to say 'Acktchually, a parsec is a unit of distance, not time'. Now, that's the point - Han took a shortcut. I felt this was very clever of the writers, especially as it wasn't called out. Show and Don't Tell.

From there the movie takes more or less the same route as The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, with some twists and turns as groups and characters switch side, there are betrayals and new allies, etc. It was well supported by good acting and cinematic landscapes, but at this point, I was waiting for another big moment that didn't happen. The movie used up all its action in the first half.

Speaking of visuals, as usual, they were mixed. I felt a lot of the opening thirty minutes were too dark and blue. Some scenes, such as the aforementioned Kessel run were great. It felt like the budget wasn't dived evenly, with background aliens mostly being animatronic, with some CGI mixed in. L3 looked realistic, and I have no idea if Chewie and Rio were CGI or not. Chewie was physically acted by Joonas Suotama, but whether that was for motion capture or inside a suit I'm not sure on.

In terms of style and aesthetic, Solo was spot on, with the retro-yet-hyper-advanced technology, and mix of specialized planets and utopia worlds. The directing and editing felt a little different, more traditional action-movie-esque than previous movies, but only slightly.

The score was not memorable. It set the mood, but I can't remember a single scene for it's music. This is a shame, since earlier movies had excellent music, and both John Powell and John Williams worked on this, the former being one of my favourite composers.

Despite being an origin movie of sorts, this one actually felt pretty distant from all the other movies, with only Han, Chewie, and the Kessel run to tie it to the other movies. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I felt like more could have been done there. Daurth Maul did make an appearance, which leads onto my next point...

What is the timeline? The OT/Prequels thing was bad enough, but at least we know where Rogue One and The Force Awakens / Last Jedi are. This takes place before Rogue One, but after episode III - and Darth Maul died in Episode I? I'm sure someone has drawn a neat diagram to explain it all.

I think perhaps this review came across a little harshly. There were a lot of small things that bothered me, many not unique to Solo, and they were small issues.