Solo is good (and Solo 2 would be too)
Solo wasn't a movie that needed to be made, but it was a fun adventure that enhanced the original trilogy and set up a sequel that would be entirely worthwhile.
(Solo spoilers to follow)
One of my least favorite criticisms of movies is that “[insert movie] isn’t necessary.” It’s often followed by a question: “Who asked for this?” or statement: “Nobody asked for this.”
I heard those two refrains a lot after Solo hit theaters in May 2018, only five months removed from the exhausting dialogue surrounding The Last Jedi, Episode VIII of the Skywalker Saga that very much changed the way we think and talk about Star Wars. Solo wasn’t “necessary.” And that’s why critics (of the movie, not movies in general) say Solo failed at the box office (by Star Wars’ own lofty standards) — because nobody asked for it.
Both of those things might be true. Solo isn’t essential to Star Wars. Nobody was clamoring for a movie that gave us Han Solo’s backstory. But dishonesty is not my problem with that critique. My problem is that the argument is irrelevant. Movies that we didn’t ask for can still be worth watching. I never asked to see a fairytale version of Sharon Tate’s murder, but I’m glad Once Upon a Time in Hollywood exists nonetheless. All movies don’t have to be “necessary.” Every movie doesn’t have to carry the impact and meaning of an Arrival or a Parasite. Movies that don’t have the level of depth as those two aforementioned films aren’t automatically disqualified from being good. Some movies can stand alone as flawed, but fun adventures. That’s enough of a reason to exist.
I’d rather judge a movie on how well it accomplishes what it sets out to do. I wouldn’t dare call a movie like The Shallows an essential text. But for what it is trying to be — a great white shark vs. Blake Lively — it’s a good movie. I don’t consider Air Force One a necessary movie. It doesn’t really teach me anything or make me reconsider any preconceived notions. But for what it is trying to be — Die Hard, but on an airplane instead of a skyscraper, and the President of the United States instead of a cop — it’s flawless.
Sometimes, entertainment is enough of a purpose for a movie to exist. I don’t need to eat carne asada fries from the taco truck down the street every week or two, but to hell with it, I want to because they taste good and make me happy. That’s enough for me.
Solo isn’t trying to be an essential text. It doesn’t need to be watched to understand the rest of Star Wars. It’s just trying to re-introduce Han Solo while having a blast in a galaxy far, far away. It does that exceptionally well — well enough for me to watch it on a somewhat regular basis. I saw it somewhere around five times in theaters and have rewatched it at home twice now.
“You look good — a little rough around the edges, but good,” Emilia Clarke’s character, Qi’ra, tells Han, played by Alden Ehrenreich, in Solo.
She was talking about Han, of course. She might as well have been talking about the movie itself.
Solo is good. It’s not perfect. It has its shortcomings and limitations. It is rough around the edges. But it’s good. And sometimes, good is good enough. This is one of those times.
Solo tells a smaller story than we’re used to seeing in the Star Wars galaxy. It’s the second anthology movie that exists alongside the Skywalker Saga. Unlike the first anthology movie (and my favorite of them all), Rogue One, the fate of the galaxy isn’t at stake in Solo. Unlike every other Star Wars movie in existence, the Rebellion is not involved. Luke and Leia aren’t part of the story. Neither are C-3PO or R2-D2 (for the first time ever). The Empire is very much present, but not in the way we’re used to seeing. The Empire is still evil, but not the villain of the story. It’s just kinda there in the backdrop of the movie. The villain, instead, is a criminal organization by the name of Crimson Dawn. The movie shows us the criminal underworld in a galaxy far, far away. In that sense, Solo is less of a war movie than any of the other movies in the Star Wars story to this point. It’s more of a heist movie — that much it does have in common with Rogue One. And it does what it’s trying to do at an elite, but not exceptional level.
Despite being a fun adventure movie, it’s meticulously thought out. Written by Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, and his son, Jonathan, the film is layered with small details that enhance the original trilogy — most notably, an explanation as to why C-3PO, in Empire, says the Millennium Falcon “has the most peculiar dialect.” It pays tribute to the original trilogy in subtle, but effective ways that devoted fans will pick up on.
Broadly speaking, it’s a simple story. It exists to tell us how Han became the Han we first met in A New Hope almost 43 years ago, as the opening text (not scrawl) tells us:
“It is a lawless time. CRIME SYNDICATES compete for resources — food, medicine, and HYPERFUEL. On the shipbuilding planet of CORELLIA, the foul LADY PROXIMA forces runaways into a life of crime in exchange for shelter and protection. On these mean streets, a young man fights for survival, but yearns to fly among the stars….”
You know who that man is, but we’ve never seen him like this before, landlocked on a wretched planet with no means to fly away to find the life he desires, but someone who still allows himself to dream of a utopic life elsewhere with a woman he loves. He’s a dreamer. The Han we know from A New Hope was jaded. He didn’t believe in anything except himself. He didn’t think happily ever after was in his cards. The Force? A bunch of “mumbo-jumbo.” The Rebellion’s cause? Of no real interest to him. Helping others? Only at the right price. Solo shows us how he became this way. It gives us the why behind Han, who goes from local outlaw, to a runaway, to a soldier in the Empire’s army, to a deserter, to a renowned smuggler — all in the space of a single movie.
It also gives us the how of the relationships of Han and Chewie, Han, Chewie, and Lando, and Han and the Falcon. We get to see the moment Han and Chewie meet and how their relationship goes from a marriage of convenience to genuine brotherhood — in more specific terms, from Chewie trying to kill Han to Chewie sharing a shower with Han. We get to see the moment Han, Chewie, and Lando meet, and why there’s a level of distrust and tension between them in later movies — in specific terms, we get to see how Han won the Falcon off Lando in a card game, “fair and square,” of course. We get to see the moment Han and the Falcon bond.
None of those origin stories are “essential.” The original trilogy worked just fine without us knowing how they all met. But what Solo does is enhance those relationships so that when we rewatch the original trilogy, their ties are strengthened. We understand a little more of why Han and Chewie are inseparable. We understand why Han only reluctantly asks Lando for help in The Empire Strikes Back. We also understand why Han and Chewie rightly get so angry at Lando for collaborating with Vader; it’s not the first time Lando has looked out for himself over his two colleagues. Solo adds even more weight to the moment Han and Chewie set foot on the Falcon in The Force Awakens, when Han remarks, “Chewie, we’re home.” In Solo, we see them make the Falcon their home.
But for as effective as the movie is at establishing relationships, at the core of the movie are two relationships that don’t survive until A New Hope. The two dismantled relationships turn Han into the skeptical smuggler we meet in A New Hope. The first is his relationship with Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke a.k.a. Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regent of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons — or just Dany), with whom Han grew up, dreams of escaping Corellia, and exploring the galaxy. The second is his relationship with Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a criminal who reluctantly allows Han and Chewie to join his crew and becomes an unwitting mentor to Han. Both end up betraying Han to varying degrees — hence, the jaded version of Han we see in A New Hope.
A New Hope was trying to be an epic. Solo isn’t. In addition to being an origin story, Solo is a heist movie. It’s not a “blow up the Death Star” movie.
The first of the two heists, involving a train traveling through Star Wars’ version of the Himalayas, is both mesmerizing and dizzying. It’s one of my favorite individual sequences in Star Wars in terms of imagination and visuals, even though the stakes aren’t at all high. When it appears Chewie might be crushed against the side of a mountain — a moment teased in the trailer — the tension is lacking because, well, we know Chewie can’t die before he plays a key role in the six movies that follow Solo. But the sequence manages to dazzle nevertheless. It’s a spectacle that would’ve been difficult to imagine nearly 43 years ago when A New Hope tried its best, but to no fault of its own, gave us space combat and a lightsaber duel that no longer contain much, if any, pizazz. Solo has pizazz.
The second heist is more important. For the first time since it was first mentioned in A New Hope, we finally get to see the Kessel Run. For a movie that many consider to be too safe — it certainly lacked the risks a movie like The Last Jedi embraced — finally showing us the Kessel Run was risky. Anytime something that’s been lore long enough to have children of its own is brought to life, it runs the risk of being underwhelming. For decades, Han has talked about doing the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. He’s talked about it enough for it to become a legend. In The Force Awakens, Rey doesn’t know who Han Solo, the Rebellion general is, but she does know all about Han Solo, the smuggler who did the Kessel Run in 14 parsecs (“TWELVE!” he chides her). I was almost dreading it before I saw it for the first time, because I knew there was no way it could live up to what I had conjured up in my mind as a kid. But the sequence lives up to the legend.
It’s the first time Lando surrenders the Falcon to Han, and Chewie sits in the cockpit alongside Han after revealing he’s actually 190 years old.
“You're a 190 years old?” Han exclaims. “You look great.”
Again, the stakes are lacking, because we know how it ends, but the how is just as intriguing as the what. I’ll admit that for much of my Star Wars fandom, I thought a parsec was a unit of time (science has never been my strength). I always thought Han was bragging that he did the Kessel Run faster than anyone else. It wasn’t until more recently — before I saw Solo — that I learned a parsec was a unit of distance. So then, how do Han and Chewie manage to travel from Point A to Point B in only 12 parsecs when it takes everyone else 18 parsecs? How do they trim six parsecs when they’re constantly surrounded by The Maw, “an unstable and mostly unnavigable cluster of black holes”? Again, we already know they will, but Solo tells us how. It involves an Imperial blockade, TIE fighters in hot pursuit, a wicked space monster, a droid lobotomy, and the equivalent of injecting the Falcon with cocaine — Harley Quinn style.
The sequence is shot with a level of urgency and imagination. The visuals match what my mind imagined for years.
That’s the one thing I’ve realized about Disney-era Star Wars movies with each subsequent rewatch. Even the ones that are flawed — most of them are — are all gorgeous to just look at.
They also all sound great. Solo is no different, even if the great John Williams, who has racked up an astounding 52 Oscar nominations, wasn’t the main composer. That duty went to John Powell, whose score peaks during the Kessel Run, when he blends just enough hints of Williams’ Empire score with his own spin on it to tug at nostalgia without being entirely unoriginal. It’s not as great as Williams’ work, but it’s effective enough.
But perhaps most importantly, the Kessel Run proves that Han is, in fact, a great pilot. This is something that was lacking in A New Hope. It wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back, when Han navigates the Falcon through an asteroid field with TIE fighters on his tail, that we witnessed his skill as a pilot. I’d argue we don’t see enough of it in the remaining movies. In Return of the Jedi, Han fights on foot as Lando pilots the Falcon. In The Force Awakens, Han performs one tricky maneuver to sneak past the First Order’s defenses on Starkiller Base, but the entire sequence lasts a few seconds. Once again, he’s operating on foot.
For being a renowned smuggler, we seldom see Han fly. That’s why the Kessel Run is so important. It confirms that Han can, in fact, fly.
The movie is centered around the heist at Kessel — they aren’t just doing the Kessel Run for fun — but it’s also a movie that’s fun to hangout in.
For it to work, the characters need to be likable. If you’re reading this, you already know Han, Chewie, and Lando are likable. That much isn’t up for debate. I could spend several more hours with them. They wouldn’t even have to be smuggling something. They could just be flying from planet to planet, bickering about the minutiae of space travel, and I’d be happy.
The tricky part is that the actors also need to be likable. In the original trilogy, the casting was impeccable. In terms of casting, Solo also hit a home-run. Now, this is where I expect to meet some resistance. I don’t think anyone will say Donald Glover as Lando (originally played by Billy Dee Williams) wasn’t a wise casting decision. But I do think many have gripes with Ehrenreich’s portrayal of Han — and to a lesser degree, Clarke’s performance as Qi’ra.
Let’s begin with Ehrenreich, who had an impossible task of replacing Harrison Ford. Harrison Ford is irreplaceable in Star Wars in the same way that LeBron is irreplaceable in Cleveland. Outside of getting Leonardo DiCaprio back in the early 2000s to play Han, there’s nobody on the planet capable of doing what Harrison Ford did as Han.
But Ehrenreich, dare I say, gives me some young Leo vibes as Han. That doesn’t mean he’s as talented of an actor as Leo or Harrison Ford. But there are times when I watch Solo that Ehrenreich reminds me of young Leo — I say this fully expecting to be mocked. It won’t age well, because Ehrenreich won’t ever be the next Leo. But whatever. I get a slight Young Leo vibe from Ehrenreich — and I say that as a massive Leo fan.
What’s more noticeable is that Ehrenreich nails the mannerisms of Han that Harrison Ford established. Ehrenreich might not look like Harrison Ford. He might not be as good of an actor as Harrison Ford. He’s definitely not as much of a movie star as Harrison Ford. But he does a great Han impression — from the shrug, to the stance, to the nod, to the wave.
I understand that it’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford as Han Solo. It wasn’t easy for me. I entered with skepticism abound. But once I got past the fact that Harrison Ford couldn’t be Irishman-style de-aged, accepted that someone else would be taking a swing at one of the most iconic characters in the history of movies, and gave Ehrenreich an honest chance, his performance won me over. I was actually drawn to his performance more than Glover’s — probably because the degree of difficulty was higher and I had lower expectations (don’t @ me, Glover is good in Solo).
As for Clarke, let’s just say that if she had shared the same level of chemistry with Kit Harington (Jon Snow) in Game of Thrones as she did with Ehrenreich in Solo, the final season of GoT would’ve been vastly improved — and I say that as a supporter of Season 8. Clarke and Harrington shared the same level of chemistry as steak and ketchup. Clarke and Ehrenreich go together like steak (no ketchup) and potatoes. It’s evident in the opening minutes, when Qi’ra and Han plot their escape from Corellia. We don’t ever get to see their own origin story — how they fell in love — but when we see their love fully formed in the opening minutes, we buy it.
Which is important, because the only thing driving Han throughout the movie is his love for Qi’ra and his desire to recapture what they had. It’s his only purpose. And when Qi’ra eventually betrays him, it makes her betrayal sting all the more painfully.
Clarke masterfully plays both sides of Qi’ra. When she flips, she plays the hardened fighter as well as she did with Daenerys. But before the flip, she exercises a degree of vulnerability beneath her shell. She’s good enough in the role that I hope they give Qi’ra the sequel she deserves. She’s more than just Han’s love interest. She’s a compelling villain in the Kylo Ren mold.
There’s also Phoebe Waller-Bridge (not to be confused with boygenius Phoebe Bridgers, who released one of her best songs last week) as the droid, L3, who dreams of inspiring a robot revolution (and might have fooled around with Lando at some point prior to the events depicted in the movie). She’s great, even though she auditioned for the role not knowing what a droid was, having never before seen Star Wars — any of them.
Rounding out the cast are Thandie Newton and Woody Harrelson — arguably one of the most hangout-able actors working today — neither of whom require an introduction.
I want to take a brief moment to praise Bradford Young, the cinematographer. Say what you want about the Disney-era Star Wars films. They aren’t beyond reproach. They all have their own distinct flaws. But they also all look amazing.
The glimpses we catch of Corellia are enough to make me want to see an entire movie set on the Empire’s ship-building planet. Give me a Corellian gangster flick or a film about the people who construct Star Destroyers.
The one war scene we see on the swamp planet of Mimban is enough to make me want a real war Star Wars movie. Give me Dunkirk, but in a galaxy far, far away.
The views of Vandor are enough to make me want to watch an entire movie about that goddamn train. Give me a dramedy — VART: Vandar Area Rapid Transit — about the train conductors of Vandor.
Before and after the snow, Solo is mostly a dark movie. But dark doesn’t equal bad. There’s reason for the movie to be dark. The spice mines from where Han and his crew steal the coaxium are underground. Space is also dark. The cockpit of the Falcon is dark for a reason. We don’t drive cars at night with our interior lights on. The darkness is an opportunity, not a crutch — an opportunity to use sparing light in brilliant ways.
Above all else, Solo looks great. And for that, it deserves praise.
All of this isn’t to say that Solo is a perfect movie. There are missteps.
Some aspects of the origin story are overcooked.
Do we really need to hear the Imperial officer say “Han [long pause] Solo” when he gives Han his last name? I’m nearly certain it was implied when Han said he had no family. They didn’t need to literally spell it out for us.
The villain, Dryden Vos of Crimson Dawn, is maybe the least interesting Star Wars villain. He has nifty knives, but he’s the kind of villain that can be found in any gangster movie, just with an upgrade in weaponry. That’s a disappointment for the same franchise that gave us Darth Vader and Kylo Ren.
The biggest misstep came before the movie was presented to the public. Most Disney-era Star Wars movies have had their issues during production, but Solo’s problems take the throne. During shooting, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were replaced by Ron Howard. Lord and Miller are accomplished filmmakers who likely would’ve given us a version of Solo wholly unique to the Star Wars universe, which has clear and obvious value, but I was more than okay with the pivot after seeing the end product — Howard deserves credit for giving us a coherent adventure flick given the treacherous circumstances he was dropped into. The problem was the process. Why hire Lord and Miller if you didn’t want them to put their own spin on Solo? Why not just give Howard the job from the onset? The process matters, because it led to extensive reshoots, which resulted in Paul Bettany replacing Michael K. Williams as the film’s villain due to Williams’ schedule.
“I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit,” Williams said. “But [what happened with Solo] was one for the textbooks.”
It’s not Bettany’s fault the villain is lacking panache — he’s very good in the role — but it’s reasonable to blame reshoots as the reason the villain is so ordinary. According to Williams, his version of the villain was “half mountain lion, half human.” Instead, we had to settle for a male human with scary scars on his face. He’d be cool for a gangster movie, but not Star Wars, which has given us some of the most iconic villains ever.
Despite undergoing extensive reshoots, Solo came out as scheduled in May 2018. It was a blatant missed opportunity by Disney to delay the release of the film. Solo was the first Star Wars movie Disney didn’t release during the Christmas season. May 2018 was only five months removed from the release of The Last Jedi, a movie beloved by critics, but despised by a certain portion of the audience. Regardless of how you feel about the TLJ (I’ll write on it eventually), the reaction is best characterized as polarizing. It’s beyond bizarre that Disney willingly chose to release a new Star Wars film five months later, especially one that had as tumultuous of a production as Solo. Not to mention, Avengers: Infinity War debuted a few weeks prior to Solo’s release. Why compete with Thanos?
Mistakes were made. That’s undeniable. It’s why for as much as I like Solo, I don’t love it. Out of the 11 Star Wars movies in existence, it ranks seventh on my list — sandwiched in between The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker.
The Empire Strikes Back
Return of the Jedi
A New Hope
The Last Jedi
The Force Awakens
The Rise of Skywalker
Revenge of the Sith
The Phantom Menace
Attack of the Clones
But Disney shouldn’t make another mistake by refusing to give Solo the sequel it deserves.
Unlike Solo, a Solo sequel is necessary.
The film ends with Qi’ra betraying Han by refusing to flee Crimson Dawn with him as planned, instead choosing to take Dryden’s place. As Han waits for her to join him, she makes contact with Darth Maul, who seemingly died in The Phantom Menace, but managed to survive (as established in the animated TV series, Clone Wars) and create a criminal empire. He orders her to join him on Dathomir. Meanwhile, Han and Chewie win the Falcon off Lando, and head to Tatooine to take a big job with a gangster, who is implied to be Jabba the Hutt.
The sequel potential is obvious. Qi’ra working with Maul would be a highlight, partly because it would give Maul the screentime he deserves after an elite relief-pitcher role in The Phantom Menace — the movie’s most redeeming quality is the lightsaber duel between Maul, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon. Han and Chewie furthering their budding brotherhood while beginning a new working relationship with Jabba would also be of interest considering what we already know what happens in the original trilogy with Jabba placing a bounty on Han’s head. Despite Solo doing well to establish the beginning of Han and Chewie’s relationship, it could still use bolstering.
But the main attraction would be how Qi’ra and Han continue to intersect, and how their relationship ends. We know it ends poorly, likely with Qi’ra’s demise given her lack of a presence in the original trilogy and her forthcoming partnership with Maul. But we don’t know how it ends poorly. After her introduction, a conclusion to her story is necessary. Leaving it open ended would be a wasted opportunity to add another dynamic and complex villain worth rooting for to the story. She can be another Kylo Ren.
Luckily, there’s a way for Disney to do this. It doesn’t have to be made for the big screen. But it can be made for Disney+, the streaming platform that launched with The Mandalorian, the first Star Wars live-action show. With movie theaters in crises, Disney could always make sequels to Solo as a Disney+ exclusive — either in film or TV form. After the disappointment of The Rise of Skywalker, the future of Star Wars movies is murky, with the possibility that Disney will prioritize their streaming platform instead of theatrical releases. If they don’t want to commit to a new Solo movie, perhaps they could find ways for the characters from Solo to feature in their own separate show — other shows, from the Cassian Andor prequel series to the Obi-Wan spinoff, are already in development. Clarke and Ehrenreich have confirmed they’re signed for additional Star Wars stuff.
It might seem unlikely, in a post-Solo and The Rise of Skywalker world, for Solo to get the sequel it deserves. As recently as March, Jonathan Kasdan called another movie “a tough sell” and a show “hard to advocate for.”
But to quote Han himself …
I prefer to “keep a little optimism here.”