Flair Without Force

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 A review of SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY directed by Ron Howard Review by Allyson LarcomSolo: A Star Wars Story, helmed by director Ron Howard, lays out the backstory of a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), from well before he meets a teenage Luke Skywalker and company in a little cantina on Tatooine. It follows his escape from his Empire-controlled home planet of Corellia, where he survives as a homeless thief, and his separation from his teenage sweetheart Qi’ra (played by Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clark). Han signs up to become a pilot and subsequently gets kicked out of flight school, meets Chewbacca, turns back to thieving and piracy, wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian in a game of cards, and makes the famed Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs—all of which Star Wars geeks will recognize as part of his pre-established history. Along the way, he attempts to rescue Qi’ra from the life of organized crime in which she’s become enmeshed and to keep a valuable, volatile MacGuffin out of the hands of criminals with worse intentions than his own—embellishments that work to keep the movie interesting.

Though Solo exceeded my expectations, that isn’t to say it was a great movie—the list of things I was annoyed with about it still outnumbers the list of things I thought were clever or good. To me, it felt like a movie that sat just on the precipice of being special, but simply wasn’t. The Star Wars franchise has always been deeply important to me, but Solo felt like any other popcorn flick. It lacked the earnestness and the heart that defined the original trilogy as well as the depth of sentiment possessed by more recent films like Rogue One and The Force Awakens.

Solo suffered from the same Disney-fication that many fans found irritating in The Last Jedi. In the process of this Disney-fying, the film sought to make Han a good-guy-hero-underdog with a heart of gold, which in many ways undermines Han Solo’s development as a character in the original trilogy. Han’s arc from A New Hope through Return of the Jedi is all about him going from a self-serving loner to a loyal friend, a loving partner, and a devotee to the cause of the Rebellion. His character goes through the same arc on a smaller scale through the course of Solo. It actually feels like the Han we meet in A New Hope is a regression from the Han at the end of Solo.

Solo was also the most boy-focused, boy-driven Star Wars movie of the new crop that’s sprung up since the infamous prequels, which feels like a letdown after the successes of The Force Awakens and Rogue One. Qi’ra is the only major female character (apart from Lando’s long-legged female droid L3, an unnamed rebel leader, and a thief named Val who dies in a fiery explosion not long after we meet her), and she functions exclusively to provide the romantic intrigue that moves Han’s story forward. This movie also does not pass the Bechdel test, which seems like a very basic requirement in 2018.

What was most frustrating about this movie to me is that it seems to toe the line when it comes to managing intrigue. We get plenty of clues, meaningful glances, and lines with a shrouded, deeper meaning. But then the movie simply doesn’t deliver—especially when it comes to character development. As one of my friends put it, it’s very telling when the character the movie is named after is the least interesting character in the movie. Aside from the fact that I never wanted to see Han with any woman who isn’t Leia Organa, Qi’ra’s romance with Han frustrated me because of how interesting she would have been if she hadn’t been shunted into the role of romantic counterpart. The movie baits her with intriguing details, implying a fascinating backstory and psychology, but never builds those details into a coherent, complex character whose development could have paralleled Han’s. Qi’ra’s choice at the movie’s conclusion was a fantastic twist—one that made me very sad that we hadn’t gotten to see more of the depths of her character before that moment.

I feel the same way even about some of the characters we were already familiar with, like Lando or Chewie. Han’s backstory has already been laid out in Episode IV and onward, so this movie could easily have functioned as a doorway to explore the histories of some of the characters that exist tangentially to Han but whose pasts have been less discussed in canon (again, and again, and again until the end of time: LANDO CALRISSIAN). While there is some discussion of where these characters came from and how they initially connected with Han, that narrative was not nearly enough to be satisfying. As a result, Solo felt redundant, as well as inaccessible for people without the same Star Wars background as some of the die-hard fans.

Still, the movie was definitively enjoyable. Action scenes like the heists and the Kessel Run were absurdly fun to watch. Donald Glover and Alden Ehrenreich portrayed the younger versions of their infamous characters with style—paying homage to the iconic performances of Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams without seeming overeager or try-hard—and there were several surprises despite Han’s well-known in-universe history.

Without taking it too seriously, Solo is an enjoyable, mindless break for Star Wars fans. About a third of the way in, I realized that I had been laughing or smiling my way through most of the movie. The movie was just fun. I let myself simply enjoy the ride. It’s nothing to agonize over in detail or to rush out to see, but it’s worth watching if you’ve got nothing better to do on a Friday night.

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Allyson Larcom is a Boston-based writer whose work has appeared in The Satirist and Wellesley College's Counterpoint Magazine. Follow her on twitter @ogrewitch, or visit her website allysonlarcom.wordpress.com to find more of her writing.

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