Samuel Brace on Solo: A Star Wars Story…
Can Solo: A Star Wars Story defy the expectations of disgruntled fans and actually fashion itself into a good movie?
Of course it can.
There are many that are already writing the Han Solo spin off movie’s obituary, doing so at a time when there is no trailer and nothing to pin those invidious claims upon apart from gossip and a chaotic production process. Now, of course, the many issues from which the film has suffered can’t have been helpful and will surely have an impact on the movie. But that’s assuming that what was shot pre-Ron Howard is better than what Howard himself has conjured. That’s not an assumption anyone is in a position to make. Uncertainty, however, isn’t a good thing, but I feel it unfair to write off the film at this point without have seen but a frame of it.
It’s never, and I repeat never, a good idea to express a film’s demise before first seeing it, or at the very least viewing a trailer. Trailer’s aren’t always guarantors of a film’s quality, very often they can be entirely misleading, but at least they give some tangible evidence of a film’s merits, at least there is something to actually judge. I suspect much of the ire directed towards Solo, towards a film that no one knows anything about, comes from a certain frustration over the film’s existence in the first place. This was not the Star Wars Story people were looking for. With so many options on the table for Lucasfilm, with multifarious characters that a film could have been built around, Han seems like a lazy choice, an example of Disney’s rapacious instincts.
This is a position that I have some sympathy with. Solo: A Star Wars Story would not have been my choice but, again, we do not know anything about this film apart from that it will delve into the early (earlier) years of this beloved character. One would hope that there are grander plans for the film’s plot than merely two hours of hijinks, that by the time the film is done, something substantial will have been added to the Star Wars fabric, that the lore will have been enhanced in ways both meaningful and significant in terms of future films. This will of course be the hope, it’s not a guaranteed fact, but at this juncture there’s no reason to believe this won’t be the case.
I would also postulate that the vitriol some appear to hold towards this future movie has been engorged by a negative reaction towards the latest entry in the canon, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This is a film that was lavished with praise by critics but which has wholly divided audiences, with some being as bold to say that it is worse than the prequels – yes, even that nightmarish second episode known as Attack of the Clones. Now, while I certainly wasn’t a champion of The Last Jedi (you can read some of my thoughts about Rian Johnson’s troubled film here), I believe some reactions generated by the movie to be rather censorious, and that The Last Jedi will likely improve over time without ever becoming the film it should have been.
It appears to me, however, that the anger many feel towards The Last Jedi has been repurposed as criticism towards Solo (a film, again, where there is as yet nothing to criticise). This isn’t to say that people weren’t fretting about the movie before The Last Jedi, but I sense a certain accretion in hostilities now that hearts have been broken really for the first time among the bulk of Star Wars fans since the franchise returned. Those with such a seemingly burning desire to see Solo fail may likely be right with their guesstimations regarding the film’s quality, but this isn’t a position I am willing to take right now, and I encourage all to save their criticisms until we have seen something of it. I may very well be choosing to join you.
With all this being said, I do believe that Solo: A Star Wars Story can be a triumph, a triumph against all odds, but a triumph nonetheless. But what does the film need to accomplish for this hopeful future to manifest itself? Well, as any film pursuing excellence, it needs a good and coherent plot. Han, Lando, and Chewie mixed up in some smuggling job gone awry with the Hutts and the Empire involved in the mayhem? This could be a recipe for an exciting adventure. This of course would be the A plot, but what of the plot known as B? This also needs to be engaging, far more than what was limply attempted in The Last Jedi. One would imagine it will involve the hierarchy of the Empire, perhaps Vader or Tarkin will be more involved than first thought. Regardless, before anything else can hope to succeed, the film’s story from top to bottom has to be worthy.
Perhaps just as importantly, at least for this particular film, the main character has to be one that audiences respond to. Han Solo is so beloved that any reason to throw this younger version under the bus will be taken upon with glee. Alden Ehrenreich has the unenviable task of following the role formerly inhabited by Harrison Ford, and the young man has to be successful for the film itself to work in any real way. It’s a tough job but also a wonderful opportunity. Let’s hope that this is as successful as Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan performance after Alec Guinness famously debuted the character all those years before.
The film, in theory, can have a lot going for it, being set in the classic Star Wars era is certainly an advantage, one that demonstrably helped Rogue One, bringing a layer of nostalgia and familiarity that many fans appreciated. This can be the case for Solo as well and is also of course a chance for other favourite characters from the time to make themselves known. The aforementioned Vader would of course contain a dimension of fan service to accompany any appearance, but there is no doubt that the Sith formerly known as Anakin is wholly beloved and perhaps the most exhilarating toy that Lucasfilm has to play with. Another scene that can match what was achieved towards the end of Rogue One would certainly be welcome. But to achieve something far greater than pure spectacle, perhaps something a little deeper regarding the character will be required, something that has larger ramifications for the series as a whole. Solo, however, isn’t a Vader film, so a careful balance is needed should the villain find himself appearing on screen.
There are many ingredients that can be fused together to create a Star Wars dish worthy of our consumption, the above being just a few of the most important. Before anything else, however, the film needs to feel worthwhile; Solo can’t be labelled as meretricious upon release, there, as previously mentioned, needs to be something more here. Solo: A Star Wars Story has to deliver a chapter in this fable that feels necessary somehow, paramount to requirements – a task that I don’t envy of the creators. It’s not going to be easy, and there is a high chance of failure, but its failure that is not at all guaranteed, especially at this juncture. It’s true that Disney made this bed for themselves, but with good decisions (one’s admittedly lacking in the The Last Jedi) they can find success, in more ways than which are just financial. So let’s cool our febrile jets just a little, a trailer can surely be only around the corner, and when we have something in front of eyes on which to cast our critical gaze, then we can decide if its worthy of condemnation.