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Movie Review: Solo - A Star Wars Story

The best thing about Solo: A Star Wars is Donald Glover. Donald Glover is a treasure.

Solo: A Star Wars Story
Directed by Ron Howard
In Theatres

The best that can be said about Solo: A Star Wars Story is that it's fine. And Donald Glover is a treasure. And a couple of set pieces are nicely put together. But other than that, Solo as a whole never achieves anything more than fine. And saying a movie is fine is pretty weak praise. Especially a movie from this particular franchise. But, really, Solo is just fine. You know what else is fine? Hair. Hair is fine. Wine is fine. Dining is fine. Motor skills are fine. Art is fine. Sandpaper is fine. Details are fine. Saying a movie is fine is a polite way of saying "stream this thing, while playing Candy Crush". Anyway, that's the best that can be said about Solo: A Star Wars Story. It's fine. And Donald Glover is a treasure.

The worst that can be said about Solo? It's a pandering, poorly written, boring mess with plot holes that make me wonder if anyone involved in creating it actually watched the finished product. A little rough, I admit. A little mean. But, really, if we're going to be honest here, Solo is dull. It's safe. No-one, except for Donald Glover, takes any risks. Donald Glover is a treasure. 

Part of the problem is that Solo is wall to wall fan service. From the beginning to the end, it's nothing but pandering fan service. It attempts to give an origin story to nearly ever little thing associated with Han Solo. From the relationships with Chewbacca and Lando to the dice to the gun play to the gun to the to shooting first to the name. Wait, the name gets an origin story, you're asking. And the answer is yes, yes it does. Of course it does. This is a movie where catch phrases get origin stories. Solo is all origin stories, all the time. The only thing that doesn't get an origin story is the vest. That will probably be in the sequel. 

Look - part of the greatness of the original Star Wars films was the lack of back story, the lack of details. From the opening of the first film the audience felt like they had been dropped into a story that was already in progress. An opening crawl about Death Stars and Empires and Rebels and such. A space battle and robots talking about princesses. This was a fully realized universe. And part of the charm was film makers who expected the audience to fill in details with their own imaginations. No-one needs to know the story behind every single thing in a frame. Where did Han Solo come from? Nobody knew and that was part of what made the character cool and awesome and surprising and fascinating. Fun fact: the first film was known only as Star Wars and Star Wars only from 1977 to 1981. Episode IV and A New Hope weren't added until four years after its original release. So when Empire came out in 1980, there were a lot of very confused audiences looking at the words "Episode V" and wondering how they had missed four movies. True story. Take it from someone who was there.

Where Rogue One really only gave us two pieces of information that would impact our future viewing of the original films - how the good guys got the blueprints and why there was a four foot hole in the Death Star waiting for someone to shoot a laser at it, Solo wants to spoon feed us, well, nearly everything.

But pandering and spoon feeding are only a couple of Solo's sins. The others are some truly cringe worthy dialogue, a poor script, a complete lack of risk, odd character choices, 70s sedan sized plot holes, and glacier pacing. The humour lands flat, there is rarely a sense of danger even when secondary characters die. Most of the effects are lost in gloom and shadow, which is never a good sign for CGI in 2018. But Solo has Donald Glover in it and Donald Glover is a treasure. 

Among Solo's sins, minor and mighty, is its very, very, very troubled production. I won't get into it except to mention that we could have a drinking game on the lack of wardrobe continuity. Emilia Clarke's wardrobe sometimes changes mid-scene. It's up there with Kate Mara's wig in Fantastic Four. Maybe not as distracting as Bela/Not Bela in Plan 9 From Outer Space, but close. Like I said above, I don't think anyone involved in this thing actually watched it.

Solo is another heist film. This is the second of these expanded franchise films and it is the second heist film. I love a heist film - when it's done good and is fun and everything makes some sense within the universe that has been created. The central heist in Solo is only there so the writers, Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, could fit the Kessel run into this thing. This is the kind of movie where a piece of it only makes sense if the audience has consumed the franchise's television product. Maybe that's Solo's greatest sin - it is the most obvious geek cash-in I think I've ever seen. Solo is the film equivalent of those bands on the radio after the record companies realized there was more and more money to be found in bands that sounded like polished grunge. Solo is Star Wars Seven Mary Three. Solo is Star Wars Three Doors Down. Solo is Star Wars Creed. 

Let's talk about the good. The performances are, across the board, good. Alden Ehrenreich is pretty damn good as the young Han Solo. And Woody Harrelson is Woody Harrelson. Emilia Clarke does a good job. Donald Glover, though, is the MVP of Solo. Hell, he may be the MVP of the entire franchise he is so good and wasted in this film. Donald Glover is a treasure. Other things that are better than fine include some bits of a train heist and the central heist has some great moments. The film's lack of interest in space wizards is refreshing. And Clint Howard is in it.

So, is Solo the worst Star Wars film? Nope, nothing in Solo comes anywhere near the horridness of the prequels. Hell, even at its worse Solo is never "I don't like sand" bad. It's just a fine film. And everyone involved should feel bad. Except Donald Glover. Donald Glover is a treasure.