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How ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Fails to Capture the Ethos of the Franchise

by Monita Mohan 4 years ago in star wars

This is not the Han Solo film we were looking for!

They look unconvinced, but we have only just begun.

Han Solo, intergalactic smuggler and sometime rebel hero, is an icon of science-fiction cinema loved by many around the world. Yes, aspects of his personality are problematic, but fans have either chosen to ignore them or have accepted them as just a(nother) troubling inclusion in the beloved franchise. Like most Star Wars heroes, Solo’s origins are shrouded in mystery. But, in the hands of Disney, no character is safe from an origin story. Solo is just the beginning.

After the rollicking ride that was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the second installment of the Star Wars spin-off anthology is here with Solo: A Star Wars Story. Directed by Oscar-winner Ron Howard, following tumultuous behind the scenes problems, the film premieres on the same date as the first Star Wars film, 41 years ago.

The film begins with Han (Alden Ehrenreich) being chased in a stolen speeder, his cargo—a vial of Coaxium, an expensive material that Han and his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), will trade for passage off Corellia, away from their lives as slaves to the vile Lady Proxima. Of course, things go sideways and the two get split up. Han then signs up to become a pilot.

That plan doesn’t last long. Apparently, he has a big mouth and before long he’s swept up in the Empire’s war against, well… everyone. On one such mission, Han meets Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and his gang. Han tags along on their mission to co-opt some of the Empire’s Coaxium, only for it to go terribly wrong. Wait, I’m seeing a pattern here.

Beckett and Han then have to work together to pay off the big bad, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who in turn owes the Coaxium to Crimson Dawn. Han is reunited with Qi’ra and, for some reason, is blinded to the idea that she has changed since last they knew each other more than three years ago. This despite Vos calling her one of his great lieutenants and the two of them being overly affectionate with each other.

Anyway, they’re off to get a ship (guess which one) and meet Land Calrissian (Donald Glover), sabacc player extraordinaire… or is he? They hop on to the Millennium Falcon and off they go to get some raw Coaxium. Along the way, a revolution happens, characters die and more are revealed to be good guys hiding beneath scary masks. In the end, Solo is not so solo because he’s got Chewie and the Millennium Falcon.

Together again!

Solo was never going to be the best film of the Star Wars franchise—the backdrop of chaos ensured that. But, it is a fun film with plenty to enjoy. Unfortunately, the fun parts are book-ended by archaic storytelling and characterisation, as well as an overwhelming lack of diversity. Spoilers ahead, so watch the film first.

The film has three female characters of note, and the only Black woman dies in the first 15 minutes. I was excited to see Thandie Newton join the Star Wars universe and absolutely gutted when she didn’t make it passed the first act. She blows herself up in vain when the mysterious Enfys Nest interfere with Beckett’s plan for stealing the Coaxium. Guess what happens to the Coaxium after that? Han drops it and it goes boom and the film begins in earnest. You know who should have died in that scene? Woody Harrelson’s Beckett. The dude plays the same character in every film and Beckett is no different. How refreshing would it have been for Han to have a female mentor? Val was obviously the more competent of the two characters, yet she’s fridged, like so many other ladies in blockbuster films.

The other "woman" in the film is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3, Lando’s droid who is in love with him, or the other way around. Either way, it is weird. She’s supposed to be the stand-in for women because she’s all for equal rights (for droids) and starts the revolution that eventually ends up killing her. I am not sure how the Star Wars universe has devolved into one where stupid people making stupid decisions that end up killing people (and themselves) is a thing. Star Wars: The Last Jedi proved that the wonderful diverse characters we had met in Star Wars: The Force Awakens were little more than arrogant juveniles acting on impulse against an infantile group of baddies. How many decisions did Poe, Finn, and Rose make that led to the countless deaths of the Resistance? And, let’s not forget how Rey is suddenly a love-sick fool, happy to go on a suicide mission to "save" Kylo Ren. The characters in Solo at least don’t come burdened with the promise of greatness; but that doesn’t excuse them for acting like idiots, though.

Qi’ra is the only female character with substantial screen time, yet she is shockingly uninspiring. Qi’ra feels like she’s come straight out of the dark ages—a vapid, coquettish damsel, whose only job is to relay information and act as the ultimate heart-break for our hero. She doesn’t emote or act of her own accord. In the end, she kills Dryden and appears to partner with Crimson Dawn, but to what end, we may never know. Do we even care? She seemed to have little authority when with Dryden, and it feels like she’ll just become the same for her new employer. In the end, Qi’ra is little more than a femme fatale of yesteryear, posing as something more in today’s modern era. She is never a character in her own right—none of the ladies are, and it makes me wonder why Star Wars, as a franchise, seems to be going backward. If anything, Disney should be capitalising on all the progressive steps taken by The Force Awakens and Rogue One. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Concept Art of Qi'ra from Phil Szostak's The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story

I don’t know whose idea it was to introduce a love interest for Han in this film, but they should have been fired (I am guessing it is the Kasdans, since they are credited as the writers of this film). We already know Han and Leia are the first couple of space; why would we care about his previous relationships? His love for Qi’ra is chemistry-less and has zero bearing on his character. Is he embittered by her betrayal? How could he be? It’s not like he gave her a chance to even speak and tell him about her life on Corellia after their separation. Nor does the audience learn what it is that the two of them see in each other—we are just hit on the head with their very first interaction being a snog in the dark. What would have worked better would have been to make Qi’ra a sister figure, giving Han a close friend who betrays him. Or delete Qi’ra all together, because her inclusion ruined the film. Clarke’s appalling performance is part of the reason, but the shoddy characterisation she had to work with definitely didn’t help.

Talking of poor choices, who decided to make a freckled, red-haired girl the film’s stand-in for the problems that minority communities fight every day? The Rebellion that Enfys Nest was supposed to stand for in Solo is completely diminished by the fact that the character is not played by an actor who could ably represent the people from countries that know exactly what it’s like to have an "Empire" rob them of everything. This is another thing that Rogue One did right—the Partisanson Jedha were dressed like people from the Middle East, because they were aptly representing the rise of the powerless against the corrupt. The creators of Solo try to emulate the same and just… make it worse.

The Partisans fighting Stormtroopers on Jedha in Rogue One

And then there is the villain. Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos was a late addition to the film, when Howard took over. Firstly, it is disappointing that the reshoots edged out an actor of colour and replaced him with a white actor. Michael K. Williams wasn’t able to return for the reshoots, but that should have given the studio incentive to up the diversity quotient in the film, which they didn’t do. Bettany is excellent in his role as the smarmy, unpredictable crime lord, but in terms of villainy he is more of an annoyance than a real threat. Much like Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars: A New Hope, his power is only felt when he is on-screen; otherwise, he is but a catalyst for the events of the film. Had the plot been pared down, we may have felt the fear that Vos was supposed to instill in the characters and the audience. Unfortunately, Vos is a cog among so many that his presence is lost when viewing the finished product.

What most of us going into this were expecting a film about Han and Chewie’s friendship, as well as his rivalry with Lando. Because, guess what, those are the established relationships in the franchise that we would love to learn more about. In the span of six months, audiences have been given two Star Wars films that didn’t bother to develop established characters and plots; instead, we have been introduced to new characters and wholly different characterisations of current characters. What is the point of being a sequel or a prequel if you’re just going to add elements without expanding on what you have?

Chewie is mostly sidelined in Solo, which is the ultimate insult seeing that they are the epitome of friendship goals in Star Wars. Also, somehow that big walking carpet has better chemistry with Han than Qi’ra.

Donald Glover’s Lando is incredible and it’s a real shame that he’s hardly on screen. Glover captures Bill Dee Williams’ voice and intonations and even some of his mannerisms. He is a joy to watch and has plenty of chemistry with the slightly vapid Ehrenreich. We know he’s arrogant and a bit full of it, but we didn’t get to see him in action, nor did the film establish a working relationship between these two characters. There’s history to be made and Solo doesn’t make it.

More of this, please.

It’s evident at this point that Disney is so afraid of appearing even slightly gay that they must do everything in their power to appear as straight as possible. Declaring Lando pansexual in interviews doesn’t make Lando’s overly heteronormative actions any more colourful in the film. Is he pansexual because he’s in love with a robot? Since the robot is referred to as ‘she’ throughout, I don’t see that as a legitimate claim. Every other time Lando is seen flirting or recounting a flirtatious story, it is with regards to a female character. Very pansexual, Disney. You don’t get brownie points for doing a JK Rowling on us. If L3 was voiced by a male character, would the ‘love story’ have taken place? In Rogue One Cassian Andor and K-2SO spend plenty of time bantering with each other and it’s evident that actors Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk’s on-set chemistry rubbed off on the characters. They could easily have been a couple but again ‘no homo’ meant they weren’t weeping for each other or discussing their love lives with perfect strangers (yes, all that happens in Solo).

Another disturbing parallel between Solo and The Last Jedi is that both films try hard to be the anti-thesis of their predecessors. I’ve detailed several problems with The Last Jedihere, but Solo toes the same line. Where Rogue One hinted at old romances/burgeoning love but never hindered its story’s restricted timeline by including prolonged romantic exchanges, Solo is dogged by cringe-worthy scenes of lurve! There is soooo much snogging it begins to grate on the viewer. Which brings us to pacing.

The pacing and the tone of the film are so confused. Seriously, those two elements, more than anything else, tell you that the film’s creation has changed hands several times. We get numerous action sequences in the film, which are great, but a few of them feel overlong and derivative. The train sequence, for example, looked like a direct copy of the one in Captain America: The First Avenger, but with added shots of Han "piloting." We don’t get a sense of how good he is because the camera is focusing on him and not on what he is doing.

Then there’s the Kessel Run. We finally see how Han did it in 12 parsecs (parsecs mean something different in the Star Wars universe because in reality it is a measurement of distance and not time, like in the film franchise—George Lucas, you weren’t paying attention in class, were you?), except the entire run appears to be based on luck! Howard directs the Kessel run as a plodding cruise through a gas cloud, with nary a focus on Han’s intellect and nifty flying. I don’t think Howard understands tense space chases, because he captures none of the goosebump-worthy suspense of the other Star Wars films. The much talked-about Kessel Run turns out to be pretty forgettable.

Not the Kessel Run we were looking for.

The film is incredibly dark, not only plot-wise, but because of lighting. It was often impossible to tell what was going on on-screen because of the darkness. Also, while the trailers suggested a fun-filled quip romp, that is not what we got. Apparently, the original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were going for a comedic angle (which, admittedly, is their style) but Disney didn’t want that so the directors left. I’m guessing the trailers were edited from their version, because those included a lighter mood. Howard gives an overall broody and gloomy feel to the film which is at odds with some of the quippier dialogue. It is also at odds with Ehrenreich’s permanent smirk (ala Harrison Ford) and Glover’s nonchalant gloriousness. Together, it simply doesn’t work.

The film was not all bad, though. Ehrenreich may not be the perfect Han, but I couldn’t help but squee in delight when he perfectly mimicked Harrison Ford’s signature battle pose. He showed that an actor doesn’t necessarily have to imitate his predecessor to capture the essence of the character. It’s a pity that the film’s writing and direction let him down, because all in all, he wasn’t all that bad.

Striking a pose

The film has several fun moments and plods to a satisfying, if mundane conclusion, which was surprising in and of itself. But, should we be giving it credit just because it wasn’t an awful mess like Justice League? Disney is a giant conglomerate dictating the moves of two of the biggest cinematic franchises in the world, yet it is doing the bare minimum in terms of diversity and absolutely nothing in terms of quality representation of gender and sexual identities. You can only blame Chinese markets for so much.

Those worrying about "superhero fatigue" have got it wrong—we love superheroes; we just hate when they all look and act like the same straight, white, able-bodied cisgendered male mould from the 1950s. It’s 2018, Lando has to be pansexual on-screen, not just as a queerbaiting byline in a news story; women need to be characters and heroes in their own right, and in the name of the Force, hire people of colour in front of and behind the screens. Not as token choices, but as characters and creators of substance. Boba Fett has been announced as the next installment in the anthology series and it is time to make things right. Do not whitewash him, Disney, he is canonically NOT white, and nobody said he has to be straight, either. Learn from the criticisms that are being levelled at Solo and get back to the politically relevant roots of the franchise.

What did you think of Solo: A Star Wars Story? Do you think it fits in with the rest of the Star Wars films?

star wars

Monita Mohan

When not dreaming of a one-way trip to Coruscant, I'm usually staring at a blank page, hoping my articles write themselves.

Website: lightspeedwriter.wordpress.com

Twitter: @Monita_Mohan

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