There were some thoughts of titling this piece, “In Defense of Solo,” but then decided it’s not really a movie that needs defending. I don’t know anyone who actively talks about how they don’t like Solo, though to be fair I don’t really know anyone who talks about how much they love Solo either. The problem is more people don’t really talk about Solo much at all. It’s, strangely, the forgotten Star Wars movie of the new era. Though, honestly, flying under the radar these days isn’t the worst thing for the legacy of a Star Wars movie.
The release of Solo was fraught. Which is a lot different than the reaction being fraught. But leading up to the release there was a change in directors and talk of the lead actor having some trouble with the role. (Which, in retrospect, makes sense. If Lord and Miller hired Alden Ehrenreich to be in a more comedic version of Solo, yeah he’s probably not going to adjust right away to a comedy changing to something that is not a comedy.) And then there was the release date: only a few months removed from The Last Jedi, which did have a fraught reaction. After months of people arguing about the merits of The Last Jedi, it almost felt like Solo was met with a collective, “Wait, there’s another one already?” It’s like people just didn’t have the headspace for it. So combine the production stories with a burned-out fan base and you somehow get a Star Wars movie that’s almost ignored.
But being ignored has been a good thing for the legacy of Solo. When I see people debating the merits of The Last Jedi (a movie I love) and The Rise of Skywalker (a movie that gets worse every time I try to watch it) I bristle. It’s the same arguments over and over and no one will budge. And you know what, fine. But it’s still exhausting. Both of those movies now feel less like something fun to watch and more like registering with a political party. And over the last year, with a lot of free time on my hands, I really tried giving The Rise of Skywalker another chance and I just can’t make it through. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s more an anti-movie. Just a never-ending stream of telling us things that didn’t happen that we were pretty positive had happened. So, one night, again, I gave up, and put on Solo instead. I gotta tell you, I had a ball.
It’s been three years since Solo came out and I can’t decide if that seems like a lot of time or if it seems like no time. Since it doesn’t have much of a cultural footprint (meaning non-stop internet arguments about its merits) it kind of feels like a new, fresh movie. Also, in retrospect, I can see why it stumbled: because these new movies have invested so much of their energy into the lore. You know: what does it all mean! And all the mystical magical powers that goes with being a Jedi. (I still maintain Jedi are boring.) But Solo has no pretensions. Solo doesn’t try to pretend the galaxy is at stake or that it means anything at all. It just kind of exists. And, watching today, it’s pretty refreshing. The scene that’s probably the most hated is the one where a random Imperial Officer decides Han’s last name will now be “Solo” because he’s by himself. Yeah … it’s a groaner, but it’s also signaling this is a movie that doesn’t take its backstory that seriously. Even the character’s name is a throwaway joke. And none of this jibes at all with all of the other Star Wars properties that have been released since 2015.
I have a tendency to not trust my own initial Star Wars reviews, based solely on how I reacted to the Prequels. In that I loved each Prequel movie the first time I saw them, then slowly started to hate them. (Though, I’ve come around on Attack of the Clones, of all things. Primarily because it’s the only one that realizes it has nothing much to say, so it becomes a collection of cool scenes.) But looking back on my reviews of all the Disney Star Wars movies, they all read fairly similar to how I feel today. (The only thing that’s changed recently is The Rise of Skywalker raised my level of appreciation for the Prequels.) And Solo, in particular, what I thought in 2018 was basically it was flawed but fun. And I could tell my 2018 self was a little Star Wars‘d out at that point. (Ha, imagine watching a new Star Wars movie with a big crowd right now. Yeah, that sounds pretty great.) Now, after rewatching, the fun of Solo stands out a lot more than the flaws.
Another big problem at the time was how Bradford Young shot the film, emphasizing the black levels to show the seedy side of the Star Wars galaxy. So here’s a true story: the press day for Solo was in Los Angeles, but I was one of the few people who did an interview over the phone in New York. The problem was I had to still see the movie and the New York screening was after my scheduled interview. So a screening was set up at one of the smaller theaters at an AMC on the Upper West Side that maybe five people total attended. And it was gorgeous. It was projected perfectly. I was blown away by the cinematography. The main press screening was a few nights later and every person I spoke to said it looked like garbage. It was so dark that in some scenes they couldn’t even make anything out. It turned out a lot of theaters were not equipped to properly screen Solo. The lighting was way too low. And this drastically affected how people think of that movie. (But now, watching the 4K disc, it looks similar to the way I first saw it and it affirmed that I wasn’t seeing things.)
If I still have one complaint it’s that Solo is divided up into two separate time frames (before Han joins the Empire, then it picks up years later) and Han’s life before he becomes a smuggler just isn’t as interesting. But, the second Donald Glover’s Lando shows up, Solo launches into light speed. The whole Kessel Run heist is a ton (2000 full pounds!) of fun. And seeing Woody Harrelson in the famous gunner position in the Millennium Falcon is, well, I’m not sure there’s any other word for it than a “hoot” because Harrelson looks like he’s having the time of his life. A large segment of the movie is just the Millennium Falcon flying through debris and trying not to get eaten by a giant space monster. How is that not fun?
Like I said, at the time I felt Star Wars‘d out and it was pretty obvious everyone at Lucasfilm was so sick of this movie, after all the drama, that there would never be another Solo movie. That for all the strife – making a movie that its best reviews described as, “Yeah, sure, that was fun at times,” and underperforming at the box office – sure probably didn’t win it many internal fans. But now with all that in the past, it is a fun movie. And yeah, its plot is pretty thin, but that’s what makes it fun. The galaxy isn’t at stake, just Han and his buddies. And a pretty stellar series could be made out of the weekly adventures of young Han and Chewie. I honestly can’t figure out why this isn’t a thing. But, in the meantime, if you haven’t watched Solo in a while, away from all the drama and (maybe for you) bad lighting, give it another shot. It might just be the most pure fun Star Wars movie we’ve gotten from this era so far.
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