Comments on Arthur B's A Few Non-Spoilery Things I Can Tell You About Solo (and One Minor Spoiler)

The fandom debate over the new Star Wars movie will doubtless be breaking out over the next few days, but here's an initial salvo.

Comments (go to latest)
Raymond H at 12:58 on 2018-05-28
Han shoots first.

I knew it!
Robinson L at 22:00 on 2018-05-30
Solo is a good movie, and I enjoyed it. I have mixed feelings about this, because it's still a bad idea in principle, and a movie this good and this fun is going to be successful, which means Disney and LucasFilm are almost certainly going to repeat the mistake.

If it were a one and done thing, I'd probably breathe a sigh of relief at this movie's performance and move on, but even before the film was released the writers were talking about possible sequels. And with each successive Young Han Solo movie they crank out, the greater the chances of the inherent flaws of the concept showing through.

What do I have against Solo in principle, even though I enjoyed the execution so much? To start, despite how much everyone - myself included - loves Han Solo, he isn't a character who can carry his own movie. I was talking about this with one of my little sisters after I saw the film; she's probably the least knowledgeable about and least interested in Star Wars of my siblings, and even she knew instantly that Han's someone who only works in a supporting role, as a foil for the other characters.

He's especially problematic pre-A New Hope, as his character in that movie is kind of an asshole - specifically, the kind who can be fun playing off the rest of the cast, but would be insufferable as a main character himself. (Rather like a certain famous Han Solo knockoff who also starred in his own tv series, though granted he's an extreme example.)

Anyone setting out to do a Young Han Solo movie either has to present him as a despicable person, which won't go over well - or it plays up his inner Heart of Gold, which undermines his character development in A New Hope. There's room to navigate between those two tendencies, but it's a fiendishly difficult task, especially for a Hollywood blockbuster. I believe Solo mostly succeeded, though perhaps it dipped a little too much into the "softie all along" side - but expecting a follow-up film to succeed as well seems to me akin to expecting the filmmakers to catch lightning in a bottle twice.

Then there's the fact that, for the first time since the Disney buy-out, we have a Star Wars movie with a straight white male as the protagonist. I see your point about the supporting cast, but frankly, I've seen enough media with people like me as the protagonists to last a lifetime. A major part of the appeal of science fiction to me is to show me different stories, different worlds, different people - but in front of the screen as behind it, Disney keeps going back to the white guys.* Again, I probably wouldn't mind if it were just one movie, but more films like this are going to get tiresome really quickly.

*And about that diverse cast: the sole black woman in the film?
Second major death in the movie
. (Okay, so
Enfys Nest
's coloration is ambiguous, but she's a lot lighter than Val, and she barely qualifies as a character in the movie.) That cool female copilot droid?
Also dies. Technically she's resurrected in the Falcon's main computer, but since she never speaks nor takes independent action after that point, she might as well be dead
. And Qi'ra?
I'll come back to her a little later
. I'll also point out the only times Lando is unambiguously depicted flirting with someone, it's always an explicitly female character.

On a related note, I didn't feel like the movie opened up the universe all that much. I thought its interpretation of the Kessel Run was really cool, and made more sense than the old Expanded Universe - otherwise, the film didn't show much that really surprised me, that I couldn't have guessed at just from watching the other movies. One of the ways Rogue One impressed me was by telling new stories and showing me new things I never would have thought of, but which still fit perfectly into the Star Wars universe. There's so much potential in these anthology movies to open up different parts of that universe*, far removed from the action of the trilogies - I find it a distressing precedent that the second anthology film drags us back to one of the main characters of the original trilogy, with set up for even more of the same.

*The other day, my local library held a screening of Black Panther. Basically, I'd like to see the anthology movies open up the Star Wars universe the way that one opened up the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I also, personally, loved the way Rogue One explored the mystical workings of the Force outside the institutions of the Jedi and the Sith, and I'd like to see more Star Wars stories follow that example, rather than either focus on the Jedi and/or the Sith, or leave the Force out entirely.*

*Granted, it would be awkward in Solo to address the Force while still making Han's skepticism in A New Hope believable, but far from impossible. Now, if the main antagonist had been a Force-user, that would've made things tricky, which is why
when I think back on it, I'm less sold on the idea of setting up Darth Maul as the villain for a potential sequel
.

On a more personal note, whenever they do one of these Young Hero prequel stories, especially young straight male hero, they always give him a love interest, generally someone he's devoted to, who inevitably dies tragically towards the end of the story to give the hero added pathos, and explain why this character never appears and is never mentioned in the original material. It's a scenario I was sick of by the time I was 10, but it keeps happening, including in other Star Wars stories. The (now non-canon) Young Han Solo Adventures trilogy by A. C. Crispin did it; Heir to the Jedi did it; Leia: A Princess of Alderaan did it (though since that was a gender-flipped version, and served an important plot function, I found it more forgivable than most instances).

In Solo, Qi'ra
miraculously survives, but with each sequel film, her chances of making it out of the movie alive rapidly approach zero, and that's one tired story I don't need to see played out yet again
.

Also on a personal note, I'm not particularly interested in grungy underworld stories filled with betrayals and intrigue. (Part of the reason I really, really, really, really don't want them to make a Boba Fett movie.) An occasional dip in, as with Solo, is fine - in the case of Solo, in fact, it managed to be great. But a whole series of such movies would quickly wear out its welcome for me.

Here, actually, there's an easy fix for a sequel, though not one I expect them to go for: play down the grimy double-dealings in the next film and play up the heist angle. Go more Ocean's Eleven: setting up the difficulty of the job and the personalities and skill sets of the crew, show how they play off each other, establish the plan, then have fun with them scrambling to complete the job when things inevitably go to hell.

Timothy Zahn actually wrote a book called Scoundrels with that premise, feature Han, Chewie and Lando, but since that's been rendered non-canon now, the idea is ripe to be revisited. And as fun as Scoundrels is, I feel like Zahn weirdly underutilized the potential of doing a heist story in such a high-tech sci-fi universe. There are so many possibilities for exotic environments and technologies and species with interesting properties. So a Star Wars heist movie would have the opportunity to go Zahn one better, and could be a straight fun adventure film without needing to go into all the grimy underworld stuff..

Although, I feel like Lando would be a better protagonist for a Star Wars heist movie, with Han and Chewie as supporting players. Then again, that would mean our first Star Wars movie ever with a person of color as the main protagonist, and would put Han in a supporting role where he works best, so this would be a win-win-win situation. But given how Disney and LucasFilm have already gone all-in on Young Han, and the likely success of Solo, I doubt they'll go that direction.

Incidentally, I read somewhere that Lucas was also working on a potential Han Solo stand-alone film before the Disney buy-out. As much as I believe the prequels are unfairly maligned, it seems as though two of the biggest wrongheaded creative moves of the Disney era (the other being the decision to recycle Darth Vader through one of his descendants) were pioneered by Lucas. I suppose I should reassess my faith in his creative faculties.

Anyway, that's why I think Solo was a bad idea, and as a success, may be even worse.

That said, I want to repeat and emphasize that as a film, it's really good, and I enjoyed it (indeed, that's part of the problem). While I could do without the graphic visuals of the space monster's demise, the Kessel Run escape is a thrilling sequence, and a highlight of the movie, and the other action sequences are very good as well.

The characterization and character stories make sense and are enjoyable, too. Yeah, the seedy underworld stuff isn't to my taste, but it fits with what the movie is doing and with Han's character in the original trilogy, and it's only as somber and gritty as the story calls for without going full-on Heavy Dramas - fortunately they didn't let someone like Steven Moffat write the script.

My understanding is that Donald Glover has been generally praised for his portrayal of a young Lando, and deservedly so, as he's great in the role, and I'd be happy to see him revise it in future films. (Still better get Billy Dee Williams back for IX, though.) I was less impressed with Alden Ehrenreich's portrayal of Han, but I didn't actively dislike it - he did fine.

L3 was a lot of fun, too, and could have stood to feature more in the movie. When my sister Noria went to see the film with her boyfriend the other night, she sent me a text message saying "does lady robot die"? A while later, she sent me her second and last message for the film:
an emoticon where the eyes and mouth are perfectly flat, which I gather isn't good, and I assume corresponded with L3's death scene
.

I've seen the plot characterized as "predictable," and that may be so, but it honestly took me by surprise a few times. The way they introduce Chewie in particular was a great bait-and-switch, because it looked at first like a call forward to the original trilogy, and I was duped until almost the last second. It's a great idea for how these two characters first meet, and the scene is very well-realized ... even if I think it's a little silly that Han's larynx apparently can handle Shriiwook, and he just chooses not to speak it all through the following movies.

The easter eggs and call forwards to other movies were a mixed bag for me. I, too, liked what they did with Han's dice, and I enjoyed the little references to Carida, Teras Kasi, The Lando Calrissian Adventures (yes, I read them, I'm that much of a completist), and Aurra Sing (not being a fan of the character, I don't mind her being killed off by a two-bit smuggler, either). And like I already said, I thought the bait-and-switch call forward with Chewbacca's introduction was brilliant.

Then they made some other call forwards that they played straight, such as Becket and Han prefiguring Han and Luke's conversation on Yavin Four just before the big Death Star fight (though admittedly
Becket's subsequent actions are very different from Han's in A New Hope, which may be the point
), or Han coming at Lando like he's going to attack him, and instead pulling him into a hug (when really he has a hidden agenda at that). I feel like there was one more that I'm forgetting, and they all felt too on the nose. If this film had been made first, I would expect Han to stop at multiple points through the original trilogy and say, "hang on, I'm getting a really intense sense of deja vu."

The same applies to the "I hate you," "I know," exchange, but it was just so damn good that I can't fault it.

I've always been indifferent to the "who shot first" debate. Yes, it's inane to have Han wait for Greedo to shoot before taking him out, but compared to all the other inane things Star Wars has done, it's never rated more than an eye-roll from me.

That said, I thought the way they handled that part was perfect: a great in-joke, which works for the film even if you don't know it's an in-joke, and doesn't call undue attention to itself. There's no quippy line about "shooting first," it's just what Han does, because it's the smart call.

To me, one of the most interesting parts of the movie was a very minor subplot, but it's a spoiler, so be warned:

The droid rebellion on Kessel, begun almost accidentally by L3, which was pretty funny in its own right. Droid uprisings have featured in supplemental Star Wars works from time to time, including in a new book by Daniel Jose Older (sadly disappointing, though with some great character bits for Han and Lando). As in Older's story, they're almost always portrayed negatively, and masterminded by an organic being, not coming from the droids' own volition.

Whereas in Solo, the droid rebellion is a good thing coming at their own instigation. But the movie goes one step further, as the rebellious droids display class consciousness and/or solidarity, in that they quickly free enslaved organic mine workers as well as each other. It stops being a droid uprising, and becomes a joint droid and organic revolution.

This, I think, is brilliant. For decades, commentators have pointed out how droids in the Star Wars universe are clearly sapient beings, but they live in conditions of slavery, and nobody seems to have an issue with this. It would be really bold to do a Star Wars story, especially a movie, which confronts this tricky issue head-on.

We also know that humans and other organic beings in the Star Wars universe are sometimes also enslaved, and the good guys invariably take exception to this. It never occurred to me to put the two thoughts together, and do a story about enslaved droids and organics realizing their mutual oppression and staging an uprising together. Aside from appealing deeply to my own personal politics, I think this scenario has numerous terrific story opportunities, and I'd really like to see someone at Disney/LucasFilm take the idea and run with it. Won't hold my breath, though.
Arthur B at 23:46 on 2018-05-30
To be fair, L3 isn't all the way dead - she's part of the navigation computer on the Falcon now. (As I understand it, the Expanded Universe had a concept where the Falcon's navigation system was as good as it was because it consisted of multiple droid brains who worked together to make it go.) There's every chance L3 is still in the system and could show up in a more active role in Episode IX. (A friend of mine now has the headcanon that the reason Han and Chewie come back to save the day in Star Wars is that the navigational computer wouldn't plot a course away from Yavin, because no way was L3 going to miss that fight...)

In terms of cast diversity I'd also note that there was some nice women in minor roles like Lady Proxima, and the Imperial border agent. Both of those were roles which could absolutely have gone to men, but didn't - the border agent, in particular, is the sort of minor role which writers don't really give much thought to the specifics of and could be cast either way. I liked that there was diversity up and down the scale from minor characters to central players, because if you forget to have diverse faces in the crowd scenes then the diversity of your main cast rings less true.

I'm not claiming The Last Jedi-level diversity success for it - like I said, the premise of the movie makes a straight white man so central to its premise as to preclude that. But it's way more diverse than I expected a movie with its premise to be. Val dying is the part which bugs me most, but she isn't even the first of Beckett's crew to die, and it's not like Beckett has plot armour himself. (It would have been fun had Beckett died and Val survived to fill his role in the rest of the movie... right up to the end, at which point that'd be Really Unfortunate.)
Robinson L at 03:30 on 2018-05-31
Sure, the door is open for L3 to show up again, but I don't expect her to - or if she does, no more than a cameo role, like Yoda in The Last Jedi. He even took action in that movie (burning down the ancient tree), and L3 could too, but it still counts as dead in my book. It's possible she could somehow became a real, active agent again in a future movie, in which case I'll have to reconsider my criticism there, but I doubt it'll happen, and I'm not awarding them any points until and unless it does.

Those are good points about Lady Proxima and the border agent, and it's to the movie's credit, I agree. I also agree that, while switching out Val for Beckett would've been awesome for 90% of the movie, the ending of that story would have wrecked it, so that one was a no-win scenario. I think the filmmakers did as good a job as they could reasonably be expected to under the constraints of the premise, when they could so easily have delivered a travesty, or mediocrity in terms of the film's casting.

To me, it just wasn't worth going back to the Straight White Male protagonist well yet again, especially this particular straight white guy (much as I love him under other circumstances). And again, if this were the end of it, I'd probably say "okay" and move on, but I think the chances of Lucasfilm and Disney spinning out several more of these ill-considered movies based off the success of Solo are pretty damn high. A heck of a lot higher than the chances of bringing L3 back in a substantial, proactive role.

One more minor compliment I had for the movie that I forgot to mention in my original comment was that I think the composer did a fantastic job incorporating iconic notes and themes from the original trilogy at just the right emotional moments.
Arthur B at 10:46 on 2018-05-31
To me, it just wasn't worth going back to the Straight White Male protagonist well yet again, especially this particular straight white guy (much as I love him under other circumstances).

Well, if it's any consolation apparently the movie underperformed at the box office at its opening weekend. If Hollywood applies to it the same logic it's applied to woman-led or PoC-led films in the past, that means that the market just isn't interested in straight white men and we won't see another major action blockbuster starring one for the next five years or so.
Arthur B at 10:46 on 2018-05-31
One more minor compliment I had for the movie that I forgot to mention in my original comment was that I think the composer did a fantastic job incorporating iconic notes and themes from the original trilogy at just the right emotional moments.

It was pointed out to me that the Imperial recruiting station was playing the Imperial March in a jaunty major key. :)
Bill at 12:57 on 2018-05-31
Well, if it's any consolation apparently the movie underperformed at the box office at its opening weekend. If Hollywood applies to it the same logic it's applied to woman-led or PoC-led films in the past, that means that the market just isn't interested in straight white men and we won't see another major action blockbuster starring one for the next five years or so.


This is actually more likely than Hollywood concluding that people are tired of franchise films and want new stories with new characters in new settings.
Robinson L at 20:30 on 2018-06-04
I saw an article the other day which described Solo having "flopped" at the box office - not knowing the technical terminology of the industry, I suppose that may just be a more conversational way of saying it underperformed, but to this lay person's ear, "underperforming" sounds like a disappointment, whereas "flopping" sounds like an extremely serious outcome.

The first I could understand, but a major box office underperformance on Solo's part surprises me. It's a genuinely good and fun movie - and good in a crowd-pleasing way, rather than a risk-taking I-can-see-how-this-would-turn-some-people-off kind of way. While I wouldn't exactly call it smart, it's exactly as smart as it needed to be. It's basically like a less mean-spirited Guardians of the Galaxy - admittedly, without the talking rodent, but as much as people love Rocket, I wouldn't have thought those movies would have bombed without him.

I mean, if it had to happen to any Disney Star Wars movie, I'm glad it happened to the one starring an already established straight white male main character, rather than the previous three. Still, I find myself bewildered at its apparent failure to pull in the crowds more.

Arthur: It was pointed out to me that the Imperial recruiting station was playing the Imperial March in a jaunty major key. :)

I didn't notice the key, but that was a cute moment, and the part which primed me to notice similar musical in-jokes elsewhere in the movie.
Arthur B at 21:24 on 2018-06-04
I would blame it on two things:

- Basically no publicity, compared to the storm that preceded Force Awakens, Rogue One and Last Jedi.

- Audience fatigue. Last Jedi came out only 5 months or so before Solo premiered, remember.

I don't get why they didn't wheel this one out for Christmas this year to keep the annual tradition going.
Robinson L at 22:30 on 2018-06-04
I think I read somewhere that the filmmakers were basically throwing the thing together up until practically the last minute, to make up for all the time lost when they switched directors. That's why they didn't release a trailer until only a couple of months ago, and I suppose that - and the wish not to conflict with The Last Jedi - could explain the relative lack of promotions.

A while ago, I also heard someone claim on a podcast that Lucasfilm/Disney really, really want to release Episode IX next May - I guess to hearken back to the good old days when Star Wars movies were released in the summer - and that they were therefore committed to releasing Solo this May, so IX wouldn't come too close on its heels. Basically, to avoid the very problem this movie encountered vis-a-vis The Last Jedi. If that's true, then I guess they've just proved they were right to worry about releasing one Star Wars movie too soon after another ...
Arthur B at 10:35 on 2018-06-05
A while ago, I also heard someone claim on a podcast that Lucasfilm/Disney really, really want to release Episode IX next May - I guess to hearken back to the good old days when Star Wars movies were released in the summer - and that they were therefore committed to releasing Solo this May, so IX wouldn't come too close on its heels.

That seems odd, considering that the release date to my knowledge has been consistently presented as being December 2019.

I don't get it. A new Star Wars movie becoming a Christmas tradition would be one of the best things the franchise could hope for, and it's not like they weren't making amazing money on their previous Christmas releases. Do they seriously expect a May release to do that much better?
Raymond H at 12:08 on 2018-06-05
This is probably the only meaningful thing I can contribute to the conversation, as I haven't yet seen Solo, but I can say that here in Japan we have life-size cardboard cut-outs of the Millennium Falcon cockpit, as well as cutouts of Han, Chewey, Lando, Emilia Clarke, and Woody Harrelson in every movie theater, and you can get your picture taken with them with you in the shotgun seat. So I have to ask, has there been anything like that in Britain or America (or anywhere else anyone else lives)?
Arthur B at 13:48 on 2018-06-05
If there has been, it's been nowhere near to the extent of "every movie theatre".
Raymond H at 12:50 on 2018-06-06
Aw, pity.
Arthur B at 12:25 on 2018-06-21
The other shoe drops. It looks like a) Lucasfilm have cooled off on films that solely exist to highlight a beloved character's backstory and b) Rian Johnson's pet trilogy is getting prioritised. Overall it seems like they've decided the market wants New Star Wars, not Old Star Wars Reheated, and I can't wholly blame them.
Robinson L at 20:30 on 2018-06-26
Overall it seems like they've decided the market wants New Star Wars, not Old Star Wars Reheated

Well, they've certainly read one particular member of their market with impeccable accuracy. There's so many interesting stories and locations and situations and characters to explore in the Star Wars universe, and I'll be happy to spend more time away from the main cast.

I guess I'm a little sorry the Obi-Wan Kenobi movie has been nixed, because I think a movie starring Ewan McGregor giving more of his backstory could potentially be interesting (especially if they set it in or pre-Clone Wars and brought in Duchess Satine of Mandalore, which they probably wouldn't). Still, if it means we'll be spared a Boba Fett movie, then in my book it's worth the loss.
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