Friday, June 1, 2018

Solo: Initial (Apathetic) Impressions

Half a year after The Last Jedi, Solo: A Star Wars Story has staggered into cinemas after months of worrying press and a widespread (if, in my opinion, misconceived) antipathy for the franchise arising after 2017's Episode. I didn't expect much from Solo: Han will meet Chewie and Lando, acquire the Millennium Falcon and do the Kessel Run. And in the end that's basically all that happens. As usual with these initial impressions posts, let me just run through what I liked, didn't like and didn't care about either way.

1. What I Didn't Like
Much of the Action
Solo wasn't as bad as Rogue One in this respect, but I wasn't terribly engrossed by a lot of the action. The opening act car chase sequence seemed to mostly just be CGI cars bashing into each other with no dialogue or use of characters, while the train job felt unimpressive because it's the same old greenscreen extravaganza we get all the time now, only mildly redeemed by a few slightly interesting ideas like the use of clips to keep the characters attached to the train. Similarly, there was no tension to the Kessel Run, because we know Han will succeed, so watching a giant space monster get sucked off into a black hole didn't have much impact on me.

The Excessive Number of Characters
I didn't see the point of having such a large supporting cast in this film. In addition to the two members of Beckett's original crew, who are killed off in the train job, we have Beckett himself, Qi'ra and L3. Then we have the villain whose name I couldn't be bothered looking up, played by Paul Bettany, plus the young rebel leader whose name I also can't remember. Personally I found this distracting and focus-pulling, especially as, given that this is a prequel, we know that everyone apart from Han, Chewie and Lando is going to die or disappear, so I didn't feel that there was any tension involving them. They at least had more characterisation than anyone in Rogue One, but that film, this one and The Last Jedi have all suffered from overstuffed casts which detract from the very character studies they try to achieve.

The Pacing and Character Inconsistency
Frankly, I felt that the film was too long and lacked narrative momentum. Han's initial goal seems to be to reunite with Qi'ra, but she turns out to be (largely) fine, so he's given a new motivation – avoid being killed by Paul Bettany – and then that in turn is replaced by a third motivation in the final act: to help out the young rebel leader. The last half hour or so of the film felt particularly clunky to me; the film didn't seem to be going anywhere in particular and in all honesty I couldn't see the point of any of it. Why didn't he just take his money and go? Having him hoodwink the villain to help the rebels seemed inconsistent with how he appears in the original Star Wars, reinforced by Qi'ra somewhat inaccurately insisting that he's a good person when we know that his character development really comes later in his life.
That's probably my biggest issue with the film, really: it doesn't tell us anything both new and important about Han, so what's the purpose of it (besides selling cinema tickets)? Star Wars is an action franchise, of course, but all the hijinks in this film seemed wildly disproportionate to Han's character and behaviour in Star Wars, in which the most he's really up to doing is running down a corridor firing a blaster. If it was meeting Luke and saving Leia which motivated Han to become a good person, why is he already doing more than looking out for himself here? All Han really learns is to be less trusting, but it's surprising to see his credulousness given his hard life anyway.

The Info Dump
Everything the info dump after "A long time ago" etc tells the audience is immediately obvious by watching the first five minutes of the film. Some executive must have decided this was necessary, and I can't think why. It's especially absurd for introducing the character of Proxima as if she's going to be a major villain, when she's barely in it at all.

Moving on.

2. What I Did Like
Han, Chewie and Lando
I thought it was "fun" actually seeing how Han, Chewie and Lando met, although it was hardly necessary. Alden Ehrenreich was fine as Han, although he seemed more Harrison Ford-y in the opening of the film than at any other time. Chewie was used appropriately. Everyone seemed to anticipate Donald Glover as Lando, and he was pretty entertaining, although I didn't think he had enough to do. I think I would have liked the film more if it was more focused on these three characters. I also found Paul Bettany to be pretty watchable as the villain. Finally, I appreciated the moment when Han simply shot Beckett while he was trying to give out some more pithy advice. That was a glimpse, I felt, of the Han we ought to expect, regardless of any other "shooting first" issues.

Three Years Later
An isolated moment I found quite enjoyable was when the film abruptly jumped forward in time after the opening, depicting Han as a terrified grunt on a war-torn battlefield. Given how sanitised the action usually is in these films, seeing dirty, miserable soldiers in the middle of nightmarish chaos was pretty effective in my opinion, even if it was only for one scene. People talked about Rogue One as a "gritty war film", but its final run-around on a tropical beachfront paled in comparison to the few minutes of horror we got to see here, which also gave a neat insight into the cruelty and (ironic, given their prejudices) inhumanity of the Imperial government. Most of the rest of what we saw in the film has been done before, in the Cantina, Jabba's Palace and Coruscant. I felt like this one little bit genuinely did something different. It was also nice to see Imperial troops who weren't just the generic Stormtroopers.

Some of the Design
There were some decent puppets and things in the film, although I felt like a lot of it was too visually busy. I don't have much else to say about it. Lando had a good costume?

3. What I Didn't Care About Either Way
People are acting as if this character is a blatant indication of the nefarious something-ist agenda on the part of Disney – insert your favourite loaded ism here; feminists or Marxists or something. Firstly, she was barely in it, and secondly, none of the characters take her seriously, which suggests a parody of these kinds of people rather than a sincere message. Regardless, the idea of "robot rights" is a really old one in science-fiction. As far as I'm concerned, people these days are just looking for excuses to be reactionary about the most insignificant things, and usually they're too lacking in self-awareness to see that they've been stirred up by pundits who want clicks for their YouTube videos or whatever. I didn't care about this character either way.

Darth Maul
His presence, voiced by the same actor who's voiced him in the cartoon shows, and with his obligatory robot legs, only seems to suggest that the line between the mainstream films and spin-off crap for kids and nerds is becoming more and more hazy. I just don't see the point. I thought Darth Maul was cool when The Phantom Menace came out – when I was nine years old. His presence is meaningless to me now.

So there you have it. Solo is just a film. I liked it more than Rogue One, but that's not saying much. It's not doing well at all at the box office, comparatively speaking, which suggests that Lucasfilm needs to do a bit of thinking about its flagship franchise and how much mileage it really has in it right now.

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