Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story

By: Kevin Jordan

Sorry, were you hoping to learn something interesting about Han Solo?

Benign.  Rote.  By-the-book.  Fine.  Adequate.  Entertaining enough.  All are applicable adjectives to the latest Star Wars movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story.  Hell, “A Star Wars Story” is probably the perfect way to describe Solo because it is generic and tells us something we already know.  In a nutshell, that is Solo – a movie insisting on answering questions we already know the answer to – or never asked in the first place – while never committing to a story worth going back in Star Wars time for.  Director Ron Howard and screenwriters Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan play the movie so safe you would be forgiven if you forgot Han was a murderous smuggler (just ask Greedo) when we first met him back in 1977.

(MILD SPOILERS ahead, but there really is not much to spoil anyway.)

The major flaw with the film is that it does nothing to make us care about anything or anyone, save for maybe a sassy droid, and never commits to anything.  Rather than take some time to develop any characters, new or old, it relies heavily on us already knowing Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and treats the rest of the cast as little more than set pieces.  The film begins with an uninspired car chase scene featuring Han fleeing a bunch of gangsters with his girlfriend, Qi’ra (pronounced like Kira and played by Emilia Clarke), in tow.  As they try to escape off the planet Corellia, they are separated and Han screams that he will come back to get her.  This seems like it will be the main plot of the film and is driven home during the first act of the film as Han is telling everyone within earshot that he intends to get back to Corellia to rescue her as soon as he has enough money.  We also quickly meet a trio of generic characters (Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, and the voice of Jon Favreau) who get the barest minimum of development because this movie desperately wanted to get to showing us the famous Kessel Run.

The most interesting character in the world.

Those three characters are a crew of thieves and you will probably only remember one of their names – Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson).  They take Han and Chewie on to their crew and attempt a train heist.  Yes, a train heist in a Star Wars movie.  While a much better action sequence than the earlier car chase, it offers little in the way of ingenuity with the exception of the train cars occasionally swiveling around the axis of the rail they are riding.  Because we know next to nothing about the heist crew and know Han and Chewie are in other movies, this scene (as well as the entire movie) has zero tension.  At this point, we are only watching for the visuals and the visuals of this scene were spoiled in the previews.  Once this scene ends, we find Han, Chewie, and Tobias on board crime lord Dryden Vos’ (Paul Bettany) ship where they run into none other than Qi’ra.  The end.

Just kidding.  The movie still has two more acts for us, but now we are left wondering “what now?”  Han’s plan of buying a ship and rescuing Qi’ra just got light-sabered by the screenplay.  Qi’ra also makes it clear that she no longer requires rescuing, so the movie is forced to pivot to another heist as the main plot of the film.  A smarter movie would have used this heist for character development and relationship building, but this is not a smarter movie.  Instead, it is only the catalyst to get us to the main event of this film – Han and Jabba the Hutt meeting for the first time.  Just kidding.

Nothing screams Star Wars like train heist.

I firmly believe that the entire purpose of this movie was fan service in the form of depicting a single line of dialogue from A New Hope – Han bragging to Luke that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.  If you are a space nerd like me, or simply paid attention in astronomy class, a parsec is a unit of distance measurement, not speed, so Han bragging about how fast his ship was by using a unit of distance was nonsense.  Luckily, some other nerds wrote out an explanation involving a short-cut and, thus, Solo had its main attraction.  Like the train heist scene, it is an entertaining scene featuring a space chase and an eerie image of a star destroyer (doing absolutely nothing including not shooting at the Falcon despite half a dozen TIE fighters shooting at the Falcon, like in every other Star Wars movie, dammit-do-those-things-do-anything-ever?!)?  Unfortunately, this scene bears far too much resemblance to the underwater chase scene in The Phantom Menace and nothing good reminds us of The Phantom Menace.

Are you not entertained?

Speaking of fan service, the other major problem with Solo is far too much time is spent answering the questions I alluded to earlier.

Did you ever wonder how the Falcon got that notch at its front (watch the previews again – the bow is a solid triangle rather than forked)?

Of course not.

Did you ever wonder where the name Solo came from?

No, why would I?

Curious about how Han obtained the Falcon?

They already told us in The Empire Strikes Back

Want to see the first meeting between Chewie and Han?

Actually, yes.

Okay, so that last one is actually interesting, but this movie provides a boring explanation that doubles as a borderline meet-cute.  If you want a much better explanation, read The Hutt Gambit by A.C. Crispin, even though Disney proclaimed nearly all of the previous Star Wars canon to be meaningless.  Who has two thumbs and is a nerd?  This guy.

Normally, Easter eggs or quick homages tickle me, but this movie shoves them in your face and they are neither quick or Easter eggy (again, the Kessel Run).  The Solo surname scene was especially awkward because it answered a question literally nobody ever asked and the most unnecessary detail explanation since X-Men: Apocalypse showed us how Xavier went bald.

Just Han? Like, Madonna?

By the end of Solo, we learn nothing new about Han, Chewie, or Lando that we did not already know about them from previous films.  Putting on my movie-fixer hat for a moment, I would have cut Qi’ra from the beginning of the film and made her character much more mysterious and nuanced.  A little more Khaleesi, and a little less cardboard cutout.  Given that we met Han as a selfish smuggler only out for himself in A New Hope, the opening scene in Solo would work far better to develop that trait and the scene would need zero other changes after removing Qi’ra.  This also would have given several potential options with Qi’ra in this film and future films rather than what the Kasdans did with her.  I would also have stuck with the book regarding Han and Chewie’s initial meeting because it provided the one altruistic trait in Han (anti-slavery) that kept him from being the scum he was always accused of being, thus forming the basis of his later redemption as a hero.  Finally, I would spend more time developing Han and Lando’s relationship, which is practically non-existent in Solo.

At least Qi’ra is a beautiful cardboard cutout.

As I have said in past reviews, I love Star Wars, which is what makes Solo kind of disappointing for me.  Despite the tone of this review, I want to stress that Solo is an entertaining movie that is competently done from a popcorn flick point of view.  Perhaps the best thing about Solo is the acting, which is very good.  Ehrenreich and Glover deliver performances that never feel like knockoffs of their predecessors and the rest of the cast all hit their marks.  But the obvious comparison is Rogue One and Solo falls completely flat in that comparison.  At no point was I ever captivated during this movie, not even during the penultimate space chase from Kessel, because, again, we already knew the answer to that question.

Rating: Ask for four dollars back because, if anything, you get your Star Wars fix.

Captain America: Civil War

By: Kevin Jordan

Let’s get ready to R-R-R-UM-M-M-BL-L-L-E.

At the risk of repeating myself, how is it that Marvel keeps making outstanding movies?  I’m not really surprised by this anymore, but I am surprised that they continually top my expectations.  At this point in time, the law of averages says they are overdue for a real stinker, but I’m happy to report that the new Captain America smells very nice.  Wait…that sounds weird – let me start over.  Captain America: Civil War knocked my socks off.  No, that’s weird too and makes me sound like someone’s grandmother.  Alright, I’ll figure out a better way to say it by the end of the review, but you get the point – Civil War is arguably the best movie released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date.

As I said in my review of Batman v Superman, I was really looking forward to Civil War if only to get rid of the taste in my brain from viewing BvSBvS was always destined to fail at a story level because Superman could just throw a building at Batman and movie over.  But the real reason it failed was because the reason Superman and Batman are fighting at all is murky at best and completely nonsensical and dumb at worst.  Civil War is exactly the opposite and is more than Captain America v Ironman: Dusk of Avengers – they are fighting for reasons that actually make sense.  Sorry DC fans, but the sooner you admit BvS and Man of Steel were just bad movies, the sooner you can start demanding that Warner Brothers hire some writers and directors that don’t suck, follow the Marvel formula, and start making movies worthy of DC’s source material.

Captain america civil war

The Avengers have always been a tenuous alliance of superheroes, not so much because they don’t get along, but because they have different ideas on how to achieve the mission – world peace and protecting the human race.  The film kicks off with the newly reformed Avengers (that we saw at the end of Age of Ultron) chasing down some bad guys in Nigeria who were trying to steal a bioweapon.  By the time the scene is over, some collateral damage has occurred including eleven civilians dead.  The Secretary of Defense (William Hurt) informs the group that more than one hundred nations have come together to decide that The Avengers should no longer be a private entity and must start operating under the purview of the United Nations.  Any crime fighting undertaken outside of that oversight is to be considered a crime.  As the team digests the information and debates amongst themselves, sides start form.  One side, led by Tony “Ironman” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), agrees that oversight is necessary because they are powerful and dangerous, but mostly out of guilt for the Sokovia incident (from Age of Ultron).  This is understandable since it’s literally his fault that Ultron came to be.  The other side, led by Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans), believes the opposite – that the various countries and diplomats have their own agendas and the team would end up becoming a weapon to be wielded by the U.N.  This is understandable because Cap didn’t trust what S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury were doing in The Winter Soldier (and rightly so, as it turned out).  The conflict arises because they are both right – oversight is a good idea, but the decision makers are completely untrustworthy.  Talk about art imitating life (*cough* Republicans v Democrats *cough*).

Side commentary – the logic of the SecDef mirrors the short-sighted-can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees thinking that we see in real life today.  While making his case to the Avengers, he places the collateral damage blame on them for the following events: (1) the Loki-led Chitauri invasion of Earth (The Avengers), (2) the Hydra-led invasion of D.C. (The Winter Soldier), (3) the destruction of Sokovia (Age of Ultron), and (4) the eleven dead in Nigeria.  Here’s how the team should have responded to those: (1) we stopped an alien invasion aimed at destroying/enslaving humanity, (2) we stopped Hydra from taking over America and the world, (3) yeah – that was our fault, and (4) hello – bioweapon.  I find it stunningly narrow-minded to get upset about the collateral damage when, had they not intervened, everyone dies or the world is taken over by bad guys or everyone dies.  My point is they could have come up with a better list of examples or just stuck solely with the Ultron incident.  Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The part I really want to put emphasis on is that the competing sides didn’t just jump to punch-kick-shoot, like Batman and Superman did, they literally talked about their ideologies.  Following their disagreement, another incident happens and they talk about it again.  I know that sounds a little boring (trust me, it’s not), but it makes the battle royale later in the movie much easier to accept because it’s the logical result of the escalation that occurs during the film.  And that, dear DC fans and Zack Snyder, is how you make a superhero v superhero movie.

On that note, the battle royale is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking.  I won’t spoil the who takes whose side, but here are your contestants – Ironman, Captain America, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Warhammer (Don Cheadle), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) – and all of them get their fair share of the camera.  The scene also has great special effects, a very smooth escalation of fighting, and plenty of fun banter (at one point, Spider-Man is praising Captain America while simultaneously fighting him).  Yes – Marvel and directors Anthony and Joe Russo handled a twelve-person superhero fight movie better than DC and Zack Snyder handled a two-person fight.

Aside from the main story, they even managed to give due diligence to the introductions of Spider-Man and Black Panther, which is amazing considering how many characters were in this film.  That includes the additions of Emily VanCamp as CIA Agent Carter (to be fair, she’s not new, but she’s given far more to do this time around), Daniel Bruhl as the one true villain of the film, Martin Freeman as another government higher-up (and doesn’t he have to appear in Doctor Strange opposite Benedict Cumberbatch?), and even Marisa Tomei as Aunt May.  As incredible as it sounds, not one of these characters felt like a throw-in just to get a silly cameo for an upcoming sequel or standalone movie (seriously D.C. and WB – get your shit together).

So, yeah – Civil War was freaking awesome from pretty much every aspect you can think of.  Great characters, great story, no obvious plot holes, tie-ins with previous movies to maintain continuity, great new characters (and a big thank you to Marvel for fixing Spider-Man), great action, great acting, great dialogue, and most importantly, great entertainment.  See?  I told you I’d figure out a better way to describe this film.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back for Batman v Superman again.  Then, see Civil War again.