Film Review: Solo

Film Review: Solo
31 May

At the Cinemark

The Millennium Falcon’s engine sputtered soon after production began on the latest “Star Wars” spinoff, “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”

The two “Solo” directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, were abruptly fired. The official word was “creative differences” between the rebel directors and The Imperial Forces of Disney.

The Hollywood Reporter, a reliable source when sorting out Hollywood gossip, said that directors Lord and Miller wanted a “Solo” comedy with lots of improvisation, while screenwriters Jon Kasdan and his father Lawrence Kasdan, worried that the rogue directors were destroying the original vision of the “Star Wars” series.

The LA paper said the creative clash came down to differences in understanding the character of Han Solo. Lord and Miller were criticized for not understanding “that Han Solo is not a comedic personality.”

Seems like something that might have been discussed before the project began, yes?

Thus, the production changed directors, reworked the script and started reshaping/restoring the vision — while shooting was in progress!

The film is now helmed by Ron “Opie” Howard, a solid director. But this production has little, if any, of the innovative spirit of George Lucas, the genius who birthed Han Solo.

In almost all ways, “Solo” feels “soft,” lacking the cutting edge of the best of the series. The spirit of “Solo” could rightfully be called breezy — a story designed to be popcorn fun. That’s not what “Star Wars” purists want. They want compelling science fiction mixed with a space Western featuring characters we care about.

We want some fun, sure, but not “just” fun.

The new stars are terminally cute, but they aren’t compelling or deep. Alden Ehrenreich, who plays Han Solo, is easy to look at, but even easier to forget. That’s not entirely his fault, however, since the script has so little depth of character.

One critic spoke for us all when he said “Solo” has only one perceptible reason for getting made: “It’s a moolah machine.”

That’s exactly how “Solo” feels. I remember having this same tired feeling during the overblown “Hobbit.”

BBC joined a chorus of publications speculating that audiences are suffering from “Star Wars Fatigue.” Too many beeping robots, too often. Box office returns are less than half what Disney projected.

OK, let’s cool down the critical engines.

“Solo” is not a bad film, but it is a disappointing one, especially when placed next to the other planets in the “Star Wars” galaxy. A fan with modest expectations will likely find “Solo” enjoyable.

This prequel/sequel is designed to answer questions we didn’t know needed to be answered: How did Han Solo get his name? How did he meet Chewbacca? How did he become pilot of the Falcon? Did Han Solo fall in love and consider becoming a Han Duo?

We get those answers and much more as in a story with a villain or two, an attractive lady friend (Emilia “Game of Thrones” Clarke) and a fellow rogue (Woody Harrelson). The script is replete with double-crosses that might not be double-crosses, after all — a rather tired plot device.

To understand the shortcomings of “Solo,” it’s worth reflecting on the genius of maestro George Lucas.

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When Lucas made “American Graffiti” he picked some lesser known actors for key roles: Cindy Williams, Ron Howard and a carpenter (and out-of-work actor) named Harrison Ford. Lucas added Richard Dreyfuss as a finishing touch.

Lucas clearly wasn’t casting “a look.” He was casting actors on their strength of character, and they repaid his faith by launching memorable careers. The “Graffiti” script was an insightful look at transitions in life, in this case graduation from high school and the parting of friends.

When he created “Star Wars,” Lucas had no template, no formula. He had a vision, and took enormous risks. Studios were reluctant to embrace his vision.

“You can really only have breakthroughs like that when you are able to take the risk on something that isn’t obviously commercial or gonna be socially accepted,” said Lucas in a TV interview a few years back.

Fans who liked Lucas before Lucas was cool have every right to be disappointed.

On the other hand, all artists need to sell their work to survive. Bach and Michelangelo were paid by the church to compose masterworks and paint ceilings. So, it’s no surprise that filmmakers would accept money from Vatican West, Disney branch, to finance their movies.

Our hope, of course, is that the artists will not be beholden to their financiers. My guess is that if Lucas himself had seized total control and directed “Solo,” he would have barred Disney from his set — and we’d have loved “Solo.”

So, it’s sad, if predictable, when art is cares more about profit than about illumination and innovation.

“Solo” is indeed a moolah machine from the house that Mickey built, but one that’s printing currency at a much slower speed than hoped.

What have we learned?



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