• Adam Johnson

For Me, "Solo" Is the Best of Disney's Star Wars Stories

In recent days, I started to feel extremely unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. Was I actually working to fulfill my "calling," or have I been on a long path to nowhere. I think my dream would be to be a film critic and write scripts and stories, and do some freelance editing on the side. Not a particularly steady dream when the first career is slowly dying, the second is the hardest to make a living out of, and the third doesn't have the luxury of an employer.

Amidst my angst comes Solo: A Star Wars Story, the most unlikely underdog in the box office in recent memory. The film had been wrought with well-known production issues, including a near-complete reshoot by director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, How the Grinch Stole Christmas), that ratcheted up the budget even though most Star Wars fans will loudly proclaim, "Nobody asked for this!" I had minimal expectations going in due to the drama, but I was, per usual, excited to see another story from the galaxy far, far away. And I left with an emotional feeling I haven't felt since the original Binary Sunset.

Solo opens on the mean streets of Corellia, as Han (Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!) and his childhood friend and lover Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones) attempt to escape this life. Han's goal: be a pilot and fly free among the stars. It's a motivation as pure as the Skywalkers on the outset of their journeys, but with a scoundrel like Han, it's endearing to see this as his origin. The chase that follows echoes the opening of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Not in the execution or direction, but in the heart of it. Imagine if River Phoenix, who so greatly played Young Indy, had a whole film to explore that character. That's Alden Ehrenreich as Han, who captures Ford's defining mannerisms, adds his own youthful spin, and makes as authentic a performance as you can get, cementing his status as a scruffy-looking nerfherder with a good heart. Add some speeding speeders and a rollicking John Powell/John Williams score, and I tell you truthfully, reader, I was on the edge of my seat: not because of suspense but because of unadulterated fun and utter engagement.

As the film continues, Han falls in with a gang of smugglers, consisting of Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson, The Hunger Games), his partner Val (Thandie Newton, Westworld), alien pilot Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau, Iron Man), and of course Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Their journey to recover the powerful superfuel Coaxium for crime lord Dreyden Vos (Paul Bettany, Avengers: Infinity War) leads to run-ins with rival gangs, Imperials, and, of course, the ever-smooth Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, Atlanta) and his droid partner L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag).

Solo, written by Lawrence (The Empire Strikes Back) and Jon (The First Time) Kasdan, has everything you'd want in a Han Solo film and then some. The camaraderie between the crews feels so organic (which would make sense after a roughly ten-month production), and the action is, oh, so exhilarating. Even if it doesn't necessarily expand the mythology of Star Wars, it certainly adds some interesting and surprising wrinkles.

But the most satisfying thing is how character-driven the whole piece is. All of Han's actions are driven not by the writers' need to have a plot, nor by the inevitability that he will become the guy who shot first in the cantina (the jury's still out on that one); everything he does is to bring him one step closer to piloting his own ship with his love by his side. One of the best setpieces in the film comes not from the spontaneous need for a second-act blow-out, but arises organically from the crew's need to survive in the criminal underworld, Chewbacca's desire to save his people, and L3-37's civil rights activism (her humor didn't always work for me, but I'd be amiss if I tried to discount her effectiveness and importance). Even if we don't know every character's secrets at once, nothing felt forced: a credit to all the actors, the writers, Howard, and his crew.

Many will argue that we didn't "need" Solo: A Star Wars Story. To an extent, they're right; movies aren't the greatest concern of Bloom's taxonomy. But as I sat on the bus leaving the theater, I realized I did need this movie. It wasn't just the adrenaline that was making me feel surprisingly emotional thinking back on the last two hours. The path I'm charting for my life isn't going to be easy. Neither was Han's. But as a film critic responding to me on Twitter warned me of the difficulty of living as a film critic, I watched Han struggle out of Corellia, endure the Imperial army, and attempt the impossible Kessel Run in pursuing his sky-high dreams. As he succeeded against obstacles, I felt a confidence that I could, too, even if we're both a little naive and wet behind the ears.

People accuse Disney and Lucasfilm of milking Star Wars for all its worth. With a movie a year (this one coming in five months since the last one), a TV show always in production, and countless books and comics being printed at once, it sure seems like it. But as long as they deliver great stories as they have, I'll chug all the blue milk they churn out.

Speaking of blue: I noticed the gritty Corellia scenes had a deep blue in most of their frames. My first instinct is that this is some kind of symbolism. I looked up what blue represents. It can mean a lot of things, but the one that stood out most was "depth and stability." And even though life under Lady Proxima (Linda Hunt, Pocahontas, The Year of Living Dangerously) isn't great, depth and stability is exactly what Han leaves.

How fitting.


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