by Nick Clark
Note: this review is SPOILER-FREE, so feel free to continue on without fear of any of the film’s major revelations being pulled out from under you.
I’ll keep this introduction as brief as I can. You probably know Star Wars. It’s rare to find anyone who doesn’t at least get the gist of what the franchise is about. It’s a fantastical adventure through space that’s simultaneously dramatic, humorous, hopeful, and heavy at times. There’s something for everyone in the stories from that galaxy far, far away.
Alongside the resurrection of the Star Wars episodic saga, marked by the release of Episode VII: “The Force Awakens” back in 2015, Lucasfilm introduced us to their plans to show us stories outside the primary storyline we’ve been experiencing since 1977. The first of these standalone films (aptly named Star Wars Stories) was “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which released in 2016. “Rogue One” proved the strength of the Star Wars universe by introducing brand new characters and delivering a well put together story surrounding a major event in Star Wars history. Thanks to that success, the second installment in the line of anthology films, “Solo,” didn’t have to prove anything and may have been better for it.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is excellent for three reasons:
First, it explores an era in Star Wars history that we haven’t seen much of before: about halfway between Episodes III and IV, which lends some context to references of “the dark times” made in the original trilogy;
Second, it knows exactly when to lean on the knowledge we have from other films in the saga and when it needs to stand on its own. The dramatic irony is strong with this one;
Third, it manages to be a somewhat non-traditional love letter to hardcore fans of the franchise, like me, without entirely alienating more casual viewers.
In my opinion, this is one of the better films in the franchise. It’s fun, full of action, and fits in perfectly with not only the other films but even with stories from outside the live-action film saga.
Where “The Force Awakens” may lean too heavily on nostalgia, “Solo” carries itself with that same nostalgia riding on its back at nearly all times. Where “Rogue One” makes great efforts to make us care about its new characters, “Solo” effortlessly benefits from utilizing characters and archetypes we already know. Where “The Last Jedi” suffers from pacing problems and some occasionally unwelcome comedy, “Solo” starts out fast and never slows down for too long before whisking us off to the next piece of the action, all the while wrapping its own comedic moments in the same dry humour we’ve come to associate with the film’s titular character.
Of course, none of this goes to say that the film is perfect. In fact, the production was plagued by problems with direction for quite some time before the reins were handed over to a new director. Scenes were reshot, characters changed, and pacing altered in order to meet the standards of Lucasfilm’s producers. In spite of this, however, it wasn’t clear to me upon first viewing what the consequences of those changes were.
Some may complain that the characters are not particularly deep. They’d be right, though I don’t believe this film needs particularly deep characters to succeed. In fact, the entire film is relatively superficial, never really getting to the heart of any of the characters or issues at play. It covers more ground than I was expecting by never digging below the surface. Truthfully, though, that’s perfectly alright. Star Wars has earned this movie. It may be just a series of fantastical locales, shootouts, and daring escapes, but Star Wars would hardly be what it is without those elements.
I mentioned before that “Solo” fits in well with content from outside the live-action film saga. While it can be understood without any extensive knowledge of Star Wars, “Solo” does require a certain amount of appreciation for the expanded universe in order to be enjoyed to its fullest (in fact, one scene, in particular, draws heavily from the animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” TV show). Again, I don’t believe this to be a bad thing. In a similar fashion to how the Marvel Cinematic Universe earned “Infinity War” by setting up characters and a universe over the course of several other films, Star Wars has earned the ability to release a film that relies heavily on its predecessors to give insights into the characters as well (albeit on a somewhat different scale).
All-in-all, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I’m not going to give it a rating because I don’t believe it’s possible to include every factor in a single number, so instead, I’ll say this:
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a Star Wars movie for fans of Star Wars. It knows what it is and expects the audience to accept it.
If you are an avid Star Wars fan who has kept up with all its offerings including “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels” animated TV shows and felt a surge of excitement at seeing the Hammerhead cruisers appear on the big screen in “Rogue One,” this movie was made for you. I cannot recommend it enough.
If you are a casual fan of the franchise who has only seen the main eight films (or perhaps not even all eight) but you enjoy the concept of an exciting space western, I similarly recommend this movie to you.
I would not recommend making this your first foray into the Star Wars universe; you’ll likely be a little bit lost at times and certainly won’t fully understand the significance of several moments the film goes to great lengths to emphasize.
I hope this has helped any of you who weren’t sure if this movie would be worth seeing find your own answer to that question. Similarly, if you have already seen the film and were unsure of where you stood on it, I hope I could help you find your footing.