Finding the Unexpected in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Opening weekend, I saw Solo: A Star Wars Story twice.  This wasn’t something I expected to do.  Like many, I expected to be underwhelmed by a movie about young Han Solo.  We all know the narrative: it’s an “unnecessary” film – a cash grab by money-hungry Disney dead-set on pimping out a galaxy far, far away until we all scream like a Wookie.  The evidence stacked up against it.  Solo is a film no one asked for starring an unknown with a nigh-unpronounceable name (Alden Ehrenreich) that suffered from well-publicized behind-the-scenes problems resulting in a complete midcourse change-up of the creative team.  It was expected to be dead-on-arrival.
  Of course, I was going to see it… eventually.  I’m an 80s kid who grew up playing with Star Wars action figures and swinging my mother’s dowel rods around like a lightsaber, breaking anything in reach.  Complain as I might, seeing the movie was a foregone conclusion.  At best, I assumed, Solo couldn’t disappoint me any worse than what I felt at fifteen watching The Phantom Menace in a packed theater, impatient to exit and get as far away from the scene of the crime as possible.  At worst, well, then I’d have snarky I-told-you-sos to serve.  Solo was film I would not enjoy.  Until I did.
  I didn’t expect humor and charm.  I didn’t expect a film that recaptures the best of Lucasfilm’s heyday.  Growing up on the Original Trilogy and Indiana Jones, never did I expect a return to form to the adventure, excitement, and Harrison Ford-fueled cool of those 80s classics.
  Ehrenreich is no Ford, that can be said.  But it’s unfair to say the new kid doesn’t pull off a reasonable facsimile, swaggering just enough for me to buy that this young Han could grow up to be the no-good swindler we all know.  More importantly, director Ron Howard – no stranger to 1980s adventure films with Willow – pulls all the right levers.  Solo mixes a satisfying blend of the “Aw shucks” fun of the Original Trilogy with the eye-popping slickness Episodes 1-3 delivered at the time.  (Of course, those visuals have aged rather poorly)  Solo also gives us the closest thing we’ve yet had to a classic Hollywood western in the Star Wars universe, with a dash of old-school gangster noir to balance out the dish.  So, that’s the review.  Solo is well-worth the watch.  Or two.
There’s more than the unexpected in Solo.  It is, shockingly, exactly the sort of Star Wars film I’ve wanted ever since Disney bought the franchise.  I just didn’t know it at the time.  Stay with me here.  In Solo, we get not only the classic Star Wars feel I’ve already said, but also a peek into previously unknown chapters of beloved characters, a deepening of the crime syndicate culture only hinted at by Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett (in film), genuinely kick-ass new characters like L3 and Enfys Nest, a bunch of nice Easter eggs for fans, and a truly menacing villain in Dreiden Vos.  Solo is, in effect, what the old Expanded Universe novels, comics, and video games were BUT ON THE BIG SCREEN!  If this isn’t exactly what we fans were hoping for, then what is?
Maybe we thought it’d look different.  Maybe some of us even wanted slavish adaptations of some of that old Expanded Universe (now “Legends”) material.  Sure.  It didn’t happen the way we expected or even wanted, but if the future of the onscreen Star Wars universe looks anything like Solo then consider all my tickets already bought.  This is exactly the type of movie six-year-old me would have rushed to pop in the VCR, dowel rod lightsaber in hand.


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