Solo: A Star Wars Story was the first recent Star Wars movie that was so poorly done it bummed me out.
Don’t get me wrong, there were things about the movie that worked well — it was funny, Alden Ehrenreich made for a fantastic young Han Solo without ever slipping into parody, all the actors clearly wanted to be there, and the action sequences were fun and engaging. And you can bet I was smiling with glee during the scene where Han and Chewbacca met, oh my goodness. So I was completely on board with this movie until (spoilers!) Val (Thandie Newton) died for no reason. After the moment of her death, Beckett (Woody Harrelson) shows no grief or anger (he punched Han over the money, after all), he’s not motivated to seek revenge (his later betrayal is part of his broader “trust no one and you’ll never be disappointed” ethos, which is inherently impersonal), the fact that Beckett is so emotionless is never used to provide insight into his character, Val’s death doesn’t drive the plot — it’s literally never mentioned again. I honestly don’t know what the point of even including Val was beyond adding emotional stakes to the heist scene going wrong, which is weak writing (if death is the only reason you can come up with to get the audience to give a care, you need to read a dang book) as well as a shitty way to treat one of the movie’s few female characters.
Speaking of female characters, let’s talk about L3. Now, I know some people adored her — heck, my date that evening said she was his favorite part of Solo (he uh, did not get many other words in edge-wise, as I was thoroughly steamed and ranting). I absolutely loved the idea of a robot fighting for equal rights, which is why I hated everything about the way her character was written. Instead of treating Robot Liberation as a valid concept to be thoughtfully explored or tying it to some broader theme, her cause is played for laughs and used as a convenient plot device for the scene on Kessel, where she is promptly killed. Compare this to The Last Jedi, where Rose’s empathy for the mistreated animals on Canto Bight is treated earnestly, and her freeing them also creates a chaotic and fun scene, but it all ties into her character motivation (i.e. save what you love) and the broader points the film is making about power and exploitation (if you’re not sure what I mean by that last bit, Film Crit Hulk wrote a great piece about these themes here).
Meanwhile, in Solo there’s no reason for L3 to exist beyond comic relief and a convenient plot device, so just like Val she’s discarded once her “purpose” is fulfilled. Barf.
To make things worse, I had no idea why Lando was upset over her death. There was no flirting, subtext, or any hints as to what she meant to him. L3 just stated that he had feelings for her (again, a comment played for laughs) and then that turned out to be true. That is on par with finding out Poochie was an alien because he died on the way back to his home planet.
Then you have Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). I really dug her and Han’s love affair and the notion that her story would have to be so different from his, in ways he could never hope to guess, which is why her completely muddled characterization bothered me so much. We never get a clear sense of how she feels about Han, what she’s been through, or what her goals are beyond a vague “she’s a survivor who’s done terrible things” idea, which is half-baked at best. This is not to argue in favor of gratuitous exposition, but contrast Qi’ra with the way Furiosa (another survivor who’s done regrettable things) is handled in Mad Max: Fury Road. That movie never goes into detail about Furiosa’s past and she never monologues about what drives her, yet we always have a clear understanding of her history and motivations as the movie unfolds (christ, that “Remember me?” line tells you absolutely everything you need to know). Meanwhile, what does Qi’ra want? Beyond the universal human desire for freedom, what drives her, specifically? It’s a breathtaking failure of this movie that we can’t answer such basic questions.
Speaking of unanswered questions, why does Chewbacca leave with Han at the end? Sure, we’ve seen them get out of a few scrapes together in Solo, but we’ve also seen Han condescend to him about “needing” a nickname, then he doesn’t even help him save his fellow Wookies. So I have no idea what Chewbacca’s reason is for leaving with Han (we don’t even see him pledge the life debt!). It honestly felt like the lazy ending of a sitcom episode where everything has to wrap up a certain way after 30 minutes, storytelling logic be damned.
So it feels weird to write this whole thing about Solo while hardly mentioning the titular character, but beyond Ehrenreich doing a fabulous job as a young Han there’s not much to say, which is pretty damning. Han starts off slightly more naive than the Han we know and love, and then becomes less so. That’s about it, unfortunately—he has only the flimsiest hint of an arc, which is a damn shame for such a rich and interesting character.
At this point I feel the need to say that I love me some Star Wars — in the late ’90s and early ’00s I was the kind of dork who made doofy references to Tosche Station and Thumb Wars with my pals and found digital rips of the Original Trilogy on laser disc to torrent and burn to DVD-R so I wouldn’t have to deal with the Special Editions. I don’t go into a Star Wars movie looking for the next Citizen Kane, nor do I think there’s anything wrong with enjoying Solo for the things it does well. But to me, if a big blockbuster like Thor: Ragnarok (from the same studio, no less) can be a fun popcorn movie that also exists as a functional standalone story within a bigger franchise, gives its main character a substantive arc and its supporting characters clear motivations, all while including themes about the dangers of not facing and reconciling a nation’s bloody past, why settle for anything as muddled and half-baked as Solo?