Solo: a Star Wars Thoughts

14Jun18

Alternative title: People Ranking “Solo” as the Worst Star Wars Movie Are Insane.

The release of “Solo: a Star Wars Story” has been a weird one for “Star Wars” movies. It hasn’t set the world on fire, so many have been quick to blame everything and declare it the worst entry. I’ve heard some actual fan reaction from people directly, but even that has been hampered with statistics and box office returns. It should be noted that none of these people I’ve spoken to have any vested interest in those box office returns. It’s more just the way our world works now. Everything is seen in terms of how money justifies existence.

That almost makes sense in terms of “Star Wars,” as they have been so synonymous with box office success that when one doesn’t make a zillion dollars, it does, I suppose, qualify as “news.” The films have also reached a level of their own film genre, as one of my friends has pointed out. Each “Star Wars” movie can only be measured against previous “Star Wars” movies. All other comparisons are irrelevant. Still, I’m going to try.

I’ll try because while the fan reaction has appeared to be lukewarm, I think it’s informed by metatextual information about the movie — the production, the box office, etc. — as opposed to the movie itself. Stated in a less horrible way: I believe people are not reacting to the movie on its own terms. They are bringing baggage and applying that on top of “Solo.”

Now, that’s not without precedent, and I can certainly get it. I am not a hater of “The Last Jedi,” but I also understand the reaction to that movie is divisive. It’s very possible that the negative impact that movie had, latched with a quick turnaround time, hampered “Solo” a bit. Put in old TV terms, “Solo” had a troubled lead-in. I can easily imagine “Solo” getting a warmer reception if it had come out in place of “Rogue One,” or if it had been the only “Star Wars” movie we’d seen for at least a year. So I get why people might be timid going in, which would lead them to either look for faults in “Solo” from the get go, or to avoid the movie altogether.

And that’s all set up to say that it’s too bad, because I think I loved “Solo,” and would rank it as my fourth favorite “Star Wars” movie at this time. I think I enjoyed it the most of the Disney era films, and I know I liked it better than any of the prequel trilogy (which I think we have to start calling the “Anakin Trilogy,” as Disney will surely make more prequels and muddy the waters). It is the first “Star Wars” movie to have a single point of view following one character. It does not end with an explosion of any kind (the climax takes place in an office and on a beach!), and it’s fairly “terrestrial” in that the characters do not interact with the Force or Jedis. Even the Empire is pushed to the edges. It’s funny. It’s fun. It feels like a “Star Wars” sequel they would have made prior to “Empire Strikes Back;” one that was based very much on the first half of the first movie, and is concerned with (for the most part) relatable problems that are not at a galactic scale.

It’s also got Lawrence Kasdan writing, a man who has an impeccable track record working with Harrison Ford characters. I don’t feel enough credit is being given to his impact on the film, and (again) I feel that comes from some pre-viewing baggage. The production for “Solo” was storied in its backstage drama, particularly around the firing of original directors Lord and Miller. The story goes that they favored improvisation to find their movie, and that the studio didn’t like this take. This has obviously worked in the past with their takes on “21 Jump Street,” but the more I think about “Solo,” the more I can imagine how this seemed like a bad idea to the executives. They hired Kasdan — a man who helped create (arguably) 3 of the best “Star Wars” movies AND “Raiders of the Lost Ark” — and he (likely) delivered a script that the suits were happy about. I can imagine them thinking they were sitting pretty, having tapped a source just shy of George Lucas himself (a Lucas who can write dialog!). And then here come these directors who want to improvise around that investment.

I’m a trained improviser, and I can say that while I enjoy the art form, it is the rare movie that improves with drastic improvisation. We can all think of *moments* where improv landed on greatness (two of Kasdan’s scripts jump to mind), but by and large, improvisation tends to limit the visual storytelling aspect of a movie. On top of that — and I’m not exactly fighting for this, I’m just being empathetic — nobody likes to hear “Let’s wing it” when it comes to a hundred-million-dollar investment.

Lord and Miller have been lionized a bit as the ones who got away, and I feel movie goers saw “Solo” through that lens. They imagined the parts that they came up with as the ones that they enjoyed, and any parts that didn’t work they blamed on new director Ron Howard. And the truth is, the movie is pretty cohesive. Considering the amount of re-shoots and director juggling that went on, it’s almost miraculous.

I don’t want to sound like “Solo” is some tremendous cinematic achievement. There are flaws, to be sure. However, I think the flaws are drastically outweighed by the positives. Taken on its own merits, “Solo” is a fun movie and a very, very good “Star Wars” movie. Compared to the Disney era, it is a more enjoyable prequel than the “We’re over-explaining everything up to the last moment” “Rogue One,” it has less retread than “The Force Awakens,” and it takes itself less seriously than the serious parts of “The Last Jedi,” while the comedy is better than the “comedy” parts of “The Last Jedi.”

I don’t want to advocate for Disney, of all things. I read one article that blamed “Solo’s” timid performance on the fact that it came out between “Infinity War” and “Incredibles 2,” so they’re problem is that they just have too many successful franchises. But I honestly feel that “Solo,” the movie itself, is better than the hive mind is treating it.

For good measure, here are my current rankings, based on a recent run through the movies (excluding the Anakin Trilogy) in the last 2 months. They’re subject to change, but they generally hold up my rule that my favorite “Star Wars” movies are the ones with Han Solo:

  1. Star Wars*
  2. Empire
  3. ROTJedi
  4. Solo
  5. The Force Awakens
  6. The Last Jedi
  7. Rogue One
  8. ROTSith**
  9. Phantom Menace
  10. A dumpster full of opossums
  11. Attack of the Clones

 

Oh, and hey, apparently the USA is a country of monsters now, separating children from their parents. So please register to vote, and then show up for stuff. Please.

 

*This is a change for me. I’ve probably had “Empire” at #1 for a long time, but this last viewing really sold me on the 1977 movie and just how taught and well done it is. The latest thing to jump out at me: how much the editing helps the Vader-Kenobi fight. When their lightsabers clash, it cuts in closer, as though we are pulled into the action.

** I still don’t get how anyone could consider any occurrence from the Anakin Trilogy as a good movie. We’re talking objectively here, but for all the corporate gloss, remixing of previous movies, and obvious corporate greed involved, the Disney entries are — at the very — well made movies. The combination of good acting along with non-racism should be enough. Yet somehow, through weird selective nostalgia, sad devotion, or just sheer blind internet rage, I’ve seen multiple people rank “Solo” below MULTIPLE prequels. I can maybe forgive putting “Sith” above it, but not the other two. People ranking the Anakin Trilogy higher than the bottom might as well be telling me that rocks are their favorite liquid. They lack the qualities inherent to the comparison.

 

 

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