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Solo: A Star Wars Story

In a galactic world of thievery and double-crosses, Solo: A Star Wars Story searches for meaning, and is partially successful.

If, that is, we mean successful in the Edison sense. Just like the inventor found a thousand ways not to make a light bulb, Han finds a thousand ways not to build trust. From his boss to his commander to his crew to his mentor, it’s hard to keep track of the number of times Han is let down or lets others down.
This could perhaps be the source of the character’s cynicism when we meet him in the original Star Wars film, although actor Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t play him that way. Han is full of optimism, even with the odds against him, for most of the film. Some have incorrectly called him an idealist; he has no ideals other than to get by and get the girl. But he does launch through his adventures with swagger and a smile, the latter of which you’ll likely have as a viewer.
For all of its fun – and it is fun – Solo undermines its own potential nuance by constantly reminding you of its protagonist’s virtue. As a heist film in space, Han’s character would best serve the film in an antihero role, connecting to the scoundrel we see in the 1977 film. Instead, there’s hardly a morally gray decision in the film (aside from the decision to join a smuggling crew in the first place). He flies around space with the intent of going back home and saving his girlfriend, Qi’ra. He continues to pull jobs with future hopes of liberating Qi’ra. Once in the criminal life, he continues to make decisions that benefit those around him. The film broadcasts this theme when one character tells Han, despite his protests, “You’re the good guy.” I wouldn’t expect Han Solo to be a villain. That said, the extent of his virtue undercuts the arc we see in A New Hope, and robs that pivotal climax of its gravitas.
The general unreliability of the characters that surround Han does provide a potential explanation for his ultimate cynicism. The problem is that this isn’t how Ehrenreich plays the character. He plays him as largely the same in the closing moments of the film as compared to the opening scene – an arrogant and ambitious adventurer without a plan. If you take the film as its own story outside of the traditional Star Wars canon, it works as a fun space adventure. But actually removing it from that context – one of the most popular fantasy films in cinema – is nigh impossible.
Even taking Solo as a fun fan fiction movie with high production value, its ideas are relatively shallow and thin. Han learns no one can be trusted (aside from Wookies, apparently), and what a lonely life that results in. The closest the film gets to a meaningful character development is when Han’s crew crosses paths with human (or alien?) rights violations. But Han’s decision at this point is hardly surprising, giving how he’s been pitched from the film’s beginning.
None of this is to say that this isn’t a fun film – I enjoy Paul Bettany’s cartoonish villain, Ehrenreich’s blustering, and Emilia Clarke’s magnetism, not to mention the always great Woody Harrelson. But the film’s redeeming qualities are independent of its connection to the franchise. Aside from some interesting ending notes meant to be fulfilled in a future installment, the film is most successful when you forget that it’s a Star Wars film, and least successful when you start thinking about it in relation to the franchise overall. That, along with the film’s general lack of thematic depth, makes it little more than a by-the-numbers action flick – fun, but forgettable.
Rating: 5/10

Logan Judy
Logan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At Cross Culture, Logan writes about film, comics, cultural analysis, and whatever else strikes his fancy. In addition to his work at Cross Culture, Logan also blogs and podcasts at A Clear Lens. You can find him tweeting about Batman, apologetics, and why llamas will one day rule the world, @loganrjudy.
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