OK so “Solo”.
So I went and spent real American dollars to see “Solo: A Star Wars Story”, which, if you know how to read between the lines of movie marketing campaigns, is a bit like sticking to the order of lamb cutlet after the waiter has very carefully and deliberately raised their eyebrow at you. I knew what I was asking for, and I got it: an overcooked and uninspiring meal, “Solo” boasts only a few flashes of genuine flavor. And no wonder, with all the cooks racing through the kitchen: directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired and replaced by Ron Howard after 75% of principal photography was completed, accepting producers’ credits as payout. Whatever their contributions amounted to versus Howard’s, and how much was cobbled together in editing, is impossible to determine, but what has arrived in theaters is a dull-to-passable heist movie punctuated by a checklist of references:
Kessel Run, check.
A bad feeling about this, check.
Wookies ripping arms, check.
Spice mines, check; card game, check; Han shot first, check. One can only wonder how freely and joyfully the story might have flowed, had it not been obliged to hit all these artificial marks.
That better story would almost certainly have featured a larger role for Donald Glover, whose Lando Calrissian is note-perfect: charismatic and mysterious and projecting a riveting blend of charm and weltschmerz, and wrapped in a dazzling variety of stylish capes. He’s accompanied the new droid L3 (spectacularly voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who brings a level of exasperating humanity to her character that will either entertain, or annoy, the hell out of you. Like any well-founded character, you’ll be able to predict what L3 would do within about twenty minutes of having met her—in another good sign, you’ll have strong feelings about it. Every time this pair was on the screen, I felt the movie achieve liftoff; sadly, every time it was brought crashing back down by another obligatory hit of nostalgia. Want the origin for Chewie’s bandolier? No? Here it is! And why do we need a scene establishing where Han got his name, anyway? “Han Solo” is one of the all-time great fictional names; in three syllables, it imparts a wallop of information, wreathed in a whiff of romance. It needs no introduction; it is an introduction. In carefully cataloging the origins of nearly every iconic moment, phrase, and prop from the original trilogy, “Solo” feels like a movie not for the people who grew up playing with Star Wars toys, but for rather for the grown-ass people who collect them—only those with a hefty investment in humidity-controlled display cases could possibly have been waiting for the origin story of Han’s blaster. Hence the widespread response to this movie: “Who asked for this?” I saw variations of this cry everywhere, from friends and acquaintances and in the first sentences of reviews. Even a cursory advance focus group should have cued Disney to re-evaluate the need for a painstakingly explanatory origin story for one of the most indelible characters of all time. The filmmakers—all of them—should have trusted the essential sturdiness of Han Solo; the willingness of their audience to follow him on a truly new adventure; our ability to enjoy a character who simply is. Their lack of faith disturbs me.