The phrase used to go something like, “Never talk about politics or religion at the dinner table.” In 2018, talking about that shit is child’s play compared to the danger of discussing Star Wars. All the clichés of classic partisan hackery haven’t just infiltrated pop-culture discussion—they now dominate it.
Ever since Disney gave George Lucas a $4 billion check in exchange for all things Star Wars, the squallingest sections of fandom have repeated the same whining complaints whenever a new Star War happens: “It’s pandering fan service!” “They’re milking our nostalgia!” “They’re turning Star Wars into Marvel!” This cynical cacophony usually comes from pissbabies who don’t remotely know what the fuck they’re talking about, but get this: All of those things are 100 percent true for Solo: A Star Wars Story.
And yet: It’s fitting that Solo, a film about a charming dipshit who succeeds despite his dumbassery, is still a very entertaining movie! Much like its plot, Solo shouldn’t work. It doesn’t work. It wins anyway.
That plot—which is fairly unimportant, like most Star Wars plots—goes thusly: Boy (Alden Ehrenreich) and Girl (Emilia Clarke) try to con their way out of their shitty lives. Boy gets away, and vows to return for Girl. Instead, he gets caught up in a freewheeling life of crime with a giant dog (Joonas Suatomo), a cranky thief (Woody Harrelson), a well-dressed gambler (Donald Glover), and a robot-rights activist droid (Phoebe Waller-Bridge).
That last bit sounds sorta heavy for Star Wars, right? It is. Solo has the tonal consistency of a detuned piano, and it’s constantly throwing around interesting-but-unexamined ideas and characters, which pop up every few minutes and then are never seen again. Same with much of the humor—which works, but feels tacked on—and the incongruous beauty of cinematographer Bradford Young’s natural lighting makes all the smirking and mugging feel even less consequential than it already is. Watching a film this pretty and this empty is the visual equivalent of asking Esperanza Spalding to cover Taylor Swift.
The slapdash nature of Solo isn’t helped by the fact it’s hitting theaters a mere five months after Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which folded heavy ideas into its mythology and then plumbed them deeply. Solo is only 10 minutes shorter than The Last Jedi, but it’s a hell of a lot shallower. Where that film exercised care and consideration in its characterization, Solo either kills or backgrounds every member of the supporting cast within 10 minutes of introducing them (including, sadly, both Chewbacca and Donald Glover’s Lando).
Still, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While everyone who isn’t named “Han” is short shrifted, Ehrenreich gets a really good grip on the character from the get-go, and watching him fumble and flail through his adventures is immensely enjoyable. For those seeking weightless escapism with enough gags, winks, and in-jokes to fill the Millenium Falcon’s cargo hold, not to mention laboriously Marvel-esque, overly connected worldbuilding? You’re gonna have fun.
And speaking of fun: When Solo finally gets around to showing us the Kessel Run that Harrison Ford bragged about way back in 1977, it does not fuck around. That 20-minute chunk in Solo is some of the Star Wars-iest shit that’s hit a movie screen since 1983, and may be enough to justify a matinee (or two) all by itself.