Star Wars movies used to be an event. Something magical that you would anticipate and ponder and fantasize about in the months and years between films, while you went back for repeat viewings and dreamt up your own wild adventures of the characters onscreen. They became as familiar to kids (and adults) of a certain age-range as heroes and villains such as the Lone Ranger and Ming the Merciless were to previous generations, with stories that transported you to another time and place full of danger and gallantry. Even Lucas’s prequels, released some 15-20 years after the original trilogy and largely derided by critics and older fans, captivated young audiences.
I don’t have children, so I don’t know how much this current Disney deluge of Star Wars excursions is resonating with da yoots, but it seems to me they’ve all been nostalgic cash-ins aimed at older, established Star Wars devotees – retreads that exploit what is already familiar with further familiarity. And with a new movie pumped out every year now, there’s a palpable fatigue setting in. There’s nothing really special about Star Wars movies anymore. The magic and wonderment is long gone. It’s just another franchise. Once one’s reaching the end of its Redbox shelf life, turn around and another’s opening in theaters, and they’re all pretty much recycling the same formula. There’s always a young guy unsure of his abilities or his place in the universe; a spunky/feisty female; a rugged rough-around-the-edges pilot; a wacky droid or two; some evil, black-clad/mask-wearing Sith thing; a couple of cast members from the originals if they’re still alive (if not, just CGI ‘em); a bunch of Stormtroopers and Rebels blasting each other on some desert/ice/salt/jungle planet; TIE fighters and Star Destroyers zippin’ around in a cosmic demolition derby; and of course some mystical shit about the Force. Voila! You’ve got another Star Wars movie straight outta the kit.
In fact the Marvel Cinematic Universe long ago overtook the grip Star Wars had on serialized film fantasy, for both young and old alike. Certainly many of those movies owe a great deal to Star Wars and the pop-cultural tidal wave Lucas’s films (and marketing) spawned. But it doesn’t really seem to matter that there’s a new Marvel movie out every two or three months, not to mention assorted TV shows; they’ve thus far managed to maintain the creative spark and entertaining storytelling – and keep surprising us, and making us laugh – with fatigue at a minimum. Face it: at this point, Marvel rules, and Star Wars drools.
Which isn’t to say that the revived series has been a barren one. Personally, I consider Rogue One to be of the same level as New Hope and Empire – it’s an exciting, fun, well-played movie that connects the two trilogies. And The Last Jedi is a vast improvement over the decrepit Seniors Discount Day that was The Force Awakens.
But Solo, the new one directed by Ron Howard (and Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, both fired early on) that tells a newly made-up backstory from Han Solo’s younger days… well, it’s just… it’s just sorta limp. There’s little that’s memorable about it, and nothing that’s remarkable. Alden Ehrenreich is a passable facsimile of a youthful Harrison Ford, I suppose, but he’s also bratty and annoying in the same way Chris Pine’s Kirk is. He’s got no family (or even a surname – “solo” is given to him by an Imperial recruitment officer), and he’s basically the same cocksure, reckless scrumrat with a kind heart that we all know. He’s got the hots for some chick from Corellia, and embarks on a quest to reunite with her after they get separated during an escape plan, but I can’t really remember much else about her, that’s how compelling their relationship seems. Oh yeah, she ends up working with (or not, or maybe she’s playing both sides, I dunno) a crime syndicate called Crimson Dawn, for whose boss Han is attempting to procure some Imperial super-fuel along with other scruffy ne’er-do-wells in hopes of a large payout.
Along the way, of course, we’re treated to his introduction to Chewbacca, who initially considers Han a tasty meal, and Lando Calrissian, who, as perfectly portrayed by Donald Glover, is the clear standout of the entire movie. Glover nails Lando’s looks, mannerisms and suave charm, while his dashing wardrobe of capes (and that ridiculous tusk mask from Return of the Jedi) is a recurring source of humor. I’m tempted to join the chorus suggesting that Glover be given his own Lando standalone movie (it’s likely a sure bet at this point anyway), but that just means we’ll probably have to endure more of his co-pilot, sassy activist droid L3-37, whose hips are about as wide as Oprah’s and whose demands for droid civil rights (in a tale that itself transforms from a heist scheme into a Rebel slave uprising/emancipation) grow tiresome after about 14 seconds. It’s insinuated that she and Lando have a “thing” going, i.e. a weird relationship of some sort, which conjures nearly as disgusting a vision as Luke squeezing the green milk outta the teats of that alien sea-cow creature in The Last Jedi. It also means we’ll be watching the Millennium Falcon zoom and dip and careen all over the place again. Clearly my nostalgia level is not what it should be, because I don’t really get all tingly and feel the need to stand up and cheer every time they put that damned ship on the screen. I know I’m supposed to. But I’m sorta hoping they blow it and its holographic chess game to smithereens in the next movie.
Solo is just kinda drab. There’s some humor, but it’s not especially funny. There are nods, large and small, to Star Wars lore, but none of it’s really heartwarming. Maybe the well’s running dry, or maybe it’s just an off year, but there’s little sense of the magic that Star Wars once represented. I certainly don’t have the urge to go see it again, to relive that experience. The experience is underwhelming, something I once – a long time ago in a theater not so far away – thought I’d never say about a Star Wars movie.