“Solo” Is a Good and Fun Movie, and I Loved It

Solo movie posterAs of this writing, I’ve seen Solo, the latest Star Wars movie, twice. It’s been out for one day. Maybe I don’t need to say that I liked it a lot, but I do want to note that while I loved it when I saw it for the first time during Thursday previews, I really loved it when I saw it on Friday, it’s official opening day.

Much has been written (by the people who get paid to write about movies and things) about Solo‘s semi-troubled production. Since the original directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord were replaced by Ron Howard, it’s been alternately claimed that part of their clash with Disney/LucasFilm execs was about their desire to make eithet a grittier movie or a goofier, Guardians of the Galaxy-esque one. In the end, Solo is stronger for having been made by Howard, who sure does know how to make a good, kind of old-fashioned movie. That’s what this ended up being. It’s good and fun, not very predictable, with good performances, great visuals, and fun capers.

Much has also been made of Disney’s decision to bring in an acting coach for Aldon Ehrenreich, the actor given the unenviable task of trying to create a satisfying young version of Harrison Ford’s iconic character. I don’t know what struggled Ehrenreich had–or if he even had any, as he has claimed the acting coach was hired to support the entire cast–but I do know that he nails it. There will always be people who had their own idea of what Young Han should be like, but Ehrenreich did as well as–if not better than–anyone could have realistically expected.

The thing is, Han Solo as portrayed by Harrison Ford is not a character who can carry a movie. Han Solo as portrayed as Aldon Ehrenreich is. Ford’s Solo is iconic–he’s simultaneously clever and lucky, swashbuckling and sentimental, arrogant and desperate for validation. But he’s able to be all of those things because we are seeing him in relation to other characters who carry more of the story. How does an actor do all of that while also carrying the story in its entirety? The movie is called Solo, after all.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi Has Been Out for a Month; I Have Thoughts

Star Wars: The Last Jedi theatrical poster.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi theatrical poster.

The Last Jedi came out out December 14, 2017. I saw it on December 16, then again on December 29. This continued my streak of seeing all of the new Star Wars movies in the theater twice, which I began with The Force Awakens and continued with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The Last Jedi is the best of the new Star Wars movies, and is maybe the best entry yet in this massively successful, 40-year-old franchise.

This is, of course, not an incontrovertible position. The White Male Resentment crowd has some problems with it, flooding the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes profile with negative reactions in an effort to artificially deflate its score. [Ed. Note: A long and forceful discussion of Rotten Tomatoes being a crappy metric has been removed. Nobody has time for that.] There are also good-faith reasons to dislike the movie, or at least have some problems with it. It is certainly not a perfect movie — no big-budget blockbuster will ever be a “perfect” movie — but some of those good-faith arguments against it are exactly why I liked it so much.

The following comes from an email I sent to a friend from high school, a doctor back in Baltimore, who emailed me with some of his concerns about the movie:

A huge part of this movie, I think, was sort of blowing up what we expect a Star Wars movie to be. In the same way that lots of people expected Snoke to be nouveau Palpatine but then he ended up dying in the Second Act of the second film in the trilogy, a huge secondary theme has to do with Poe’s recklessness. So much of sci-fi relies on the dashing, daring hero speaking truth to power and taking the necessary steps that the powers-that-be refuse to. We’re expected to dislike Holdo in favor of Poe — I actually expected Laura Dern to be a double agent when I watched the movie the first time — but as it turns out she knows that if she gives Poe an inch he’ll undermine her authority and mess things up. Which he, Finn, and Rose end up doing anyway!
My thinking is, the stakes are actually super high for the Canto Bight/Benicio del Toro sequences, it’s just that the stakes aren’t what we expect. The normal stakes would be: They succeed in their mission, the Resistance survives; they fail and everyone dies. But because Holdo has an actual plan — which she withholds from them because of Poe’s documented refusal to follow orders —┬áthe actual stakes are that they need to minimize the damage they do. They DO need to succeed, but not for the usual reason: when they fail, Benicio del Toro sells them out, and hundreds of Resistance fighters die.
Their failure to follow orders, and subsequent failure to minimize the damage for that, means that suddenly the entire Resistance can fit inside the Millennium Falcon. This sets up a crazy, holy-crap-how-do-they-eventually-win third installment.
The Last Jedi did not follow the template for a Star Wars movie; nor did it follow the formula for a big-budget sci fi picture. This is very similar to how Rogue One took the standard action movie formula — daring heroes make a dramatic stand in the third act, narrowly and dramatically escaping at the end (with perhaps one or two tragic casualties) — and just crushed our expectations by having everybody you’d come to love over the previous two hours die in various ways.

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