WARNING: Here be spoilers. Your first and only warning.
Once The Last Jedi came and went, audiences officially began the journey from the “comfort” of the Skywalker Saga to the great unknown with the future of Star Wars. There is only one more film to go in the (foolishly presumed) final Skywalker trilogy, and soon enough there will be more Star Wars films that cover every little corner of the galaxy that is far, far away. As such, Solo provides some additional insight into the thought process guiding this venture. But also, it leaves many unanswered questions which I, an expert – obviously, will attempt to answer.
1. What were they thinking?
1. Star Wars films do not exist in a vacuum, much like the films of the MCU. They are parts of a greater whole. Existing as a part of something greater though does not excuse a film from not being satisfying in its own right. So, does the film work as its own thing?
In short, no. The pacing is all over the place. The story feels very disjointed (no surprise given the production issues). The lead actor is a charisma black hole (and taking over a role that was essentially defined by the charisma of the previous actor more than anything else). Very few of the new characters make much of a positive impression. Some great actors in supporting roles seem to be sleepwalking through their parts. And the movie itself just has this shadow looming over it – the shadow of course being this overarching question of why does this film even exist?*
*Don’t worry. I’ll get to some positive stuff in just a second.
2. How does the film work in the larger picture?
As far as this film’s place in the larger story of Star Wars, one cannot help but have a bad feeling about this greater project. Much like Rogue One, the major story beats of this felt like filling in the blanks so that we know exactly every little aspect of the universe’s mythology.
Did we really need to know how Han Solo pulled off the Kessel Run? Do we need to see Han Solo defeat Lando in cards to win the Millennium Falcon? Do we need to see how Han and Chewbacca became attached at the hip? Do we need to know why C-3PO once referred to the Falcon as a “she” and with an “attitude”? Is it not enough to just trust that these things all happened?
It’s not that the movie is Actually Bad because it answered those questions (see Question 1 for that rundown). The greater issue is that the crux of these anthology films still seems to be about showing the connecting of dots that we already know are connected. This film may not be about the Death Star, a Skywalker, or contain R2 and C-3PO, but it does make this spectacular universe seem painfully small. There are other stories to tell beyond the ones we have already heard about.
3. While questions 1 & 2 obviously imply that I hated this film, that is far from the case. It was a mostly watchable and inoffensive film overall, which leads us to our next question…
What aspects of the film work?
When people talk about the positives of this film, it will not take long for people to point to Donald Glover’s Lando. And for (mostly) good reason. In a shockingly glum film, Glover seems to be the one person determined to actually have fun making a Star Wars movie. While he does at times veer dangerously close to doing a Billy Dee Williams impression, he mostly just embodies all the wonderful charm of Lando as we knew him while also making the character his own.
Beyond Glover though, you are going to have to really dig to find more things about this one to be happy about. It’s nice to see a black woman in a Star Wars film (Thandie Newton fit like a glove) for once, but she was killed off quickly and her death did not end up carrying all that much weight. The train robbery scene was cool-looking (even if its existence probably causes the need for only more questions to be asked – such as, why does any planet in Star Wars use trains?), but it seemed to be a mostly unimportant action scene in a film desperate for more fun things to look at.
Still though, Glover’s Lando is something to hold onto especially as it seems like there are greater plans for this particular moment in the Star Wars timeline…
4. To what extent is there value in bringing back Darth Maul?
The reveal of Darth Maul towards the end of Solo was at least a burst of much-needed energy to the film. Once you get past the surprise aspect of it though and start thinking, you realize that this moment that may have otherwise been a fun twist actually just emphasizes once again how much the Disney Star Wars cannot let go of what has already been done before.
In a world where Star Wars post-George Lucas was leaving the past fully behind and just embracing everything fresh and new, the return of Darth Maul would open up exciting possibilities. Maul was a rare character from a past film that had basically not been explored at all. He had a cool look and dueled lightsabers in a fun manner. He would also presumably have a grudge against Obi-Wan Kenobi and Palpatine given the events that led to his presumed demise. There is some room for sure to explore who this fucker is, and Ray Park is a compelling stunt actor.
That world does not exist. In the … REAL WORLD … every nook and cranny from a previous Star Wars film has been recycled for all its worth until none of the references and callbacks mean anything anymore. The return of Darth Maul does not mean fresh possibilities but instead the reminder that this unlimited universe is being kept as tiny as possible.
5. What’s next for these anthology films?
After Rogue One, it seemed like the anthology films would be a series of disconnected films that would still tie back to aspects of Star Wars that were still known commodities. The return of Darth Maul at the end of Solo reveals a
phantom menace far more sinister plot afoot.
Disney is openly embracing the shared universe form of movie storytelling that has been en vogue, and they seem intent on continuing the trilogy aspect of Star Wars storytelling. With those two ideas and the setting up of Darth Maul as a Big Bad in mind, it stands to reason to expect Solo to be the soft launch of a new series of films as opposed to a standalone film within Star Wars.
The natural assumption would be that Solo II would be coming to a cinema near you soon. With Episode IX, a Boba Fett film, and probably an Obi-Wan film on the way though, there does not appear to be a lot of room for a Solo II in the immediate future. And the current Disney Star Wars series has not exactly been patient.
Thus, it would appear more likely that the Boba Fett and Obi-Wan films are actually soft sequels to Solo with them building to Obi-Wan killing Darth Maul at the end…again. This theory also fits in with Disney’s quickly established track record of keeping everything very close together in the universe and sticking to material that is deeply rooted in already established characters, stories, or ideas.
In other words, in one scenario, the upcoming anthology films are just once again more of the same. Or, if this theory of mine is wrong, the follow-up will me more of a direct sequel to a limp Han Solo film that no one asked for in the first place. Not great, Bob.