MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, May 25th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The latest blockbuster from Disney and Lucasfilm: a story of the early adventures of Han Solo. Here’s Megan Basham with a review.
MEGAN BASHAM, ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR: If you’re young enough to not feel particularly attached to the original Star Wars trilogy, or if you go into it thinking of it as a tale about some previously unknown characters, you’ll have a good enough time at Solo.
AUDIO: You’re after something. Is it revenge?
The film features a mostly fun mix of characters pulling off a moderately diverting heist that vaguely plays into the future showdown between the empire and the rebellion.
AUDIO: Got a line on a ship? Yeah, I know a guy. He’s the best smuggler around.
If, however, you’re a diehard fan who’s always felt Han Solo was the lynchpin that made those 80s films the zenith of your childhood movie-watching experience… well, remember Yoda’s warning: the dark side feeds on anger. Try to release your resentment over the uninspired, riskless origin story Disney and director Ron Howard have perpetrated on your favorite fly-boy.
AUDIO: Let me give you some advice: assume everyone will betray you and you will never be disappointed.
On paper, all the historical boxes are checked.
We see how Han meets Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian—played by Donald Glover.
AUDIO: Can I ask you a question Captain Calrissian?
It’s Han, but that’s okay. I heard a story about you. I was wondering if it’s true.
Everything you’ve heard about me is true.
And we see how he comes to be the captain of the Millennium Falcon. But it has the criteria-meeting feel of a homework assignment.
A decade ago, before Marvel showed audiences what a big-budget franchise could look like when it’s as committed to artistry as dollars, audiences might not have noticed what Solo was lacking. The job is technically done, but you don’t feel like anyone’s heart was poured into it… let alone a true fan’s heart.
Sure, Alden Ehrenreich sort of looks like a young Harrison Ford… if Ford’s face were more perfectly proportioned and chiseled. And he makes occasionally successful attempts at swagger.
AUDIO: You happen to notice that freighter down there? You know what’s on it? About 30 hired guns. All I gotta do is give them the signal, you’re surrounded.
But this Solo is a fundamentally different person, and even worse, as a backstory, he undermines the character arc of the rogue we’ve known and loved all these years.
From the moment we meet this Han, an orphan on a Dickensian slum planet, he’s earnest and self-sacrificing. He’s almost—and I shudder to say it—peppy. He displays plenty of that signature confidence, but it’s nowhere near the bone-deep arrogance that could reply to “I love you” with “I know.”
It might not have been an insult to future Han had the movie taken us on a journey to find out how this generally upbeat, good guy comes to be the out-for-himself hustler who has to be transformed by the love of a good princess. But it does no such thing. Solo’s Han starts basically honorable and ends basically honorable. No one even has to convince him to do the right thing for the promise of gold.
The upside is that it does offer families plenty of fun. But for a few space monsters and action sequences, this PG-13 adventure could have easily flirted with PG. I caught only one cut-off expletive and the romance between Han and his childhood sweetheart Qi’ra—played by Emilia Clarke—never progresses beyond kissing.
You may have read reports that Disney pulled a Beauty-and-the-Beast-type revision to Lando’s sexuality. The story gained steam when a Huffington Post reporter noted this scene:
AUDIO: Might want to buckle up, baby.
He asked co-writer Jonathan Kasdan if the line meant Lando is attracted to Han and Solo is intended to be a more inclusive Star Wars entry.
My guess is that Kasdan made a spur-of-the-moment mercenary decision to run with the notion because nothing in the script or on the screen suggests any such thing. Lando calls everyone baby the same way rat-packers Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra would. That didn’t stop CNN, Entertainment Weekly, and other outlets from trumpeting the news.
To all of this all I can say is, welcome to the pandering club.
For years evangelicals have had movies marketed to us as “Christian” because some brief element could, if we squinted our eyes just right and listened really hard, possibly be interpreted as being nebulously in favor of faith as a general concept. That’s about the level of commitment to “progressive” representation you’re going to see in Solo.
Because no matter what we identify as, as long as we have money in our pockets, the studio-intellectual property complex will happy to tell us they were thinking of us when they made their movie.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.