Solo: A Star Wars Story
“The character deaths in Solo: A Star Wars Story will leave you feeling angry, as they are unearned and disproportionately affect women.”
Title: Solo: A Star Wars Story
Director: Ron Howard 👨🏼 🇺🇸
Writers: Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan 👨🏼 🇺🇸 and Jonathan Kasdan 👨🏼 🇺🇸, based on the characters by George Lucas 👨🏼 🇺🇸
Reviewed by Monique 👩🏾🇺🇸
UGH. That’s it. That’s my review.
Sigh, I’ll continue. Solo: A Star Wars Story is a film that you can take or leave, even if you’re a diehard Star Wars fan. Do you really need to know how Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover)? Not really. Do you really need to know how Han and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) become best buds? It’s a little interesting, but still nothing to write home about. Is it even pertinent to know Han had a love life before he met Leia? I mean, we assume he had a love life before her, but the story we’re told in Solo is fine, if extremely bland.
Story-wise, that’s the biggest crime of Solo; it’s just bland. Too bland to spend 2 hours in a movie theater for. Sadly, the film doesn’t expand the lore of Han or even delve into the inner workings of his psyche, unlike The Last Jedi (2017), which pushed the envelope of how far Star Wars can go as a psychological sci-fi fantasy. Instead, the film exists solely to hit the bullet points of how Han acquired the things and friendships he has before we meet him in A New Hope (1977). See Han meet Chewbacca! See Han challenge Lando for the Millennium Falcon! See how Han does jump the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs, even though it seems to take infinitely longer when watching it onscreen! So on and so forth.
Maybe I sound bitter and bored in this review—I have often dubbed myself “The Russian Judge” of Mediaversity Reviews for a reason—but is it too much to ask for something a little challenging to go along with my nostalgia? Is it wrong of me to want a complete, well-rounded story analyzing Han as a character and not as an untouchable artifact? Am I the one who’s being ridiculous?
These are all rhetorical questions, and of course Solo does what it says on the tin with precision. It’s not a bad movie. But it’s not a good one either. It’d be unfair to compare it to The Last Jedi, one of the films in the main Skywalker storyline that pushes the notion of what a Star Wars film can be. But it isn’t even comparable to its fellow anthology film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). Rogue One should have provided a detailed roadmap in creating a separate story that still lives within the Star Wars universe, but also expands it and challenges it in the right ways. At the very least, Solo could have given its characters actual weight like those in Rogue One, whose onscreen deaths compel you to feel sad. Meanwhile, when the characters in Solo die you’re just left feeling angry because the deaths are unearned and disproportionately affect women and non-human characters. If you’re a white man in Solo, have no fear: You’ll be in the film until the final frames.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test: NOPE
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 20% of key cast and crew members were female.
On how Solo handles the Bechdel Test, it’s true that there is a conversation between Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), but L3-37 isn’t a woman; she’s a femme-presenting droid. The flesh-and-blood women, Qi’ra, Val (Thandie Newton), and Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman), are largely kept apart.
Women aren’t well-defined in Solo. Technically, no character in the film is well-defined, but the women especially seem like afterthoughts. Val’s biggest contribution, aside from being black, is being Beckett’s (Woody Harrelson) girlfriend. From how much the trailers and the posters highlight Val, you’d think she’d be in the film for its entirety. Irritatingly, she gets killed within the first half hour. Worse, she sacrifices herself for Beckett—a sacrifice that, in the end, doesn’t even pay off. It’s a waste of a character and a waste of Newton’s talents. If you watch Westworld, you’d know she’s one of the best parts of that show.
Qi’ra starts out the film as Han’s girlfriend, and later becomes an attaché of sorts to high-ranking gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Irritatingly, the film never tells us how Qi’ra became essentially enslaved to Dryden, even though the film goes to great lengths to tease a backstory, with Beckett constantly telling Han about how he doesn’t know Qi’ra as well as he thinks he does. The film also subtly condemns Qi’ra for her sexual choices—while never said outright, it’s alluded to that she’s had to sleep with Dryden as part of her servitude. But this makes Qi’ra a victim, not a femme fatale. And any humanization she does receive ultimately is in service to the men she’s surrounded by. As Beckett tells Han, Qi’ra only acts as a reflection of what Han wants to see. Indeed, that’s all Qi’ra is: a reflection of the men surrounding her.
Enfys, on the other hand, should be one of the heroes Solo focuses on the most. She’s the leader of a tribe who faced down the Empire and lived to tell the tale. She’s a young leader—either in her late teens or early twenties—and her youth provides a welcome contrast to the older men who make up Solo. Yet her character receives scant screentime.
As I wrote earlier, L3-37 technically isn’t a woman. But she’s femme enough for the screenwriters to deem her worthy of execution, as she perishes in the heat of battle while, somehow, everyone else gets out alive. Her death is openly in service of Lando’s storyline, because every man needs a woman to die so they can access their emotions, right? Sigh. L3-37 is also largely treated as a joke, despite the character raising some uncomfortable points about droid rights—something that’s never entertained in any Star Wars film despite their obvious capacity for free will. Steven Scaife writes much more about this in his Hollywood Reporter article, where he points out that for some strange reason, L3-37’s crusade is never given the weight that another project, such as Blade Runner, perhaps, might have given it. Considering the droids’ capacity for reasoning, you’d think someone in the galaxy would be alarmed enough to destroy every one in existence.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 2% of key cast and crew members were POC.
Race is an interesting element in Solo. While racial diversity isn’t ignored, neither is there any thought behind how it may play into the way certain characters are treated or developed. For instance, take Val. Val is the first black woman in a significant role across the entire, decades-long Star Wars franchise. And yet, she’s one of the first to die in the film. Val’s death is an example of how box-ticking does not actually equate inclusion. True inclusion would allow us to see who Val is beyond just being “Beckett’s girlfriend.” She wouldn’t be a disposable black face. She would be someone we actually identify with on a human level.
We can say the same about Enfys. We know that she’s a noble warrior, but what else? How does she feel about her tribe’s subjugation—a tribe primarily made up of African diaspora? How does she feel about being thrust into her role at such a young age? These are all questions the film isn’t interested in asking.
Qi’ra also figures into this discussion since Emilia Clarke recently revealed her Indian ancestry via her grandmother, but seeing as how she passes for white, Qi’ra gets more screentime and development than Val or Enfys. Even still, she’s a flat character. First, we never know what happened to her between the time Han is forced to leave her behind on Corellia and the time Han meets up with her on Dryden’s yacht. Second, we never know who she is without a man to define her for us. She never speaks of her life with her own voice. That’s a shame.
Lando, too, suffers from being ill-defined. We never understand who he is as a person. He’s still just “the coolest guy in the galaxy” and nothing more. Glover’s portrayal of Lando is as one-note as Ehrenreich’s portrayal of Han, but to his defense, it's hardly helped by the limited script provided by father-and-son duo, the Kasdans.
The whole film is an exercise in missed opportunities, whether it’s underutilizing women, people of color, or even Han himself. Miss, miss, miss.
Deduction for LGBTQ: -0.25
The Kasdans have gone on record to say that Lando is pansexual and he is shown flirting with aliens, droids, and humans alike, including Han. His love interest in the movie is actually L3-37, and her death is the moment we see how much Lando cares about her. But the way in which Lando exhibits his sexual identity is an issue. As M. Arbeiter writes for Nerdist:
“[W]hen [characters like Lando] call themselves pansexual, what they’re really saying is that they ‘like to party.’ And when they are allowed some showing of genuine heart, it comes with one caveat: keep it straight.”
Indeed, Lando does keep it straight, since the majority of the aliens he flirts with are femme. Meanwhile, his pansexuality is used as a proxy for irresponsible, hedonistic behavior rather than actually representing an underserved demographic. Again, box-ticking does not equal actual inclusion. In fact, it’s actively regressive here by perpetuating negative stereotypes of a group that sees so little representation already.
Mediaversity Grade: D 2.00/5
Solo: A Star Wars Story is fine. But just being “fine” isn’t good enough, especially for a Star Wars film. Compared to the franchise’s more recent successes, Solo falls far below the mark in every respect.