Is nostalgia enough for ‘SOLO’ and the future of ‘STAR WARS’?

Connor Bynum // Film Critic

I understand that an origin story for one of the most iconic characters in STAR WARS is going to be chock full of winks to the audience and references to things yet to befall everyone’s favorite smuggler. And for all of its efforts, SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY mostly succeeds at giving fans an enjoyable experience.

But for a moment, let’s try to look at the big picture here.

Four years ago, the thought of having a new STAR WARS film releasing every year felt like a dream come true. The mere sight of the Millenium Falcon on screen again nearly caused fans around the world to lose their damn minds. The film came out, it made all the money, and the future was bright. Finally, we were going to see the continuation of the franchise that inspired the imaginations in so many of us.

And yet, just four years later, we find ourselves in the midst of more of a repetition rather than a continuation. What can be dismissed as subtle fan service when used in moderation can easily turn into a substitute for originality when the filmmakers fail to practice restraint. For example, Oscar-nominated composer John Powell does a fantastic job in SOLO, and his collaboration with John Williams clearly shows his reverence to the source material. I’ll come clean: I was grinning from ear to ear when I heard a musical reference to the asteroid field scene from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK combined with the Tie Fighter Attack motif used in A NEW HOPE. But then I remembered that I felt the same way when that exact same motif was used in THE LAST JEDI not six months ago.

Alden Ehrenreich and Joonas Suotamo in SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. Courtesy of Lucasfilm.

With this in mind, one begins to question just how long a singular franchise, even one as fiercely beloved as STAR WARS, can coast on nostalgia alone. When we reach the point where the still untitled EPISODE IX has come and gone, and Disney has wrung out every last drop of potential for a throwback or a reference to a series of films that came out more than forty years ago, what then?

The truth is that SOLO is at its most enjoyable when it references the films that came before it. However, if one were to take away any and all elements that remind the audience of previous films, we’re left with a rather pedestrian heist movie that just happens to be set in space.

Part of what made the STAR WARS films so much fun was its cast of memorable characters. But outside of Han (Alden Ehrenreich), Chewie (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando (Donald Glover), the rest of the cast ends up being pretty forgettable. There are some people who will get a kick out of Lando’s sassy droid companion L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), or Thandie Newton’s gun slinging Val, but neither of these characters are given much to work with in terms of depth or development. Woody Harrelson does a fine job at playing Woody Harrelson as Beckett, a smuggler whose loyalties never are known for certain, but Han’s love interest Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is criminally underused.

Don’t get me wrong. I walked out of the theater feeling that SOLO could have been catastrophically worse than what it turned out to be and I encourage everyone to see it for themselves to be a part of the cultural conversation. The action sequences are very well crafted and the continued commitment to practical effects is certainly admirable. There is a commendable sense of respect for its source material and the film clearly has ambitions for a Han Solo franchise.

At least for now, I’d say the nostalgia train hasn’t quite run out of steam. Just don’t be too surprised when that day eventually does come around.

Read Courtney Howard’s full review of SOLO here

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY opens nationwide on Friday, May 25.

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