“Have you ever walked in the shadow of a giant?” The question, and what it implies, comes at a time the couldn’t be more apropos – the sky is falling, and with it, all of our legends. Even that quote’s author has had his deity pass revoked. Nostalgia, good or bad, is the calling card of the era. As far as film franchises go, Star Wars is at the top of the heap. It is the fire that lit an entire creative community for several generations. And while Hollywood breaks all of our hearts, critics and enthusiasts look to steep themselves in what they can control: their fandoms. All of the good times that have been engraved in memory as the peaks of entertainment, as we now know it, have to stay that way. But new ground must be covered, even if that soil only fills the divots that we leaped over to get here in the first place. And thus, the dilemma.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fun movie. There are drawbacks on a story level, none of which that actually affect the protagonist much. But it’s most certainly better than the 62 percent, or albeit marginally kinder 70 percent audience and critics ratings, it has on Rotten Tomatoes. However, there could be a more existential explanation for all of this ire, even if it’s just a guess. We hate to see our heroes as they truly are. Whether this was an intentional move, this main character is actually a pretty accurate portrayal of humanity. Alden Ehrenreich is no Harrison Ford, allegedly. But the Han Solo we meet and follow on screen in this film is exactly the person that might become Harrison Ford’s Han in A New Hope. In fact, it could be argued that at his core he may still be that very same guy, with fewer tricks and a bit more naivete.
His peacock feathers aren’t as bright, but we always knew that was something unnatural, even learned, or rehearsed...right? The nucleus is there; it’s impossible not to see if you’re looking right at it. So why the dislike? Because this Han Solo is human. Not human in the extremely cool way that often makes fictional characters flawed but really talented so we forgive them for it. He’s human like me, a looking to get ahead 20-something with really big blind spots about life, a reasonably marginal amount of talent and a sense of confidence that I do not deserve. Han Solo is the everyman.
While Han, himself, remains mostly unscathed by the plot problems in the film, the other characters aren’t so lucky. Thandie Newton, the only black woman in Solo, and possibly the entire galaxy, goes out in a kamikaze effort to help her lover, Woody Harrelson’s Tobias Beckett, for what ends up being absolutely nothing. Donald Glover kills it as Lando Calrissian, but most of his involvement story wise is to give Han a more experienced rival to test his swag against. The other characters left that actually make it far enough to go on the main quest in this journey basically serve as ways to fill in the gaps necessary to make it plausible that this young Solo will morph into the seasoned cowboy he is in the original films. Tobias is a lesson in talking fast, playing the angles and an unhealthy mistrust of everyone. Qi’ra is the vehicle through which he can justify being emotionally stunted in his relationships with women. L3, and her death, seem to give him a sense that loss is inevitable in the lifestyle he’s chosen to live, plus how often there is little time to mourn. Chewbacca assumes the role of space Tonto. He clearly has more than enough marketable skills and knowledge to be a solo act, but because Han got him out of a jam, he sticks around. His final encounter with Enfys Nest is the spark in his dormant good guy gene that will lead him to decide to do something selfless, for once, and become part of the rebellion.
And surprisingly, with only these directives guiding most of their actions, this supporting cast of characters have an enormous depth of potential. There is a version of each of their lives, together and/or separate, that Han could be missing from completely and still be extremely enjoyable to watch. Just from the time they spend on screen, enough questions about their lives pop up to fill several anthology Star Wars stories. And that energy carries the film. Because where there isn’t any explanation, somehow, throughout the mission, all of their unique dispositions pop through and add color where there is not. Han Solo’s character serves as the anchor we need to keep them all tethered together. The synergy was just compelling enough that leaving the theater thinking that maybe two more of these would be, at the least, comparable on the fun scale wouldn’t be out of the question.
By no means is Solo: A Star Wars Story a perfect film, especially by the extremely high standards fans have come to accept as the norm. But the problem has nothing to do with Solo himself. He is arguably the character that the story gets more on the nose than any other. The problems with this movie exist in the lack of effort that it lends to its ensemble cast. Just like any other team sport, the game is won when the collective shines. And this script does a lot of work to dim their lights so that Han doesn’t get lost. But even with that, when the gang is in action, the magic is there. When the jokes come sailing in to cut the tension, they land and the whole theater laughs. The heart isn’t what’s missing, just the technical finesse. So instead of asking why Alden Ehrenreich isn’t Harrison Ford, or having any of the other many debates that have now reached a boiling point on the internet, the only question really worth asking is: Wouldn’t you love to see them get this one right?