The Prophecy And in time of greatest despair, there shall come a savior, and he shall be known as : THE SON OF THE SUN. And he shall bring Balance to the Force. "Journal of the Whills, 3:12"
:: A trilogy of fan-fic set after Episode VI Return of the Jedi, and inspired by George Lucas' historical draft concepts :: FAQs
Nat's review of SOLO : A Star Wars Story 31st May 2018
Overall, the new Han Solo origin movie is great fun, an entertaining rollercoaster, with insights as to how certain things happened according to now-official lore. I accepted Alden Ehrenreich pretty quickly as Han, though possibly because of the break-neck pacing of the introduction - one doesn't have time to be critical of him, and by the time you might be, you're caught up following the plot. There were moments when I felt I was watching Alden and not Han Solo, especially when he was gurning inanely – I believe he studied Harrison’s traits, but surely there’s the need for some physicality to match the (older) character. There were indeed moments when Alden might turn on his heel or have his hands on his hips and then you could think that he would ‘grow up’ to be Harrison.
One wonders how Anthony Ingruber would have fared in the role, and, other than his physical resemblance to Harrison Ford, what he might have added to the role ; but perhaps that resemblance would have helped ‘buy in to’ his performance more. There's the 'accusation' that he's more of an impersonator than an actor, and that his mimicry is of a young man in his 20s playing an older man in his 30s, rather than a younger version of that thirty year old. Obviously we will never know, but it would be interesting to learn whether LFL had considered Ingruber, or even auditioned him, and thus what was their rationale for not opting for him.
Of the other characters, Joonas Suotamo continues to capture the physicality and traits unique to Chewbacca ; the subtle mannerisms and banter with Han works really well. There are moments where, due to lack of communication, the physical actions telegraph the meaning of the grunts and growls perfectly. If I was being super critical, this is the kind of subtle body acting that I was looking for from Alden. Along with Chewie, Donald Glover as Lando lights up the few scenes he's in, capturing perfectly the cool confidence of the older Lando. One wishes we'd had more screen time with him. Emilia Clarke as the femme fatale Qi'Ra also controls the screen with an urgency for her victimised innocent as well as her later role as skilful and confident 'lieutenant'. Woody Harrelson plays mentor Tobias Beckett, the worn-down cynical veteran ; his role is clearly a foil for the Han of the future, the one who might have an initial plan but then is often forced to improvise. Interestingly, the Beckett character is presented as the ‘Good Guy’, the hard-nosed scoundrel with a heart, that Qi’Ra recognises in Han, which we know will play out in his future incarnation, so, if deliberate, was a clever ‘flash forward’ to show how Han will become akin to his mentor. Paul Bettany's villain Dryden Vos certainly comes across as unstable and quick to temper. Both actors play their parts well, though Bettany's soft diction sometimes made it hard to follow, even if it contributed to the idea that his character was dangerous and unpredictable.
As had been publicised from very early on, the blend of heist and western themes worked well. They seemed appropriate genres for introducing Han who would become a “pirate, smuggler, and scoundrel”. In this modern age of political correctness and positive morality tales, it’s perhaps not surprising that the bounty is hyper-fuel, which is in keeping with the sci-fi context of Star Wars, though one wonders if a movie made in the 70s or 80s might have been more receptive to using illegal drug smuggling as its macguffin. As it is, perhaps using spice as the commodity – which has been referenced in A New Hope and Attack of the Clones - rather than fuel might have given us a grittier and edgier feel to the underworld, and less ‘safe’ and ‘acceptable’. Admittedly there’s a fine line promoting drug use in ostensibly a fun family movie (which could still illustrate its dangers) and promoting a commodity that nearly everyone is dependent upon.
This is where the macguffin of the hyper-fuel starts to become questionable. Although it certainly leads to a dramatic plot – the unrefined fuel is dangerously unstable – it doesn’t feel right in the context of what we already know or surmise. Kessel is a mining world, sourcing spice, so we’re perhaps anticipating some sort of drug making and smuggling operation. We’re not expecting the mine to also hold a fissure of raw fuel, or to cold-store this in an unrefined state. It’s a convenient contrivance of the plot to in effect shoe-horn ‘Kessel’, ‘spice mining’, and ‘hyper fuel’ into one location. Swap the hyper-fuel plot element to spice smuggling, or move the hyper-fuel to another part of the story, and suddenly the drama becomes a little ‘cleaner’ and more efficient.
For example, the hyper-fuel could have been successfully delivered to Dryden Vos, but, perhaps associated with the stolen fuel, a subsequent job of smuggling spice was urgently required ; this would have retained the association of spice and Kessel and smuggling, and possibly even to the Hutts, or Jabba himself (as a pre-cursor to Han’s later entanglement), if they were to be the recipient. Clever plotting might even have entwined the need for the hyper-fuel with the need for the spice delivery, or the hyper-fuel as the macguffin could have been dropped. If it’s later learned that Han smuggled spice for the Hutts then that begs the question as to the economic power-play in regards to who controls Kessel and why the Hutts need to smuggle its spice.
Qi’ra’s dialogue says that there’s only one location for raw unrefined hyper-fuel, having listed what are presumably heavily guarded Imperial vaults. This comment in itself leads one to question why Kessel isn’t therefore an early conquest for the Empire.
The Kessel Run is famously quoted by Han in A New Hope and thus becomes a legend in its own right. For years fans have speculated what this means, more so when, for forty years, Lucasfilm has been clarifying that “12 parsecs” measures distance not time – so the ‘Run’ is implied to be a dangerous, possibly uncharted, short cut off a longer navigable and safer route. Han was either boasting of something he never did (which could fit in with his character), or he and his ship deserved the credit (which equally showcases his character). In the film there is admittedly a lot going on in the scene : the Falcon is forced off course into the Cloud Nebulae, they download the droid’s navi-data into the ship, they dodge a space monster, they’re sucked towards a gravity well, and they boost their speed with a ‘fuel injection’ of the coaxiom macguffin. I appreciate that the navi-data provides the escape route that is then followed by Han, but that, along with the fuel injection, it could have been the case that Han solely studies the available charts – or there are no charts - and he himself steers them to a safe egress point. No navi-data, no speed boost, and a successful path through the nebulae solely down to Han’s piloting. It would have resulted in a leaner sequence for sure, but it would have given the credit to Han alone.
Furthermore, the idea of a known and recognisable ‘Run’ implies a route between two points that are charted and measureable. As it stands in the film, that route is implied to be between Kessel and Savareen. But if this is not the case – if the ‘Run’ goes from Kessel to another point, should that have been shown or referenced ? Should we have seen the Falcon exit the Cloud at some point and for the heroes to then say “That was the shortest ever route” ? Sometimes lack of brevity allows for greater clarity. A moment of exciting drama carries the viewer along, but repeated viewings – which would be expected of a fan – brings further questions, and if those questions can be addressed from the outset, then no annoying distraction would arise.
For the concept of the ‘fuel injection’, it falls to Beckett to carry out the work, but even on the first viewing I couldn’t help think that he was a gunslinger and not a pilot or engineer, and felt that either Lando should have carried out the work as Captain of his own ship (regardless of his shoulder injury) or that Lando should have accompanied Beckett to direct the work ; Lando remains in the cockpit reacting, with the others, to the horrors outside, which seems somewhat redundant for a Captain !
In hindsight, I do like the idea that the cranky and liberalist voice of the droid L3 ends up in the Falcon, and potentially ties to Threepio’s comments about the ship having a “peculiar dialogue”.
We don’t see Han in the Imperial Naval Academy save for a few references. This is understandably due to overall pacing of the movie, but it would have been nice to have seen this important episode in Han’s life, even if only briefly, and to have finally illustrated what might have occurred to result in him being kicked out, or, as per the movie, re-assigned to the infantry. I believe such scenes were filmed, so I get the impression that the ‘Three years later’ title card was added to create a ‘bridge’ from the Imperial recruitment centre on Corellia (where a comment to the infantry is made) to the mud planet of Mimban and the fierce ground battle fought by the Empire.
All the new worlds we visit were refreshing, and it’s a delight to expand our impression of the Galaxy. However, I found it a little confusing and frustrating that Lando is conveniently found on the same world as the Imperial-guarded Conveyex train. I understand that the plotting means the heroes must use ever-changing vessels to move them from A to B, but surely Dryden Vos would have a shuttle at his disposal, piloted by a henchman, that could have taken Qi’Ra and the others to a new world where Lando is situated ; and then that pilot could have returned to Dryden once a fast ship had been procured. The presence of the train and its defences implies a visibly and importantly strategic world to the Imperials, yet not too far away there’s a Mos Eisley like den of iniquity.
Having a droid with a liberalist equal-rights personality was fun and engaging, but like the hyper-fuel over the illegal narcotic, it felt a little out of context for a Star Wars setting and somewhat ‘politically correct’. However, the banter from L3 was fun and comical.
Beckett’s crew were fun and engaging, all be it briefly on screen. It was nice to see a four-armed sentient creature again, which seemed appropriate for piloting skills. It was a pity that both had to be lost from the plot so early on, though Rio’s death allowed us to see Han fly the hauler, in the absence of any previous scene with fellow TIE fighter pilots. Also, it wasn’t clear if Beckett had additional members who were lost on Mimban. The later double-cross by Beckett in favour of Dryden Vos was unexpected and a little contrived, and it might have been useful to have seen Beckett on the Falcon secretly updating someone to sow the seed that this could have been an outcome. His destination when he departed with Chewie wasn’t clear, since he didn’t seem to be heading to a ship, and I was left assuming he was intending to return to Enfys Nest, or to steal Nest’s ship ; the conceit was obviously to allow Han to catch up with him.
Enfys Nest and her gang was an interesting and exciting addition. It had echoes of the SEVEN SAMURAI bandit attacks and retaliation. The later reveal of Enfys as a young lady again felt politically correct, and her physicality (in such a heavy suit) didn’t seem to match her age when she was finally revealed. I appreciate there are skilled martial artists of all age and gender, and in the case of Enfys she sported a fearsome repulsor staff, but from what had transpired before, the preconception was of at least an older person. However, she was the Captain Phasma of this story, and the removal of her helmet to reveal her youth and gender is surely what we needed from Phasma ? Hiding behind a sexless helmet does not help telegraph the idea that any gender can perform any role, regardless of what Gwendoline Christie or the TFA film-makers might have maintained. Enfys is clearly a Robin Hood character, and that is admirable, but her frequent emphasis on the word ‘Rebellion’, and the convenient mention of the Empire being hand-in-hand with the underworld was confusing : was she spearheading a private vendetta against the criminal syndicates of the Galactic Underworld, or was she fomenting or supporting a political rebellion (led by Mon Mothma) against the Empire ? I almost feel that the Enfys Nest subplot was unnecessary to the Han Solo story, it simply ran parallel to the extent that it could possibly be removed and the overall primary story is not unduly affected.
It was fun finally seeing an official representation of sabaac, but it remains a (deliberately ?) vague and confusing game ! Lando’s cheat device seemed too visible and vulnerable, but in simple terms it served its purpose to the story.
The Darth Maul reveal has been interesting. I fear that the general audience would be left confused, and only those who have followed the relevant stories in the Clone Wars and Rebels series will be ‘in the know’. I personally haven’t yet seen all the episodes of those series, so can sympathise with the viewer who would be left thinking that Maul was left for dead back on Naboo ! I fully appreciate that it was George Lucas’ decision to allow the character to be resurrected, but, more so now than ever, I fear that that was a judgement based on fan popularity of character deliberately intended for brief shock value, and possibly in conciliation to fan un-popularity of another character whose deliberate intentions were sadly mis-read and under-appreciated by many fans, namely Jar Jar Binks. Tying Maul so deeply into the criminal underworld is one thing, but ‘publicly’ associating him to it via the mainstream is another - mean, he could indeed remain a part of the crime syndicates within the lore, but be restricted to the spin-off media, rather than be up front and central to a story that is designed to reach the wider, and therefore more ‘ignorant’ audience. I felt that a Hutt crimelord would have been more appropriate, or even the Emperor, or Vader, since I vaguely recall – possibly from the novel ‘Shadows of the Empire’ – that Palpatine had had a hand in the Underworld, monitoring it if not controlling it, in much the same way he had cleverly and skilfully played both the Republic and the Separatists.
If Maul had to have been included, then I’ve been wondering if his ‘reveal’ should have been earlier and allowed an opportunity, even if only brief, for some much needed backstory exposition. He could have been introduced after our first scene with Dryden Vos, and, on seeing the fearsome Sith Lord back from the dead, we the audience would have had a sense of greater threat and danger over and above what the heroes were facing on Kessel ; the audience would have been ‘ironically’ in on the drama, the tension heightened by the fact that the characters don’t know what the audience now knows. A brief backstory would have sufficiently clarified to each and every audience member, and it could even have been the cased that Qi’Ra herself might have been unaware of who Dryden answered to, so her reaction and possible shock seen at the end of the movie would have remained.
The music by John Powell was exciting, but didn’t really have any primary character theme. The ‘love theme’ between Han and Qi’Ra, which is heard more clearly in the scene in the Falcon’s wardrobe closet, was quite tender and lovely. But I found that the only times when the music became a character in its own right, and not just loud and dramatic, was when John Williams’ cues were added. Sadly, the Han Solo Theme by John Williams that can be heard in isolation on the CD release doesn’t really live up to the kind of memorable theme that Williams used to produce and that one was anticipating, and instead, like much of Powell’s score, remained action-packed and bombastic. It seems that perhaps the music for TESB, with so many character and set-piece themes, remains the most successful of all the soundtracks.
It’s intriguing if there’s an ever-present and deliberate theme of slavery and orphanage across the Star Wars films. Presumably, from a narrative point of view, having a hero who comes from nothing will illustrate quite effectively what he aspires and where his achievement leads him. Tied in with this is the ‘revelation’ of Han’s new surname, the ‘Solo’ moniker bestowed upon him by a non-descript Imperial Recruitment Officer. In one sense, this is quite fun as well as apt that Han takes this given identity. But the later scene with Han and Lando briefly referencing their respective parents seems odd and inconsequential, it ‘falls flat’ and we’re left wanting to know more. Presumably, Han’s reticence and awkwardness with his father is what encouraged him to retain his new surname.
Overall, Solo has been an entertaining and dramatic addition to the Star Wars pantheon. But, as with the other releases in this Disney era, one can’t help but feel if there’s enough questioning of the scripts and, in turn, if there’s been enough time to allow for a good script to be created.
In LFL news, reports are surfacing of development on both the Obi-Wan stand-alone movie as well as a Boba Fett stand-alone, the latter to be written and directed by James Mangold. With a pre-production office in London ILM and Pinewood Studios, the Obi-Wan film may even be scheduled for filming in the Spring of 2019 ?!
With the release of SOLO, Pablo Hidalgo gives us a brief but insightful tour of Lando'sMillennium Falcon, which reveals a little more of the ring corridor and some of the rooms off it.
However, looking a little more closely, comparing this video from the Falcon set with the supposedly canon floorplans produced by Ryder Windham and illustrated by Kemp Remillard, one can see an obvious disparity in the port-side corridor : pre-SOLO publications allow for the top hatch [as seen in TESB] with a 'zig-zag' along the port-side hull elevation, whereas the set - but not necessarily seen in the film - implies a 'true' circle for the ring corridor. Interestingly, there's a disparity between Windham and Remillard with the arrangement of the aft corridor / crew quarters / engine room.
If the SOLO set is indeed incorrect then that's a great shame for missing a golden opportunity in making it 'correct' and crafting an on-screen canonical version of the floorplan - being able to see the characters in SOLO actually move fully around the Falcon would have been amazing ! As it was, it was beautiful - from a fan point of view - to see a tracking shot in the SOLO movie follow Han up the boarding ramp and into the forward hold, a camera move never seen before !
ILMxLAB has released a short clip from a SOLO scene and transferred it into a 360 degree Virtual Reality experience : the effect is amazing ! You feel as if you are in the middle of the sabaac game (all be it in the centre of the table !!).....
In the light of the SOLO release, I have debated whether or not it should have an influence on my Virtual Edition Sequel Trilogy, and the virtualEpisode IX in particular. With now-official representations of Corellia and Kessel - all be it in an earlier timeframe - as well as a backstory for Han, it's tempting to go back and try to amend the fan-fic story to more seamlessly fit in with what is now being published. However, since the concept for the VE-ST was born out of the release of Episode III and the in-lore context of that timeframe pre-Disney, as well as the prospect of the extra work required to edit the current material (!), I've decided to leave the fan-fic as it is, save for some minor edits for Duel of the Fates that I had planned on conducting as part of the final draft review.