I am a HUGE fan of the Star Wars franchise. It started long ago, in a place far away, one summer when our air conditioner didn’t work well, and the movie theater around the corner offered matinees (during the hottest time of the day) for $3. I saw the first Star Wars film maybe 4 or 5 times. I had portions of dialog memorized.
Now, I do not pretend this was great art. I hadn’t been a sci fi fan, nor comic book geek. But I did respond to the story.
Specifically, the redemption stories. Although it would be several years until I understood the Joseph Campbell hero-story dynamic, I intuitively responded to it. Hero finds him/herself in a hostile environment, must find and perhaps learn to trust allies; must understand who the enemies are; must undergo a dark night of the soul when all appears lost, etc. etc.
In the early films, Luke goes from country bumpkin farmer to Jedi knight/fighter pilot/guy who saves the world. Han goes from self-centered jerk to giving his all to help others and save the world from the bad guys. Oh yeah, and he falls in love with the princess, too.
I walked out of that film feeling like I’d participated in the victory on screen. That’s an audience home run, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s why those early movies were so popular. We enter that darkened theater, and let our imaginations take flight. We escape from the heat, or the cold, or the dreariness of our everyday lives, and we, too, can be heroes. We can save worlds.
Today I went to see SOLO, the latest in the franchise. It’s the ‘origin’ story of Han Solo, our bad-boy space cowboy. I entered that darkened theater really wanting to go on the ride, wanting to enter that world. I really did.
The first third of the film is in a dark, gray, foggy world which looked grim. We really can’t see too much of it, because of all the fog/smoke. But it looks bad. And depressing. When we meet Luke in the first film, we see a wondrous world, unlike our own. I’m not suggesting the filmmakers make Han’s early life too ‘pretty,’ but perhaps we could see just a little bit more of it? I kept wanting to turn on a light.
I suppose it’s a measure of our times that several recent films have opted for this darker, grey, steampunk version of the future – over-industrialized, grim, hopeless. But if the filmmakers really think that’s the world we live in, why would we want entertainment that beats us over the head with that?
However, my biggest issue is with the story arc. Or lack of it, in Han’s case. In the Joseph Campbell school of story, the hero has a journey, and comes out the other side, more of a hero. Changed. Ready to make his world better. The only thing that happens in this film is Han Solo gets away with stuff. He escapes a few disasters, is cocky about his prowess as a pilot, and is a pretty good fast-talker. But he’s the same guy at the start as he is at the end. Yeah, he helps a small group of rebels. But it’s clear he doesn’t have the resources to sell the prize he gives them, anyway.
We know from the early Star Wars films, that’s where we meet him at the beginning of that saga. So the producers had a problem – what to do with the origin story? After seeing the film, I’m not sure they successfully figured that out.
The film does tell us how Chewbacca and Han get together, and the basis for that bond. But this is not a relationship of equals. It always feels like Chewy works for Han. There is no moment when Chewy contributes emotionally. He does act as ‘assistant’ pilot, and he carries the heavy suitcases. Does that deserve a whole film?
I walked out of the theater feeling like Disney needed a vehicle to introduce a few new theme park rides, add some items to its branded product line, and this was it. Not a great reason to go to the movies, in my opinion.
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