Solo: A Star Wars Story opens this week. Let's start by facing the facts:
1. Even the shittiest Star Wars movies are still actually not that bad compared to a lot of the garbage out there. (Oh, hello there AVP: Requiem. What's shaking Battlefield Earth?) The issue is simply that the best Star Wars flicks are so freaking good their lesser-conceived-and-executed prequels seem that much more insultingly bad. In the grand scheme of Hollywood sci-fi adventures, those crappy George Lucas prequels are actually hovering somewhere around average (and Hayden Christensen didn't pay me to say that).
2. Solo: A Star Wars Story is not among the franchise's best—unless you're eight years old again. The original episodes served up a fully realized universe, cool characters, and a monomyth narrative structure that felt fresh (and has since been copied by almost every movie ever made in Hollywood).
They were great "films," but for kids they were mind-blowing, life-changing events. And it wasn't the thematic depth of the "good vs. evil for the ultimate fate of the universe" that drew us in; it was the high-flying adventure, the tech wizardry of the light sabre, and most of all the Millennium Falcon.
Solo has a bunch of those things, especially the Falcon. And all the blasters and space ships, aerial battles, aliens and rogue attitudes is what gets young kids stoked, not brooding senior citizens, patricide, and omnipotent evil entities that look too much like a giant CGI Gollum. Solo is fast and fun, but it won't change your 42-year-old world.
3. We're lucky it's not a total disaster. Fan expectations around any new Star Wars flick are stifling at best. And Disney has committed to pumping out one a year until they stop making money. This is generally not a recipe for high art. Add in the fact that the original directors were fired halfway through shooting and replaced by Ron Howard (Happy Days, Apollo 13), and Solo actually turned out quite well, considering. (Notice all the close ups though? They're cheaper to reshoot than wide shots. It's not the worst but the heist scenes suffer a bit. Good heists rely on a sense of place and team dynamics, close ups support neither.)
4. The writing is not great. Picture this: It's back in the day (post-Revenge of the Sith but pre-A New Hope) and Hans Solo is locked on a prison/planet. He's an orphan, totally alone, so his prison guard gives him the last name "Solo" because he can't leave a blank on the processing form. Except the writers (Lawrence and Jon Kasdan) don't really need to hit us over the head with that because pretty much everyone who's met the character over the past three-plus decades has understood that Solo is a loner, an outsider with few ties that bind. THAT'S WHY HIS NAME IS SOLO!
Similarly, we don't need to see Han do the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs because we already know he's done it. Cinematic universe cohesion is important (Lando always cheats at cards) but this movie over-explains a lot of stuff instead of creating new Solo mythologies.
5. Solo is still worth seeing. The repartee between young Solo (Alden Ehrenreich from Hail, Caesar!) and young Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, the king of media right now) is incredible. Both actors channel their iconic roles but add just the right amount of youthful "no-f#cks-given" energy.
Likewise, the of-this-time socially conscious, ass-kicking tough, female drone L3-37 is refreshing (is every single drone ever better than BB-8? yes.) And CGI space battles and explosions are big, fast and loud enough to stoke the kids up.
Solo is not epic, but it's fun. It's an obvious cash grab slipped into a shepherd's pie of forced nostalgia and digital animation, but it's also a dude and his furry buddy beating the odds by breaking the rules.
Sure, the love story is doomed because we instantly know that whoever this chick is she isn't gonna last into the Episode 4 timeline (likely she dumps Han for being a scrub) but it works for this time and tale. The fate of the universe doesn't hang in balance in Solo, it's just a dude in a world of crap he kinda deserves and that's OK. Sort of like us walking into the theatre. Buy the ticket. Take the ride.