glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | july 2018
The Star Wars universe has proven to be a divisive one, splitting the critical and audience reception to near polar opposites, and into this contentious scene steps the latest offering from the house of mouse. “Solo," for me at least, has proven to be one of the most enjoyable of the new generation of the Star Wars franchise so far and I use the word franchise with my usual degree of suspicion.
Firstly, we should look at the film itself, though and I must say, I enjoyed it for the most part. Considering the (increasingly common) crazy events that plagued the production, including sacked directors, reshoots and an apparent crisis of competence in the lead actors abilities to do his job, “Solo" turned out to be a slow-paced film that pays off with some great action. And, like “Rogue One," it leans heavily on side stories from the old movies. There is a temptation to criticize both of the “A Star Wars Story" films of late for mining the old material at the expense of being entirely original but for me both “Rogue One" and “Solo" have actually proved to be the most entertaining and least encumbered films of the new generation of Star Wars films so far. There's plenty to enjoy in “Solo," exploring the origins of the titular hero has allowed the character to grow, getting to see some of the things that were only mentioned in the past and, of course, getting to see how Solo and Chewie met. Oh and there's the outrageously charming and devious Lando … this guy is outstanding fun. It's all good fun and there's plenty of action with some interesting new characters along the way like Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his crew and though some have poked some criticism at Emilia Clarke as Qi'ra, I found her to be fine enough, if a little monotone in character, which is as much down to the writing as anything else. Maybe I'm more used to her accent being British myself but it was at least nice to hear a British accent that wasn't all “Gawd blimey governor." All this said, there are problems with the film, it's a bit murky, it concerns itself with callbacks a bit too much, it's a little predictable and there's the worst element of the whole proceedings: L3-37.
Coming off the back of “The Last Jedi," a film that I also enjoyed but one that certainly irked a not insubstantial part of the audience with some overly insistent pushing of gender politics, the inclusion of this bizarrely hysterical, hand-wringing display of symbolism seems pretty ill-advised. L3-37 represents a particularly strange element of the film. She's a romantic interest for Lando (now inexplicably described as pansexual by the writers), and that sounds weirder every time I say it. She crusades for equal rights for robots, even going so far as to start a robot liberation battle, none of it is very subtle. There's a dissonance between the things she says and does with the rest of the movie, it jumps out of nowhere, waves a placard in your face and then expects you to carry on with the rest of the film but it's so distracting, it's like a PSA gets jammed in the middle of the story. These new Star Wars films have a major problem with reeling in the preaching which is a real shame because there are some great female characters here and they're getting hostile reactions because of the way “messages" are being awkwardly crowbarred into the story. Rey is great, Leia was always great, I'm even one of those people who liked Rose despite some of the daft decisions she makes, but L3-37 represents one of the more obnoxiously insistent and distracting elements of the film that breaks the immersion more than the constant fan service nods to the past.
Star Wars, as a franchise, needs to get back to the basics now, it needs to tell its story and not fall down the hole of running around like a headless chicken after so many new characters and pushing an agenda in such a finger-wagging way. If there's something that can be said for the “A Star Wars Story" films, they are thankfully fairly self-contained and while they do add to, and draw upon the main story, they're not bogged down with franchise building to quite the same extent that the main Star Wars movies are. For all its faults, “Solo" shouldn't have been as divisive as it is, it's just not really that controversial for the most part, but there is a message being sent to Disney from the audience and frankly it's one that should have been heard from other recent skirmishes: If you turn your back on the long-term fans then they will eventually turn their backs on you and this is what appears to have happened with “Solo." Disney needs to make up their minds on what it is they want from these films. If they're seeking to abandon the base audience then they need to realize that they're going to have to start from scratch and build a new one and honestly, I don't think the new audience will be as strong or as passionate as the old fans about these films. As demanding and as petulant as they may seem, the fandom has supported the Star Wars universe for decades; we brought the merch, we go to see the films at re-screenings, we buy every new release of the same damn movie that's been repackaged slightly and while that doesn't mean you should just regurgitate the formula time after time, it does mean you have to have respect for the formula. Star Wars can benefit from diversity but it shouldn't be its purpose, it shouldn't be treated like a propaganda flick. You have some great characters, Disney, now let them be characters rather than avatars, let them fight the good fight and let us enjoy their journey without the hand-wringing.
He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.