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New Stars Wars ‘Solo’ takes a turn to the dark side

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” has a tall order to fill. It makes an attempt to satisfy the differing backstory imaginings of millions of fans, offer the nostalgia that many crave, show the origins of iconic characters with an all new cast, capture the attention of fresh viewers, and tell a solid story that can stand on its own while still paying tribute to a beloved series. Because of all these expectations, there will doubtless be many who dislike this film, while others will love it. I fall into a camp right in between. “Solo” met many of my expectations, gave me a few surprises, and satisfied my yearning for nostalgia and an interesting backstory.

However, I did not find it to be a very compelling tale, nor did I leave the theater really wishing to see it again. Although the acting was generally solid, and there were truly enjoyable moments here and there, I found it to be rather grim and generally unedifying. And besides this, “Solo” has some strong issues of concern for family viewing.

This is not a film for young children. Unlike some other Star Wars installments, there are no characters or silly scenarios included specifically for kids.

LANGUAGE—Bad language is peppered throughout.

SEX/NUDITY—There is more sexual innuendo than in previous Star Wars

VIOLENCE—The violence in “Solo” is continual, realistic and harsh. It often consists of brutal close combat instead of the distant use of blasters or the clean cuts of light sabers we see in other installments.

Despite all this, I believe that “Solo” has a solid backstory for the title character, giving viewers insight into how the kid in the sewers of Corellia could become the cocky smuggler we meet in “A New Hope.” I found an appealing, charismatic character in Alden Ehrenreich’s portrayal of Han Solo. Since it would be impossible to cast anyone who is an exact copy of young Harrison Ford, it does the viewer well to stop the natural comparisons and just enjoy this young man’s performance. I allowed myself to believe that this was a young Han, and that any differences in personality, motivation and mannerisms between this Solo and the more cynical and hardened Solo of “A New Hope” could be accounted for somehow in the interim of years between this film’s end and when we meet Han in the cantina on Tatooine.

Other characters are well-played and engaging as well, such as the flamboyant young gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his outspoken droid companion L3 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). I was especially pleased with the introduction of Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and the endearing portrayal of the close friendship between the Wookiee and Han. Their scenes together were a highlight of the film for me. I wish there had been more of that and less time spent watching endless chases, heists and escapes. But, even so, it is enough, and I’m thankful to have gotten a glimpse into Han and Chewie’s history.

Nostalgic references are thick for those familiar with the early films. Some may feel that these references and tie-ins are too many or too forced, but I personally enjoyed these little moments.

Artistically, the movie is dark and gritty, but well executed. The realistic settings are generally grim in tone. This fits the plot of the film, as it has an air of desperation which often drives the characters” choices.

The Force is not mentioned, Jedi are not present, and the coming Rebellion is scarcely more than a rumor and a dim hope. For the most part, the movie is about individual survival instead of the bigger picture of what is happening in the galaxy as a whole. Because of this, “Solo” has a different feel from the other Star Wars movies. It is focused on a character who later becomes integral to the cause, but who for now is just trying to survive. This narrow perspective is perhaps why I found the story less compelling than “Rogue One” or the numbered films.

Although there are some selfless actions and heroic moments in “Solo,” it is harder to cheer for the characters because they are generally not acting toward a greater cause or common good but out of greed or desperation. When the film finally takes a turn toward a larger scope, it is welcome but seems almost too little and too late.

For those who desire an origin story for beloved characters like Han and Chewie, nostalgic tie-ins with the previous films and just another glimpse into the Star Wars universe, “Solo” may be worth at least one viewing. If you’re like me, that might be enough. And if you are not interested in overt violence, some unpleasant language and seeing way too much of the unedifying workings of criminal minds, you may want to skip it altogether and merely let your imagination supply the backstory.

As I watched “Solo,” I thought about how most of the lead characters are in these desperate and deadly situations because of a debt that is owed. Their debts are huge and, if not paid, we are continually reminded that the penalty is death.

How despairing and exhausting it is to always be burdened with such a heavy load! Watching them as they take every risk to be free of this debt, I could not help but think of the great burden of debt that each of us has apart from Christ. We have a huge debt we cannot pay. We can run but not escape. We can strive to work and pay it, but the payment is never enough. Our debt is sin against God, and we all owe it (Romans 3:23). And if we can’t pay our debt of sin, the penalty is death (Romans 6:23).

Like the characters in the film, we might be willing to do anything to cancel this debt, to make the payment that would set us free. But we can’t. There is only One who can take that burden from us, who can cancel our sin debt and say, “It is paid in full.” The Lord Jesus Christ has done the work for us. He has paid the price, and waits for us to receive what He has done on our behalf. Those who trust and receive what He has done will have freedom which can be found no other way.

–Reviewed by Shawna Ellis