Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
Between writing, my day jobs, and having two small kids, I go out to the movies once in approximately never, but when I do, I always seem to have a lot to say about them. I think the last movie I had seen was Solo and I immediately went here to defend it against the hordes of fans who hate on any post-Disney Star Wars content. By some weird coincidence that only solidifies the suspicion that I’m a studio shill, the most recent movie I watched was Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck It Ralph 2; may the person who thought of this unwieldy monstrosity of a title get a hangnail, or something.
Any time I watch a Disney film, it’s an event. The previous two that have come out, Moana and Coco, are not only currently sitting as my top 2 favourite animated films of all time, they are both easily in the top 10 favourite movies in general. I think you get the picture. I’ve already previously mentioned that we’re a Disney family but you will eventually learn just how deep this rabbit hole goes.
Anyway, back to Ralph Breaks the Internet, or let’s just go with WIR2 for short. Although it was a very special experience in that it was the first movie my youngest has seen in the theatre, and that my four year old kept his Pikachu stuffy in the cupholder of his seat the entire time except for the scary scenes where he would put down his popcorn and clutch that electric mouse like his life depended on it, I would not call the experience magical, at least not in the same way that I could call other recent Disney experiences.
As far as the Disney Studios animated films, we’d have to dig back as far as Bolt to find one I enjoyed less than this. Now don’t get me wrong, I still think this is a good film and would recommend watching it. When stacked against some other studios that produce animated films this would be a great movie by their standards. But I started to get used to was that films like Moana, Zootopia and Tangled or Pixar ones like Inside Out and Coco, is that the movie itself had left an imprint. I would walk out of those feeling like the movie was a transformative experience because I knew right away that it would influence my writing, or my outlook on life, or simply contain emotional experiences that I would want to revisit over and over again. But WIR2 contained none of that for me.
I could feel something was wrong about twenty minutes in, this discomfort at not being sucked in entirely into the story. In fact, that seemed to be the problem, I was acutely aware that I was being told a story instead of being absorbed by it and taken along for the ride. Granted, I have long feared this movie coming out, not exactly being enticed by trailers or the prospect of a sequel. So maybe some of this initial suspicion was on me, but the feeling never left. Throughout the whole film I felt as though I was being deliberately walked through the elements of the story. Here is their friendship, here is the strain in their friendship, here is the inciting incident, here is a sprinkling of character development. These are of course all legitimate parts to a story but I should not be so aware of them.
I shouldn’t have to listen through dialogue such as “your guys’ friendship is like this” or “you’re my friend, so you shouldn’t do this.” It was all so on the nose that towards the climax of the film a character was basically talking to themselves out loud listing all the things about friendship that they learned throughout the movie. So much of this sounded more like placeholder titles for scenes than actual fleshed-out storyboarding by Disney’s usually brilliant writers.
I think in part due to this lack of naturalness and authenticity, the movie failed to connect with me on that emotional level. Sure, there were emotional scenes but they never quite got to that next level. I think one of the low moments was supposed to have been Ralph reading a bunch of mean comments about himself on social media, but this is a kids’ movie folks, and you and I have probably had waaaaaay worse said about ourselves at some point in our lives. Compare it to the scene in the first one where Ralph, with his bare hands, destroys Vanellope’s car in order to protect her, but being unable to explain himself while she’s screaming in mental anguish about the betrayal and her lost opportunity. That’s emotional. Reading “ralph stinks” is not.
And I feel as though Disney failed to provide their stars with a proper supporting cast. Granted, they avoided a common sequel pitfall in that they didn’t just milk the side characters for the same jokes without any character development, and left Fix-It Felix Jr. and Calhoun on the sidelines for almost the entire movie. But if you’re going to do that, you need someone memorable to replace them with, and sadly, that was lacking. Yesss and Shank were cool characters, but that was pretty much where their merits stopped – neat concept with a slick execution.
And no offence to Gal Gadot, I absolutely loved her in Wonder Woman, but I’m not entirely sure that voice acting was the right choice. For folks like John C. Reilly (Ralph), Jack McBrayer (Fix-It Felix) and Jane Lynch (Calhoun), their voices are very distinct, but when they’re playing their characters, I still hear the characters and not the actors behind them. Yet with Gal Gadot, the whole time I was like, oh, there’s Gal Gadot doing a Gal Gadot character. Maybe it’s because the character she was given to bring to life was as two dimensional as the old Fix-It Felix Jr. arcade game, but that’s just how I felt.
Again, I feel obligated to pause here and say that I still enjoyed the movie. This post is more just the ramblings of an overly-invested fan. The movie was much better than I thought it might be. Okay, fine, that doesn’t sound like a glowing recommendation, but seriously, I had a lot of fun. The internet jokes are at risk of becoming dated, but in this day and age they weren’t groan or cringe worthy. What a time to be alive when “screaming goat videos are back” is a reference that moviegoers actually get.
They heavily-promoted Disney princess reunion had just the right amount of meta and self-aware jokes to be funny, and given the premise of the movie it didn’t feel forced. After all, Vanellope is a princess in a Disney movie and is yet shut out of the club when Merida gets to hang out like one of the crew.
The movie took some great characters and moved them forward and actually added to both the world and the story, unlike a lot of sequels. But here I am wanting something more and I’ve convinced myself that I didn’t get it.
So this probably puts me on Mickey’s naughty list, but hopefully I get to keep my fan card. I’ve gotten quite vested in their movies after not having grown up on them, and Moana, which also intersects with another obsession of mine, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is probably one of the most influential pieces of storytelling in my life. So hopefully I’m just making a tempest in a tea cup here, but with the next scheduled movie being Frozen 2, colour me a little apprehensive.
From someone in my generation ,it’s not exactly exceptional that I like Star Wars. Tempted as I am, it’s not necessary to delve into my life story setting out exactly what part of my childhood, and now adulthood, Star Wars has formed. Suffice it to say I can tell my Bossk from my Dengar.
I’m also one of those fans that doesn’t take the most critical eye to the franchise. Sure, I will laugh at every cringe-worthy moment in the prequels, but The Phantom Menace was the first movie I saw in a movie theater, and just because I think Attack of the Clones is the worst Star Wars movie doesn’t mean I won’t watch it when it’s on without shame (that’s a lie, shame is involved). So I suppose I’m an exception to the adage “No one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans”. It’s no surprise then that I’ve generally enjoyed the Disney-era Star Wars movies. Some more than others, but you won’t catch me standing on a street corner yelling about how The Last Jedi did unspeakable things to my childhood.
So if you’re looking for a review of Han Solo that fits a certain narrative, you won’t find one here. But if you want to accuse someone of being a cultist or a studio shill, I’m your man. Although I gotta say, I wish someone would pay me to shill, I have hobbies I need to sponsor.
I went into the movie keeping a lid on my expectations. This was an origin story I didn’t really think we needed, and the well-known issues with the directors, as well as the rumours about the acting didn’t give me any particularly high hopes. So honestly, when I saw initial reviews clocking in the low 70s on Rotten Tomatoes, I was pretty pleased. I knew that for someone like me, it would be a decent ride.
And a decent ride it was. Now, I’ve heard that the first hour has pacing issues and it feels disjointed. Unfortunately, I’ve got a hard time wrapping my head around those terms. That’s like hearing from someone that the chocolate ice cream I just ate tasted bad. No, I tasted the bloody thing, and I liked it. So honestly, I have no idea what they’re talking about.
I liked hopping from planet to planet – it made the galaxy feel big, which is what I find some of the recent movies have been lacking. And then the movie picks up steam and off we go, with me sitting literally on the edge of my seat for most of it. Not so much because the “Oh my God what’s going to happen next?” feel of it, but the “Oh my God this is the Star Wars I love” feel of it. A mix of familiar ships and cool new designs, new characters mixing with old favourites who are given new life.
Kudos to Alden Ehrenreich no matter what anyone says. He didn’t set out to do a Harrison Ford impression and I don’t know why anyone expected as much. He played a young Han Solo, not a young Ford, and I think he did it well. Just a bit more naïve and happy-go-lucky than the experienced smuggler we first meet in A New Hope. And I don’t even know where to begin with Donald Glover as young Lando, stealing every scene he was in. Now any time I’ll watch Billy Dee Williams as the iconic character I will see him in his youth. The two have completely merged together in my mind.
But don’t get me wrong, I’ve got my own complaints, too, places where the movie doesn’t quite feel as necessarily Star Wars as I would have liked. Although it makes sheepish attempts to get out of it, it still seems to lack the gratuitous presence of most of the alien species established in the first six films. It’s hard to make it feel like the same galaxy when the supposedly ubiquitous Twi’leks (which apparently I can spell correctly from memory - what is wrong with me?) are nowhere to be found. I should have to geek out when there’s a momentary sighting of a Rodian.
And I still haven’t felt that we really got to know a place like we did with Tatooine, Bespin, Naboo or Coruscant. The new locales still appear as snippets to be filed away, instead of actual worlds. But that just might be my own nostalgia talking. We’ll see what happens when my kids grow up, if they end up being Star Wars fans. Maybe to them Corellia would be just as real as Dagobah is to me.
In any case, no matter the movie’s flaws, I had fun, and I wish more people had fun, too. I know the feeling some of them decry. It isn’t *my* Star Wars, either. But I’m not a kid anymore. If I keep chasing that feeling, I don’t know if I’ll ever find it. If I do, I’ll know it, and it’ll be magical. And if I don’t, then that’s alright, because I’m willing to sit back and enjoy the ride in the meantime.
For those of you who haven’t watched the movie yet, look away now because I’m about to dive into some spoilers.
The thing about a Han Solo prequel, is that you either don’t touch anything that was previously established, or you better be telling us how he met Chewbacca, got his blaster, and did the Kessel Run. Okay, so all three happened in the span of what, 48 hours, but that’s alright.
The mutual rescue between him and Chewbacca and the seeming elimination of the life debt from the Expanded Universe may not please die-hards, but I actually welcomed the change. Gives much more meaning to the reason that a two hundred year-old former leader of the Kashyyyk defence, friend to Jedi, is hanging out with a loser like Han. It gives their friendship more agency instead of it being a social contract Chewie couldn’t get out of even if he wanted to.
There was one piece of lore that was particularly silly. When Han was asked his last name by the Imperial recruitment officer and he didn’t have a response, I stiffened up a bit. Then Han said he was all alone, and I was just giddy with anticipation. And then I watched the origin of “Solo” materialize right before my eyes with a stupid smile on my face, ‘stupid’ probably being the operative word here.
Oh, and of course, how can I not comment on the reveal in the last few minutes of the film? The moment that hologram came online I knew this was going to be good. Then I saw the robotic legs of the speaker and had to restrain myself from shouting out my guess in the theater. And then there he was, the most underrated and then redeemed by further material villain of the movies, making a triumphant comeback. And then he just had to ignite his lightsaber for no discernible reason other than “lethal glow sticks are fun”. Ah well.
Michael is a husband, father of two, lawyer, writer, and is currently working on his first novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail. All opinions are author's own.