The Long, Long Shadow Of Harrison Ford
I tried watching Blade Runner 2049, but I fell asleep twice during it.
I know a lot of people like it, and it certainly is a technically proficient and well acted film, and it most certainly isn’t a dumb film but carefully and thoughtfully laid out…
…but I just couldn’t connect.
It’s really superior fan fic*,
nothing to be ashamed of,
but it’s still fan fic.
The relationship between Blade Runner 2049 and the original Blade Runner is like the relationship between 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: The Year We Make Contact: In and of itself each of the latter films is a decent standalone movie.
As a sequel, however…
Here’s the thing about the original Blade Runner (and 2001, for that matter):
It’s a much better movie than it is a story.
Or, to swipe a line from Jim Steinman’s soundtrack for Streets Of Fire, “You’ll never know what it means but you’ll know how it feels.”
The original Blade Runner really doesn’t hold together logically as a story (2001 doesn’t, either; the whole “HAL goes nuts” sub-plot is ridiculous) but it works beautifully as a vision.
And Ridley Scott is certainly a visionary (as was Stanley Kubrick).
The problem I had connecting with Blade Runner 2049 is that it lacked the dream-like quality that made the original film work.
The original was illogical, contradictory, and messy but, hey, guess what: Reality is like that.
The sequel does a really good job of nailing down all the loose corners, but in doing so they kill the original vision.
They were hamstrung by their intent to make sense of somebody else’s dream rather than explore their own. To me it felt more like a collection of shout outs than a standalone story.
(I said something similar re 2001 and 2010, that the original was a butterfly and the sequel was a perfect replica of a butterfly in cast iron.)
It’s interesting to compare Blade Runner 2049 with Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. Both films are extended builds to a key character’s appearance, in Blade Runner 2049 it’s Harrison Ford returning as Rick Deckard, while in The Force Awakens it’s Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.
(Sidebar: Hamill may be the single most hated actor in all of Hollywood. Who else ever got a two hour and fifteen minute big budget build to his #%@&ing close-up?)
Ford as Deckard has aged well for the part. One of Blade Runner 2049’s better choices is to show him as the beaten and tired survivor he would be, not the still lively indestructible semi-superman of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or the still lively romantic young scoundrel with only a few token gray hairs in his last Star Wars appearance.
Another crucial difference in my eyes was the lack of consistency in what Blade Runner 2049 showed on the screen.
The original all felt part and parcel of the same world, even towards the end where one notices the budget literally shrinking before one’s eyes.
But the different scenes and locales of Blade Runner 2049 never seemed part of the same reality.
The non-SPFX / CGI live action sequences seemed…well…not cheap but certainly economic.
And there’s nothing wrong with that…
…but by comparison the effects sequences looked too rich, too opulent.
Something a little less grandiose, a little less visionary would have served the film better.
Something a little more consistent in look and texture, too.
By contrast, Solo: A Star Wars Story (or as I prefer to call it, Star Wars: Episode 0 -- Solo) gets it right.
Solo is the best Star Wars since the original.
It’s also the most political of the series (and the series is very political): Families torn apart, ID's constantly being checked, "we're the hostiles", the marauders being the proto-rebellion, gangsters corrupting imperial governors, Landro's female robot L3-37 fighting for droid rights and spawning a cybernetic rebellion, etc., etc., and of course, etc.
Despite behind the scenes controversy over the directing and the reshoots and the loss of a character due to an actor’s unavailability, Solo hangs together both as its own story and as a subset of the Star Wars universe: Good story, good writing, good pacing, good cast (Woody Harrelson channeling Dennis Hopper is pretty awesome).
Unlike Blade Runner 2049, its live action and its special effects sequences all seem to belong to the same story.
Granted, except for the opening all the scenes took place out among the frontier of the empire, with sparsely populated grand vistas.
The call back to classic Westerns is quite deliberate and conscious, making Solo the most horse opera space opera of the series.
A knowledgeable viewer will recognize certain economic shortcuts taken in several key scenes, particularly in the beginning with its vast intergalactic shipyards and crowds of passengers, but they aren’t as jarring as the economies of Blade Runner 2049.
After all the tiresome talk about trade alliances in other films, Solo gave me for the first time a sense of what the galactic economy was like and how it worked.
Solo also shows Han is a more heroic and almost as tragic a figure as Luke. Episodes II thru VIII show that basically this whole mess is just one huge prolonged hissy fit by members of the Skywalker family. For all their lecturing about balance and light and dark, the Jedi / Sith in general and the Skywalkers in particular are just a bunch of childish demigod Star Trek villains who treat the rest of the universe as expendable pawns in their multi-generational family feud.
Han, on the other hand, knows right from wrong. He is brutally pragmatic, he will shoot first, and he will walk / run / hyper-jump away from trouble in order to save his own neck, but he also knows the strong are not justified in exploiting the weak.
An outlaw and a scoundrel, to be sure, but not a villain, never a villain. He is the true moral core of the Star Wars universe.
So what caused all the negative reactions to Solo?
Bad trailers and ad campaign. Audiences never got an adequate feel of what the movie would be like.
Bad advance word of mouth based on the behind the scenes controversy.
Audience burn out. Star Wars as a franchise has been around for 40 years now, entering its third generation of fans. It’s not new and fresh and releasing too much material in too short a span makes the movies seem less special.
Not just political, but specifically draws parallels to US today -- and not positive ones. The incel alt-right fan boys are all a’twitter over this.
Many of the visuals and set pieces were derivative of other movies. This is not an uncommon or unfair criticism of any Star Wars movie, but this time the…uh…homages seemed a little more obvious.
However, I think the number one problem facing Solo (and this problem even haunts Blade Runner 2049, though not as badly) is Harrison Ford casts a long, long shadow and many people were unwilling to give Alden Ehrenreich a chance.
Which is a pity, because it only took a few minutes for me to totally accept him as Young Han Solo and become thoroughly engrossed in his earliest adventures.
As stated above, Solo occurs before the events of The Phantom Menace because [REDACTED] gets killed in that film but is seen alive and well and fully functioning in this one. The film has an open ending in which [REDACTED] and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) loom large as potential problems for Solo but ya know what? There’s no point in doing a direct sequel, at least not a theatrical one (live action or animated TV series, or novels or comics or video games, maybe). We know [REDACTED] is going to be dead long before Han meets Luke, and there’s been no hint of Qi’ra anywhere else in the films, and each member of the audience can probably imagine a resolution to that sub-plot that would be more satisfying to them than anything Lucasfilm could come up with so why bother?
* And who am I to criticize fan fic? Go buy The Most Dangerous Man In The World while you’ve still got the chance!
© Buzz Dixon