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Lucasfilm Ltd.

Joonas Suotamo (as Chewbacca) and Ehrenreich
Lucasfilm Ltd.

Movies

Who is this Han?

Solo misses mark in backstory of rogue flyboy

If you’re young enough not to feel particularly attached to the original Star Wars trilogy, or if you go into it thinking of it as a tale about some previously unknown characters, you’ll have a good enough time at Solo. The film features a mostly fun mix of characters pulling off a moderately diverting heist (remember that Kessel run that was made in less than 12 parsecs?) that vaguely plays into the future showdown between the Empire and the Rebellion.

If, however, you’re a diehard fan who’s always felt Han Solo was the lynchpin that made those ’80s films the zenith of your childhood movie-watching experience, well, remember Yoda’s warning that the dark side feeds on anger. Try to release your resentment over the uninspired, riskless origin story Disney and director Ron Howard have perpetrated on your favorite flyboy.

On paper, all the historical boxes are checked. We see how Han meets Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and Chewbacca and how he comes to be the captain of the Millennium Falcon. But it has the criteria-meeting feel of a homework assignment. A decade ago, before Marvel showed audiences what a big-budget franchise could look like when it’s as committed to artistry as to dollars, audiences might not have noticed what Solo was lacking. The job is technically done, but you don’t feel like anyone’s (let alone a true fan’s) heart was poured into it.

Sure, Alden Ehrenreich sort of looks like a young Harrison Ford, if Ford’s face were more perfectly proportioned and chiseled. And he makes occasionally successful attempts at swagger. But this Solo is a fundamentally different person, and even worse, as a backstory, he undermines the character arc of the rogue we’ve known and loved all these years.

From the moment we meet this Han he’s earnest and self-sacrificing. He’s almost—and I shudder to say it—peppy. He displays plenty of that signature confidence, but it’s nowhere near the bone-deep arrogance that could reply to “I love you” with “I know.”

It might not have been an insult to future Han had the movie taken us on a journey to find out how this generally upbeat, good guy comes to be the out-for-himself hustler who has to be transformed by the love of a good princess. But it does no such thing. Solo’s Han starts basically honorable and ends basically honorable.

The upside is that it does offer families plenty of fun—but for a few space monsters and action sequences, this PG-13 adventure could have easily flirted with PG. I caught only one cut-off expletive, and the romance between Han and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) never progresses beyond kissing.

You may have read reports that Disney pulled a Beauty-and-the-Beast-type revision to Lando’s sexuality. The story gained steam when a Huffington Post reporter noted a scene where Lando tells Han, “You might want to buckle up, baby.” He asked co-writer Jonathan Kasdan if the line meant Lando is attracted to Han and Solo is intended to be a more inclusive Star Wars entry.

My guess is that Kasdan made a spur-of-the-moment decision to run with the notion, because nothing in the script or on the screen suggests any such thing. Lando calls everyone baby the same way rat-packers Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra would. That didn’t stop CNN, Entertainment Weekly, and other outlets from trumpeting the news.

To all of this all I can say is, welcome to the pandered-to club, LGBT groups.

For years evangelicals have had movies marketed to us as “Christian” because some brief element could, if we squinted our eyes just right and listened really hard, possibly be interpreted as nebulously in favor of faith as a general concept. That’s about the level of commitment to “progressive” representation you’re going to see in Solo. Because no matter what we identify as, as long as we have money in our pockets, the studio-intellectual property complex will be happy to tell us they were thinking of us when they made their movie.

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Focus Features

Charlize Theron as Marlo
Focus Features

Movies

Domestic crisis

In Tully, a frazzled mom grapples with feelings of failure and loss

When I first saw director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody’s 2011 collaboration Young Adult, I spent weeks mulling over it. In the years since, I’ve thought of it often. Mainly because it’s one of the few offerings in American pop culture to examine the grotesque tragedy of arrested adolescence.

In that movie, which starred Charlize Theron, 30-something Mavis has achieved none of the milestones that typically attend adulthood. She has no husband, no children, and serves no one else with the greater freedom of her singleness. Beautiful, with a seemingly glamorous job, she’s really a twisted, pitiable person whose life is entirely self-focused.

In Tully, Reitman and Cody have teamed up for a third time (the first was on the excellent Juno) to examine the issue of maturity from the other side of the coin. Pregnant, 40-something mom Marlo (Theron) does almost nothing but serve others. This is one of the few movies that knows how to use a montage—not as shorthand for plot or character development but to illustrate relentless sameness.

Marlo is in a rut. She’s in one of the deepest ruts a person can get into—the exhausting, day-in and day-out repetitiveness of caring for a newborn while simultaneously trying to give her other two children and husband the attention they need. And she’s doing it in a messy house with spills on the carpet and sticky smears on the walls that she doesn’t have the time or energy to do anything about even though they make her feel like a failure. When someone tells her she’s a good mom, she scoffs, “Good moms volunteer for class parties and make cupcakes shaped like Minions.”

It’s not even clear that Marlo has postpartum depression. Her sadness goes deeper, as she discovers when Tully (Mackenzie Davis), the night nanny her wealthy brother hires for her, arrives on her doorstep like a Zen millennial Mary Poppins.

As she forms an unlikely friendship with 26-year-old Tully, Marlo begins to realize that she’s not just tired, she’s in mourning for other routes her life might have taken, for the other Marlos she might have been. Along with realistic breastfeeding, most of the film’s R rating comes from Marlo’s increasingly bad language and the way she anesthetizes her pain with a steady diet of trashy reality television. Thanks to a late plot twist, an odd bedroom encounter that doesn’t include nudity turns out not to be as salacious as it at first seems.

While all of this will understandably keep many Christians away, it’s fascinating how much Biblical wisdom is nonetheless contained within this profane, at times painfully authentic picture of depressed midlife. Christians might particularly ponder just how much the Bible’s warning not to give up meeting together should be viewed as a mental and emotional health prescription rather than a command.

Unfortunately, a clunky revelation near the end of the film feels like a cop-out that fails to offer a long-term remedy to Marlo’s feelings of loss. But then, what can a filmmaker who doesn’t know the substance of eternal hope offer a character like her?  

Cody and Reitman do as they have in previous films—honor selflessness, maturity, and (more subtly) the sanctity of life, even when it pops up unexpectedly in your 40s. Tully tells Marlo that the very thing that makes her feel invisible and purposeless—her steady, menial, uncelebrated presence in her family members’ lives—is exactly what they will cherish one day. And yet Marlo’s vague sense that her life is leaking away in headaches and worry can’t be brushed aside so easily.

The finiteness of our time on earth—our sadness over wasted potential, deferred dreams, and options narrowing as we grow older—is part of what makes the promise of heaven so precious to the Christian. Only there will we at last be all that we might have been.

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Grace Hill Media

Lance Henriksen as Father Ehrlich in 'Wraith'
Grace Hill Media

Movies

Pro-life haunt

Wraith conjures up a life-affirming story set in a spooky house

Supernatural thriller movies often take place in houses haunted by spirits of people murdered not long before (The Amityville Horror) or generations earlier (The Shining). But if the spectral presence emanates from a living person who may be about to die, then, by definition, you’re dealing with a wraith. In Wraith, an unprecedented pro-life thriller written and directed by Michael Sajbel and now available for streaming, the victim-to-be is an unborn baby.

Dennis and Katie Lukens (Jackson Hurst and Ali Hillis) live with their 14-year-old daughter, Lucy (Catherine Frances), in a very large, old house. While the nonreligious Lukens family is experiencing financial hardship, Katie learns she’s pregnant. She makes an appointment at an abortion center for the following week, and tries to justify her decision to her confused daughter.

“You get pregnant, which means you’re going to have a baby,” Lucy says.

“Well, not necessarily. I mean … women can make up their mind about that kind of thing,” Katie explains.

Lucy pauses. “Did you have to make the same decision before you had me?”

Strange noises and movements then begin to occur throughout the house—in the attic, in Lucy’s bedroom, and behind the walls, where a previously undiscovered servants’ stairwell lies. The beautifully shot film’s first hour is legitimately creepy, right up there with big-time Hollywood thrillers. But it’s hard not to notice Lucy’s inexplicable lack of fear: Either Frances nailed the clueless-teen stereotype or her first-role inexperience showed. And the film loses steam when it takes on the feel of a hardcore pro-life apologetics seminar.

“The blood of an innocent [aborted] child is a de facto sacrifice to Molech,” Catholic priest Robert Ehrlich (veteran actor Lance Henriksen) tells the Lukens. The film shows an illustration of an ancient Hebrew priest offering a baby to an idol of the Ammonite god. Sajbel has a point, but a point some pro-lifers feel spooks potential converts. Still, he brings a bold indictment against abortion, identifying it as a frightening evil. He told me Scripture had shaped his views.

“I have read the Bible many times cover to cover,” said Sajbel (who also directed the Esther drama One Night with the King). “I was shocked to discover how much the shedding of innocent blood really offends God.”

Also appalled by the objectionable material in standard Hollywood thrillers, Sajbel decided to make a “scary movie my teen daughter could watch.” Wraith is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some violence. There are no displays of sexuality or explicit language. Taken together, its pro-life message, an unforgettable scene where a potential child molester is stopped in his tracks, and plenty of jump-out-of-your-seat moments make for a one-of-a-kind film.

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