One of the biggest dangers of Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and subsequent pledge to release at least one Star Wars film per year is the potential of tarnishing beloved characters that have stood the test of time. The prospect of a young Han Solo origin film was feared by many hardcore fans, but was an irresistible sure-fire money maker for the House of Mouse.
So it was with great trepidation that I walked into the screening for the inevitable Solo: A Star Wars Story – the first Star Wars movie in this new era of films that garnered mild to low expectations from me. Normally this would be the part of my review where I flip the script and tell you that the film was actually great and fans should be pumped… but not this time dear readers. Solo: A Star Wars Story doesn’t ruin the legendary smuggler Han Solo or derail the modern age of Star Wars films, but the end result is a mediocre, connect-the-dots adventure from the galaxy far, far away.
The film doesn’t have one specific area to blame for being an underwhelming origin film. The designs and overall look of the film are quite gorgeous and raise the bar on the retro “used universe” look the original trilogy created, but frustratingly stifles the scope of the film with tiny sound stage scene locations for much of the film.
Most of the film’s scenes that aren’t CG chase sequences take place in claustrophobic, limited sets that feel obviously constructed rather than part of a bigger world – one of the worst examples is a war scene involving the Imperials where everything is covered in smoke and the audience never sees the battlefield, the planet, and even who they are fighting.
The cast is also a mixed hand of Sabacc, led by Alden Ehrenreich stepping into the impossible-to-fill boots of Harrison Ford to portray young Han Solo. I still think Ehrenreich was miscast, but I will give him credit for being better than I expected. Unfortunately this version of Solo is a bubbly, smiley doof – he’s a quite likable guy/character, he’s just not Han Solo.
Solo spends much of his time in the film pining for or smashing his face (literally) into Q’i’ra, played by Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke. The duo, whom were childhood sweethearts from the streets of Corellia, make out more onscreen in Solo than the entire history of kisses in the Star Wars catalog of movies combined. Clarke’s character does end up being somewhat intriguing by the end of film with the actress doing a commendable job, despite weak material for the majority of the movie.
Donald Glover predictably steals the show with his spot-on rendition of Lando Calrissian, originally played by Mr. Colt 45 himself, Billy Dee Williams. From the first line that Glover utters to his hilarious and perfect character choices made in the last act of the film, Glover solidifies this version of Lando as by far the best thing about Solo.
Not afraid of milking nostalgia at every opportunity, the film shows the meeting of Han and Chewbacca, but gives little else for the beloved fuzzball to do once he embarks with his new bestie. Eventually the legendary pals get to the Millennium Falcon which is also cool to see with its clean, somewhat fresh off the assembly line version. But you’re probably noticing a pattern – the entire film’s story mechanically follows predictable plot point to predictable plot point so all of the pieces can finally come together into what the audiences are familiar with by the end.
Even the stellar supporting cast, featuring Woody Harrelson as Han’s psuedo-mentor Beckett and Thandie Newton as his longtime lover and partner, Val, or even crime boss Dryden Vos (a creepy Paul Bettany) are predictable character archetypes that make choices audiences will see coming from miles away, despite the pedigree of the talent playing the roles.
I can’t even blame Ron Howard for why the film comes off so bland and milquetoast since the director was brought in to completely take over the film after months of filming under a different creative team. He still salvaged a safe, audience friendly Star Wars film, but I would love to see what he could pull off if he had the time and resources to get the right story and proper pre-production to make the Star Wars film he wanted from the ground up.
The few times the movie does try to inject something fresh into the mythology it almost always ends up coming across poorly, such as the origin of Han’s last name. But fans of the overall modern Star Wars universe will get a huge jolt of adrenaline with a surprise cameo by a certain character in the film’s final moments. I suggest you avoid spoilers, since it has already leaked online in a few corners of the internet.
For some viewers, Solo: A Star Wars Story will work and they’ll soak up the nostalgia with this new take on old favorites. For others, they’ll scream that the film is proof why Disney will eventually ruin Star Wars. But the truth of the film is somewhere in between, so everyone can relax: Star Wars will be fine. Solo isn’t a disaster, it’s just an uninspired showing that is passably entertaining, but won’t stick with fans long after exiting the theater.