Solo: A Star Wars Story – Review

Title: Solo: A Star Wars Story
Ron Howard
Production Company: Lucasfilm Ltd.
Distributed By: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I never thought I’d ever say this in my life but it’s getting hard to muster excitement for Star Wars. Having a movie every year is creating a lot of fatigue towards this franchise. In fact, it’s only been half a year between Solo: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And to be honest, I haven’t really been too impressed with Disney’s run so far. I didn’t really care for Force Awakens or Rogue One and Last Jedi is interesting but also pretty frustrating (that stinking casino subplot…). There’s also the behind the scenes shenanigans that happened with Solo where Christopher Miller and Phil Lord were booted off the set and replaced with Ron Howard. With all that in mind, I went into the theaters with pretty low expectations and while the movie isn’t as bad as I thought it’d be, it is just another Star Wars movie to add to the list.

Solo serves as an origin story for the titular smuggler. The film begins with Han’s adolescence in the planet Corellia and reveals how he got his start in the criminal underworld of the Star Wars galaxy, including meeting Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian. A premise like that has potential for a fun adventure film and yet, the experience does feel a bit pedestrian as there isn’t a lot of surprising stuff to learn about Han’s past. The only two times I really felt like I learned something new about Han’s story is finding out how he met Chewbacca and what Kessel Run looked like. To be honest, this film pretty much covers as much as ground as whatever subtext and context about Han’s past that was brought up in Original Trilogy. That doesn’t make the movie inherently awful but it does feel a little unnecessary and predictable.

I would’ve liked it if Solo took more advantage of its potential tone and setting. Given the premise, one would expect Solo to look and feel more like a lighthearted Western than an epic space opera like in previous Star Wars films. Surprisingly, the film is sparse on wit and humor; there is some jokes but not as much as one would think. And while the action set pieces are epic and fun, they do feel a little too similar to past Star Wars action scenes. It’s not like the action of Rogue One which was shot, directed, and edited to feel more like a real war. The only times Solo‘s action feels like a Western is during a heist scene on board train which makes good use of laser-based gun-slinging and Star Wars vehicles and during the climax of the film. Every other action scene are really just slight variations of things you have already seen in other Star Wars movies.

Part of me wonders what Solo would’ve looked like had Lord and Miller not gotten fired. I, of course, can’t say if  their directorial style would’ve made Solo better and in Ron Howard’s defense, he took a good job salvaging the project after the fallout. Still, I can’t help but wonder if studio intervention has made Solo a creatively safer movie.

Now, I’ll admit: I was really skeptical of Alden Ehrenreich. I doubt I was alone on this. It’s just really hard to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford playing Han Solo (at least in live-action). There were also reports that Ehrenreich was given an acting coach during reshoots which added even more concern towards his performance. I don’t know if Ehrenreich succeeded in making the role of Han his own but I ended up liking him as the character. The actor injects a more inexperienced and more idealistic portrayal of Han all while retaining the character’s charisma and slyness and overall, it works quite well. His chemistry with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) is particularly great and effectively portrays the beginnings of this peculiar but endearing friendship.

By far, the real highlight of the cast is Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. It seemed like it was perfect casting when the film was in production and fortunately, Glover does not disappoint. He recaptures Billy Dee William’s charm so much that not once does it every feel like Glover’s version isn’t Lando. My only point of criticism is that Lando isn’t in the film enough; there’s a surprising amount of time where he’s absent, even after he is introduced in the story.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn’t really worth talking about. Beckett is a little entertaining as Han’s mentor but the character is largely Woodie Harrelson playing Woodie Harrelson. L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is pretty funny but I can’t help but feel that her being a salty droid companion is too similar to Rogue One’s K-2SO. Paul Bettany looks like he was standing in for the villain because of reshoots (which he was). Han’s love interest, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), is particularly underdeveloped. Far too often does the dialogue suggest that she has a dark past and a morally ambiguous personality but her actions don’t really live up to that pitch and her arc ultimately just culminates with one, really, really weird cameo/Easter Egg.

I really don’t want to be too sour on Solo: A Star Wars Story but I honestly do question the film’s existence. Making a movie about one of the most famous Star Wars characters as part of an anthology of Star Wars spin-offs makes perfect sense and while Solo makes for a fun action romp, it really could’ve contributed a lot more to the franchise’s mythos. It also doesn’t help but it just feels too safe. There’s potential for a fun Western in space here and yet it feels like Disney and/or Lucasfilm aren’t willing to deviate too much from the main Star Wars formula. In the end, Solo just feels like yet another Star Wars movie and that’s worrisome if the studios behind it are still planning on releasing one every year.

Score: 5/10

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