There was once a time when “Star Wars” fans waited 16 years for the next movie in the franchise. “Star Wars” lovers had enough time to raise kids of their own so that entire families could be disappointed by “The Phantom Menace”. But worry not! Now that Disney has wrapped its tendrils around the space opera monolith, you only have to wait five months before being disappointed by the next “Star Wars” movie. Enter “Solo: A Star Wars Story”.
“Solo” tells the origin story of Han Solo, a character that was alluring in the original “Star Wars” precisely because he didn’t need explaining. You know his last name is Solo, but do you know how he got that name? The answer may not surprise you, because it’s probably in George Lucas’ liner notes somewhere and a “Star Wars” fan likely had the same idea for their fan fiction.
It’s no surprise that excitement for “Solo” is several marks below the typical “Star Wars” release fervor. For a character like Han—a smuggler-turned-general-turned-smuggler whose appeal lies in his charming immediacy—it’s more compelling to see him shoot first than learn why he shot first. It doesn’t help that Disney/Lucasfilm fired creative geniuses Phil Lord and Chris Miller from the project, replacing them with filmmakers who are willing to take the safest, studio-mandated routes. Moviegoers have got a bad feeling about this.
But is it warranted? There was plenty of pushback against the casting of Alden Ehrenreich, as he’s not a dead ringer for a young Harrison Ford. But Ehrenreich eases anxieties quickly: he’s a capable actor and his Han Solo is passable at worst, inspired at best. The first act is hard to watch, though—literally. It’s muddy and badly lit. Most of the movie had to be reshot after Lord and Miller were fired, and it seems there wasn’t time to nail down the finer details of the production design.
At least Ron Howard’s direction is a serviceable replacement. Howard can work his way around action and adventure scenes, giving “Solo” the freedom to be fun when vehicles are moving at lightspeed. Unfortunately, the movie’s story flies by at the same pace. The first 40 minutes of “Solo” contain enough content for an entire movie: it blows past new characters and arcs and major events, blasting through its foundations and leaving the rest of the film to stand on shaky ground.
The screenplay’s problems don’t stop there. The dialogue doesn’t fall flat in a way that invites cringe, but it does come off like an artificial intelligence watched hundreds of big-budget blockbusters and then wrote all the conversations in “Solo”. It’s derivative, predictable, and devoid of personality.
Oddly enough, Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando Calrissian isn’t much of a boon in that regard. Glover is a massive talent who’s usually bursting at the seams with personality, but here he’s caught up in a one-note impression of Billy Dee Williams. A perpetually raised eyebrow and sensual vocal inflections do not a memorable performance make. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s turn as droid activist L3-37, though—now that’s how to infuse a character with charisma. Her vocal performance alone is easily the film’s greatest strength.
Its biggest weakness, however, is its downfall. The “Star Wars Stories” have motive problems. “Rogue One” didn’t develop its central character enough to justify her malleable motives. Han’s motive in “Solo” is consistent enough, but the movie puts it on hold. Within the first act alone, “Solo” establishes Han’s main objective and brings him close to achieving it—and then the film shifts focus for the majority of its runtime. Thrilling events go down, but everything feels boring and secondary next to the driving motive that’s being ignored. Right when “Solo” starts to readdress its main motive, the movie ends without resolving it whatsoever.
Why is that? Well, there’s a “Solo” trilogy in the works. Franchises (especially Disney’s) are killing complete stories. The whole of “Solo” feels perfunctory, existing only to sell more property down the line, and its narrative incompletion exemplifies that.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired partly because they wanted to strike a different tone than the rest of the “Star Wars” franchise. Their irreverent and nutty style could’ve made “Solo” its own animal, but instead we have a limp film that falls in line with corporate demand for a sequel. It might as well have ended with Ron Howard narrating a tease for the next episode of “Solo”. At least “Rogue One” had the good sense to end. This mediocre “Star Wars Story” would’ve been better off standing solo.