Solo: A Star Wars Story is the latest attempt to stretch a wafer-thin caricature from the Star Wars universe into a feature length film. For many of the same reasons that plagued Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it doesn’t go well.
It’s fair to wonder if the creators of Star Wars “standalone” films are actually interested in making an original story or simply content to write fan fiction. Director Ron Howard and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan are so determined to explain all of the Han Solo Star Wars mythology – meeting Chewbacca, getting his iconic blaster, winning the Millennium Falcon, etc. – they forget to craft a story with its own merits. Knowing a man’s origins doesn’t necessarily make him interesting.
Cobbled together from a script that feels half-formed, there’s no sense of fun here, only a pointless succession of scenes intended to move the plot forward. Worse still, there’s no sense of Han Solo. How is that possible? How can you turn, arguably, the most interesting character in the Star Wars universe into a complete bore?!?
In the interest of full disclosure, this reviewer should inform you that he enjoyed Star Wars: The Last Jedi and found it a masterful deconstruction of a franchise seemingly bereft of new ideas. If you believe Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a betrayal of everything the franchise represents, to paraphrase a much better Ron Howard film from the past, “Houston, we might have a problem.”
The troubled production of Solo: A Star Wars Story is probably more interesting than the finished product. The super duo of Chris Miller and Phil Lord (The LEGO Movie, 2014) were brought aboard to direct the project. They quickly infused their anarchic sense of fun into the proceedings, much to the disgust of veteran writer Lawrence Kasdan. Star Wars franchise mastermind Kathleen Kennedy pulled the plug on Miller and Lord, tasking the workmanlike Howard to restore order to the galaxy. By some accounts, Howard re-shot nearly 70 percent of what his predecessors had completed. It’s unclear if Miller and Lord’s comedic (re)imagining would have benefitted a lovable rogue like Solo, but it’s certain that Howard’s straightforward approach does not.
Solo: A Star Wars Story tells a story older than time itself; boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy steals a butt-ton of weapons-grade space fuel to get girl back. Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his plucky girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) have dreams of escaping the slums of Corellia on an intergalactic cruise, far beyond the reach of the evil Empire. Things go haywire during an uninspired speeder chase and the two lovebirds are separated. Han vows to get a ship, by legitimate or shady means, and return to rescue her one day.
The goal isn’t exactly original, but it’s something. You figure Han can have an adventure, learn all of his smuggling tips from a grizzled thief named Beckett (Woody Harrelson), meet Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), stay one step ahead of the law, and then find his damsel in distress at the end. We’re all set, right?
Not exactly. Qi’ra shows up again 30 minutes later, clinging to the arm of a smuggling kingpin named Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). She then dashes off with Han and his crew to steal a shipment of coaxium; a precious mineral used for rocket fuel and such. In other words, Han’s objective now means nothing. It’s a problem from which Kasdan’s script never recovers. Han’s goals, decisions, and actions change from minute to minute, depending upon what the plot requires. Things happen… and then more things happen… and you find yourself not caring about any of it.
Even this might not be enough to ruin Solo: A Star Wars Story if Han Solo could recapture his old magic from the original Star Wars trilogy. But there is no magic here. There’s barely a one-liner to be found (at least a good one-liner), let alone anything that your mother might find morally questionable. The only thing this version of Han would do first to Greedo is bore him to death.
Perhaps it’s unfair to rip poor Alden Ehrenreich for being a poor Harrison Ford stand-in, particularly given the script’s flaws, but he simply has no screen presence. Han Solo, regardless of whom is portraying him, should be the focal point of every scene. How inconsequential is Solo? He’s outclassed by a robot. Yes, the most interesting new character is a freaking robot!
Donald Glover does better as the huckster/charmer Lando Calrissian, adding some much needed depth while still remaining suave and mysterious. The aforementioned L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is Lando’s sassy android co-pilot who is hell bent on leading an android revolution. It’s a quirky idea that somehow feels appropriate for the current sociopolitical climate.
Any film boasting a Star Wars sized budget is going to have seamless special effects. Here, they come in the service of mostly derivative action sequences. There’s a train robbery early in the film that’s undoubtedly impressive, with characters scaling the spine of a train as it literally spirals along a precarious suspended track. From this point forward, however, creativity is lacking. Han flies through a minefield of debris (heard that one before?), Han steals something, Han flies his ship through impossibly narrow openings that are slowly closing. People have forever ridiculed George Lucas for tinkering with his prized creations – going back years later to update the special effects with new technology – but that feels infinitely more artistic (and justified) than simply recycling action bits directly from previous films.
As this reviewer commented after watching Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, there’s a legitimate concern that a glorified space soap opera based on archetypes and cheesy action serials can anchor an expanded franchise of films. The disappointing Solo: A Star Wars Story might be the final argument that closes the case.