Solo: A Star Wars Story is a mildly entertaining but mostly underwhelming and wholly unnecessary hero-in-the-making sidebar to the main films.
We learn that in Han Solo’s younger days the blaster-slinging space scoundrel — recast for obvious reasons with Alden Ehrenreich taking over for Harrison Ford — was a lovestruck teen on his homeworld of Corellia who wants to take his best gal Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and escape their life of forced employment as thieves in a notorious gangster’s crime syndicate.
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When things don’t go as planned — in the Star Wars universe, nothing ever goes as planned — Han manages to get off that rock by joining the Imperial Forces to become a pilot, which is his real dream. Qi’ra isn’t so lucky. She’s captured and returned to the gang, with Han vowing to come back for her.
The pair eventually will be reunited, but not before teen Han has become more like the young adult Han we know. This includes: making a lifelong friend in Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) after rescuing the Wookie from his Imperial imprisonment as a zoo-like attraction; teaming up with a band of space pirates led by the shoot first-trust no one Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who becomes a mentor for Han; meeting the suave and caped gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover); and taking the Millennium Falcon for its most famous spin — making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.
Directed by Ron Howard. Screenplay by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan. A Lucasfilm release playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, Levis Commons, Bowling Green, Mall of Monroe, and Sundance Kid Drive-in. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. Running time: 135 minutes.
Critic's rating: ★★
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, and Emilia Clarke.
Yes, these are all important moments in Han’s formative years, but onscreen they are average and often pedestrian. The harried escape sequence that opens the film, for example, with Han showing off his sweet piloting skills, only to be thwarted by his own cockiness, rolls along with visual pizzazz but no enthusiasm or energy — like a blast of lightning without the crack of thunder — and with audiences knowing the true payoff will come much later. Even the Kessel Run isn’t as thrilling as one imagined it to be based on Han’s boasts in Star Wars: A New Hope.
Solo: A Star Wars Story has been plagued with troubles. The directing duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were canned over “creative differences,” after filming was nearly complete, but Lucasfilm didn’t like what it was seeing. Ron Howard was tapped as director to salvage the production. His hire was the safe choice, more obvious than inspiring, that manifests itself in the finished product, with everything about it — action sequences, dramatic showdowns, explorations of the galaxy’s shadowy and seedy — neither good nor bad, but average and forgettable. Lord and Miller, by the way, are still credited as executive producers.
Rumors also swirled that Ehrenreich’s performance was abysmal enough that it necessitated a personal acting coach on the set. Ehrenreich, however, is a talented actor; in the Coen brothers’ 2016 quirky comedy Hail, Caesar!, for example, his impressionable singing cowboy made into a big 1950s movie star was a comedic scene stealer.
Ehrenreich’s performance as Han is much like his on-screen personification of Ford. He doesn’t sound much like Ford, but carries himself onscreen much like Ford did with Han’s poker face swagger and rascal charm.
Ehrenreich acts just like the Han Solo character, but Ford didn’t act the part; he defined it.
The real problem with Solo: A Star Wars Story lies in its concept of single-character exploration.
In a galaxy of space wizards, laser swords, bug-eyed aliens, and a “big walking carpet,” Han Solo was the everyman the Star Wars saga needed. And it was his quirks, habits, and flaws that made him interesting.
Han believed in luck but not in the hokey Force. He preferred to have a good blaster at his side rather than an ancient weapon. He always had a plan and it almost always was in his best interest. And, yes, he always shot first.
That’s also the essence of almost everyone in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Beckett is the untrusting leader who will sacrifice anything and anyone if necessary. Lando is the cavalier and sophisticated swindler who has a good thing going with his smart and sassy female droid L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). L3-37 in turn thinks Lando has a thing for her, and she may have a thing for him.
Glover’s charismatic Lando is the most memorable character and Waller-Bridge’s L3-37 the funniest. In the film’s best running joke, she’s leading a droid revolt against their humanoid slave masters. An interesting ongoing philosophical debate in the Star Wars community is should any being, mechanical or otherwise, who can think, reason, communicate, and feel, such as C-3P0 or R2-D2, be restrained from thinking and acting independently?
As for Qi’ra, she returns to Han’s story as a hardened pawn in the employ of an even more ruthless gangster named Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the film’s main villain not because he’s conniving or menacing, rather he has the money to hire his own army.
It seems the galaxy is full of such scoundrels and gangsters plotting to out-scoundrel one another, with young Han either working for them, learning from them, cheating them, or opposing them.
In Solo: A Star Wars Story, Han is not the take charge leader we met in Star Wars: A New Hope, but a work-in-progress. There's nothing interesting about a hero as passive participant in his own story, which makes him is the least interesting character in this biography that bears his name.
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.
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