I look forward to another three months of debating whether Disney is/isn’t killing Star Wars and whether this is/isn’t an abomination of a film. Yay.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a Star Wars sci-fi action heist film written by Lawrence Kasdan and mostly directed by Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Rush). It stars Alden Ehrenreich as a young Han Solo, a man on the cusp of entering the criminal underworld and becoming the scoundrel he is in A New Hope.
Was anyone really asking for this film? Solo has for the last several years been the unwanted step-child of the Star Wars franchise. A story nobody asked for based on a character people only love for the actor in a project that swapped directors and reshot over 70% of the film. Sounds like a recipe for a modern day masterpiece. Luckily Solo isn’t the dumpster fire it could have been considering the circumstances, but its also far from the big sub-franchise-starting hit Lucasarts clearly hopes it could be.
The worst thing about Solo is its inconsequentialness. It doesn’t contribute any great detail to the lore, Han goes through little more than a rehash of his arc in A New Hope and potentially worst of all, its just forgettable. I feel much the same way about Solo as I did Fantastic Beasts. which may not sound so bad if you also didn’t know I legitimately forgot I saw that film a week after its release. No joke, I walked past a poster for Beasts five days after watching it and thought to myself ‘I should probably go see thi- WAIT A MINUTE’. If anything cements the minimal impact of Fantastic Beasts (and Solo by proxy) its that. That’s not to say that the plot isn’t somewhat enjoyable at times – it can provide fodder for some good set pieces and humour – but its far from the memorability I expect from a quality Star Wars film.
It doesn’t help by the fact that Solo is kind of an ugly film. While I’ve enjoyed Ron Howard’s films plenty in the past (Apollo 13 sits firmly in my top 100 films of all time, list coming soon) he’s far from a director you would consider particularly distinct or auteur-driven. And it kind of shows in Solo. While the original directing credit was to go to Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street), with 70% of the film being re-shot, this is basically Ron Howard’s film to its detriment. The movie suffers from consistently bland direction, unremarkable cinematography and a colour grading that would be at home in a bowl of mouldy soup. There’s nary a sense of style to be found here at all, and regardless of how Lord and Miller’s cut would’ve ended up, it at least would’ve had some life to it. Better than this shambling corpse. The closest the film comes to feeling alive is when the action set pieces get rolling, and thankfully these are both frequent and fairly well done. There’s nothing remarkable about them, but they boast some good effects and creative use of the Star Wars universe. But when blasters aren’t firing, neither is the film, and a good blaster at your side can only do so much to stifle boredom.
But now at least we get to the good stuff, and thankfully that’s the cast. Alden Ehrenreich is actually a fairly decent Han Solo – thankfully making the wise decision not to simply imitate Harrison Ford but instead make the character his own, he’s fairly charming with plenty of swagger and smarm to go around. Even if the character himself isn’t great. For a film named after him, he’s far and beyond the least interesting person here, and what little arc he’s given is just a retread of ground already covered better in A New Hope. This trend continues throughout the rest of the cast – flat characters with solid performances. Woody Harrelson as Beckett is a perfectly fine contrast to Han, Emilia Clarke is a decent if unremarkable love interest in Q’ira, Paul Bettany clearly enjoys his role as aristocratic gangster figure Dryden Vos and Thandie Newton is COMPLETELY wasted as Beckett’s love interest Val. The two true standouts come from the duo of Lando and L3-37. Donald Glover is beyond perfect as Lando, embodying all the charisma and incredible fashion sense you’d expect from him and is the one true shining light of brilliance amongst this muddy puddle. His co-pilot L3-37 (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) continues the surprising trend of droids being the breakout stars of of the Disney Star Wars films, being the only true source of laughs in the entire film and even adding an interesting ‘droids are people too’ subtext that’s as interesting as it is hilariously displayed.
Solo may not be a disappointment, but that’s simply thanks to the absurdly low expectations going in. While it offers some fun, entertaining set pieces and a solid cast, its not enough to save it from the unmemorable plot, flat direction and prequel-itis on display.
General Audiences: Meh
Film Buffs: Not Recommended
True Believers (Star Wars): Meh