Review of the Week–Solo: A Star Wars Story

As a tried and true Star Wars fanatic, I couldn’t in good conscience miss the premiere of the latest installment in the fantasy/sci-fi saga, even if I was justifiably nervous about the quality of what was to come. So this week, I’m bringing you my thoughts on Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Everyone who’s seen Star Wars movies knows the lovable rogue Han Solo, but where did he come from, and what events shaped him into the person we know? Solo endeavors to answer that question, detailing young urchin Han’s life growing up on the mean streets of Corellia and dreaming of escape with his childhood sweetheart Qi’ra. Looking to explore the universe, Han find himself forced to leave Qi’ra behind as he first joins the Imperial Navy, and then abandons the pointless fighting for a life of crime with his new mentor Tobias Beckett. Selling himself as the best pilot in the galaxy, Han falls in with a rough crew and gets in over his head–leading to his seeking help from future friend Lando Calrissian and his ship, the legendary Millennium Falcon, for one last big score that will make all their problems disappear. But Han still has a lot to learn, including that in the wild, wild west of the galactic wilderness, the cardinal rule to live by is: trust no one.

I went into Solo with very mixed feelings–as much as I like Han Solo, how will an additional movie just focused on him give me something I couldn’t have guessed before? It all felt slightly unnecessary. Also, there were stories of terrible acting performances by the leads that necessitated extensive reshoots during production–rumors that I’m glad to say were greatly exaggerated, even if the movie as a whole was ultimately forgettable.

First off, the cast. For all my reservations, Alden Ehrenreich does a pretty good job of playing a young Harrison Ford–the portrayal isn’t as spot-on as others I’ve seen in the past (like Josh Brolin’s young Agent K in Men in Black 3), but it’s solid nonetheless and I enjoyed watching him to his thing. The swagger, confidence, and cheeky cracks are all there, even if this version of Han is a bit more wet behind the ears, trusting, and idealistic than the disillusioned rebel we meet in A New Hope. Old Han would never have let the rebels get away with the money in the end–he would probably have just kept it for himself, something I found a bit out of character for the Solo I’m used to. Not perfect, but definitely entertaining.

While other side characters like Beckett (Woody Harrelson is predictably solid, if not great) the rabble-rousing droid L3 (wonderful job by Phoebe Waller-Bridge creating this hilarious firebrand of a character), and of course Chewbacca (seriously, how do you really screw Chewie up?) were good as well, the breakout star of the film was Donald Glover’s take on young Lando–as I suspected before even seeing him on screen. Glover is one of the most talented young actors of our generation, and he plays Billy Dee Williams’ mannerisms, voice patterns, and quirks to a tee here. He’s basically the same guy we met in The Empire Strikes Back except younger, and we get even a little more depth from him here, even if it’s not especially lasting.

Where the movie falls flat is, shockingly, Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke, who plays Qi’ra. I was just never sold on her character overall because there’s no real chemistry between her and Ehrenreich and we’re just not told enough about her for me to truly feel like I care what happens to her. Her betrayal at the end of the movie may have surprised Han, but let’s be honest–the whole thing was telegraphed such that I could see it coming a mile away. She didn’t really emote, wasn’t that captivating when she was in the picture, and in the end her role as a love interest kind of fell flat for me. If the point was to show her as a bit heartless and ambitious, then that’s all well and good, but I have to at least care about her a little bit, and I’m not sure I did here.

Addressing the story, what we see here is an often exciting and fun ride, but one that, again, doesn’t actually add all that much to the Star Wars universe when you sit back and think about it. How much of this could you not have just guessed by looking at who Han Solo is in the original movies? It feels like Disney felt the pressure to go for a cash-grab by making a movie about the single most beloved character in Star Wars, for no reason other than, well, why not? Everything makes sense for the most part and there aren’t that many plot holes to speak of, but things come off as just slightly too generic and hollow for me as a sci-fi action/adventure flick–definitely good, but well short of the greatness I think it could easily have achieved. But on a side note, the big surprise cameo by Darth Maul at the end went a long way toward locating this in the Star Wars universe and making its story relevant–watch the TV series Rebels for more on how it ties in. Is it too much to ask for for more Maul appearances?

I think my lack of feeling from Solo also comes from its failure to differentiate itself from past Star Wars movies. I had the same problem with the much better-received Rogue One–for all its bluster and feinted attempts at making itself stand out from what came before, these stand-alone Star Wars stories just aren’t as good as the trilogies. It’s mostly because Disney plays it way too safe and keeps their directors’ desires to be different in careful check so they don’t stray from the general feel-good, family-friendly entertainment Disney is known for. Rogue One could easily had been Inglorious Basterds in space–a dark and gritty take on Star Wars with bloodshed and violence galore, as well as flawed, troubled characters, to illustrate that the conflict between the Rebels and the Empire isn’t all fun and games, but in the end it settled for a slightly darker than normal but mostly typical Star Wars movie. Solo was the same–for all its billing as a space western and what I was expecting that would entail, it wasn’t a western at all, or even a heist movie in-genre like Marvel’s awesome Ant-Man. It was just more good-time Star Wars fun when it could have been so much more.

My Rating: 7/10

Look, Solo isn’t bad at all: it’s just nothing close to what I hoped it would be, and it failed to truly break away from the pack of Star Wars movies and give us something new. As a result, it was a fun and undoubtedly wild ride, but one that felt pretty predictable and overall was forgettable. If you want some sci-fi fun within a familiar universe, you’ll probably like it. But if you’re feeling more adventurous and hoping for a movie that pushes boundaries or blazes new trails, you’re out of luck. Oh well. Let’s just hope that upcoming Boba Fett movie can take the lead on that front!

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