With Alden Ehrenreich taken the reins of a new franchise, ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ is competent but light on style
If you told me ten years ago that a movie all about Han Solo would someday be made, I don’t think I would believe you. Back then, the idea of a continuation of the Star Wars Franchise seemed futile following the lackluster reception of the Prequel Trilogy. Yet here we are in 2018 and Solo: A Star Wars Story debuts as the fourth Star Wars film in as many years. And while the franchise doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, this latest entry shows the flaws in taking us to a Galaxy Far, Far Away so many times in a row.
Solo works as an origin story for its title character in much the same way a superhero movie operates, with the franchise providing explanations for everything from the design of Han’s Millennium Falcon to the dice that played a key role in the recent film The Last Jedi even down to the name of the character himself. But throughout, it feels like the movie is more focused on ticking off a checklist of what we are supposed to want in a Star Wars film instead of providing a confident film. Much of the problems come from the complicated backstory of the film’s making, including a change in director midway through production.
Ron Howard’s direction isn’t exactly bad, but it never has a style to it that sets it apart from any other blockbuster that will be released this summer. The few war scenes in Solo pale in comparison to those in Rogue One, which had a very unique way of telling its story visually, and there is no sense of genre that the film follows. It has a number of excellent set pieces and a story that is entertaining, but it never goes deeper than a surface level story. At times it feels as the movie bounces between a grimy visual style and one far more polished, creating a tonal dissonance that keeps the movie from finding footing. Many scenes feel like direct takes on Mad Max: Fury Road, though that film managed to maintain its style throughout. From a train robbery to an opening sequence set in a slave colony and beyond, many of the sequences feel designed to create a certain mood that is never achieved. Even the moral arguments of the film fall flat, with the key emotional events coming too late to provoke much care.
The basic plot of Solo follows the titular character, played by Alden Ehrenreich, as he attempts to earn enough money to buy himself a ship to live a life on his own, working with an old love of his named Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) as well as a motley crew of smugglers and thieves. This includes Thandie Newton delivering a performance better than her character deserves, along with Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett, arguably the second lead to Han himself. The team’s mission is to smuggle “Coaxium” for a crime lord played by a half-asleep Paul Bettany, and along the way, they encounter Lando Calrissian, played by the phenomenal Donald Glover. It is hard to avoid comparing the performances of Han and Lando between this movie and the original Star Wars films, but it is safe to say that Glover manages to do more with his character. Simultaneously a creation of his own at the same time as an impression of Billy Dee Williams, Glover’s Lando succeeds where Ehrenreich’s Han fails, never managing to escape the shadow of the indomitable Harrison Ford.
The two best characters and performances in the film, however, come from two actors whose faces are never on screen. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s role as android L3-37 is a stroke of genius, giving the actress and writer of shows such as Broadchurch, Killing Eve, Fleabag, and Crashing her biggest platform yet. She nails her role and turns the emotionless robot that has been in dozens of films into a virtuosic character, giving her a stronger motivation than any other performance. Also attaining top marks is Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca, making the Wookie into a complete character like he has never been before.
Many of the biggest story failings of Solo are the result of being a prequel to one of the most beloved films of all time. Set in the same gap between the Prequels and the Original trilogy that Rogue One and TV series Star Wars: Rebels is set, the conclusion of both Solo and the franchise as a whole is set in stone. The romance between Solo and Qi’ra has a foregone conclusion, and you will know at least a few of the survivors of the film based on their appearing in other entries in the series. But even just trying to fit the world becomes tough, developing three different scenes that feel like a direct reference to the beloved Mos Eisley Cantina from the original film, and name-drops of other franchise characters plays exclusively to the long-time fans of the series. Similarly, the film feels as if every line of dialogue is built to set up another prequel or sequel or spin-off, to the point where any sense of individuality is lost completely. The film is paced very well and never drags, but it still has problems with a timeline that never really fits together with the greater Star Wars universe.
For all the faults to be found with Solo, it really is not a bad movie in the long run. Ehrenreich gives a winning performance and most of the cast seems to be doing their best, but without a point of view or visual style to it, the film just feels empty. Perhaps the next Solo will learn from this film’s mistakes, but I have my hopes for a Lando or Chewie movie instead.
‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ will be in theaters everywhere on May 25th.