If you’ve been following the behind-the-scenes drama that has been circling the production of the Star Wars movies after Disney’s acquisition of the property, you know it is no less intriguing than whatever has been on the cinema screen. The past few years have seen the abrupt departure of such directors as Josh Trank and Colin Trevorrow; hefty reshoots during the production of Rogue One saw Gareth Edwards joined by writer-director Tony Gilroy. Harrison Ford broke his leg on the set of The Force Awakens; Carrie Fisher tragically passed away not long after filming The Last Jedi.
Then comes Solo: A Star Wars Story, a space opera-western about the galaxy’s best pilot and a “stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerfherder”. After the departure of the initial director duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie) due to “creative differences”, Ron Howard (Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code) came onboard to reshoot as much as 70 percent of the movie. The result is as expected, a movie that is fighting itself but like the titular character, barely escapes a closing gap with a winning smile.
We first meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich) in the scuzzy, sewer-like underbelly of his home planet Correllia, trying to make enough money to get out and leave the gutters for good. Always an eye on the stars, Han’s journey in this movie is a simple one. Complemented by a host of supporting characters, Han moves from planet to planet and one set piece to another at a brisk pace. However- and I can’t pinpoint whether it’s because of the editing or not- the movie still feels like it drags on. It could easily shed about fifteen minutes worth of run time and consequently become a much tighter experience. Actually, this whole movie feels that it tries to great things but eventually falls short to just being fine. All the components seem to have the potential to mesh together to create a greater whole, but ultimately they fail to do so. Let me elaborate.
Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo is a competent one. Watching his portrayal of a character that is beaten yet seemingly unbowed by all the chaos thrown at him is cathartic to watch. But his character doesn’t have a clearly defined arc. He might be a bit more naive and younger than the Han we meet in A New Hope, but he basically is just the same. His overly cocky proclamation of his flying skills, taking one-in-a-million chances, the loner persona- all are evidently present at the start of this movie and aren’t added as layers throughout its course. While fun watching, the script doesn’t allow Ehrenreich’s portrayal to add anything new to the character.
The rest of the cast did their job effectively in moving the story forward and giving Han the chance to become what he was meant to be. But there are some squandered opportunities that fail to reach their true potential. Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and Beckett (Woody Harrelson) are set up as interesting characters who construct the motivation for Han’s actions. And for the most part, their dynamic works. But Clarke’s chemistry with the main character leaves much to be desired and their relationship never gets fleshed out. While Harrelson’s ability to work magic with whatever he is given is in full display, his character arc doesn’t have a satisfying resolution and is ultimately a slave of predictable story beats. Same goes with the droid L3. Her character tries to be the comic relief, much like Rogue One’s hilariously funny K-2SO, but the jokes involving her campaign for droid freedom never quite land. The one stark contrast is Donald Glover’s Lando Clarissian who steals any scene he is in and is just a delight to watch. I can’t wait to watch more of him in the possible sequels. Joonas Suotatomo is taking over from Peter Mayhew to play Chewbacca this time around, and expectedly has some fan-favorite moments. Both the first meeting of Han and Chewie and their first time piloting the Millennium Falcon together are just pure magic for the veteran fans.
Solo might not be reveling in the strength of its characters, but Bradford Young’s moody, low-lit cinematography and John Powell’s music makes it a gorgeous amalgamation of high-octane action and an inside look at the seedy criminal underworld of the Star Wars fiction. A haphazard pacing may lengthen the run time, but it is made sure whatever you are looking at is downright beautiful in this movie. It’s all so slickly done, in fact, that it’s not immediately easy to pin down why Solo feels like a fun yet merely passable Star Wars movie rather than one of the franchise’s true greats. But then you look closer and the cracks in that shiny wall become very apparent.
Solo: A Star Wars Story, ultimately, is the product of a studio hedging its bets in order to please the fans and creating easygoing entertainment. But a daredevil character like Han maybe deserved some gonzo storytelling risks and a true deep dive in his psyche. The movie is a lavish and fun romp that escapes mediocrity, and sadly does nothing more.