REVIEW: There’s Plenty To Love And Hate In ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’

Without question, it’s safe to say that the mighty Star Wars saga possesses a wealth of rather interesting interstellar speed bumps, a story worthy of its own theatrical adaptation at some point. From the horrors of the infamous Holiday Special unleashed upon television audiences in 1978, to the questionable changes made as part of the original trilogy’s 1997 Special Edition re-releases, to the abysmal prequels and so forth, as highly regarded as Star Wars might be, it’s been something of a rocky road to get us where we are today.

Ever since Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, a large part of the plan for future Star Wars installments included spinoffs set within the existing universe, ones that would ignore the wider Legends/Expanded universe and instead carve out new paths theatrically for existing characters and side stories previously unseen on the big screen. The first such attempt came in 2016 in the form of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, one which continued the aforementioned time honored tradition of backstage drama with director Gareth Edwards parting ways with the project only months until its release, thus prompting several weeks of reshoots, rewrites and a new score composer following some allegedly disastrous early screenings. Luckily, all those involved turned out a wonderful film, a perfect addition to the Star Wars canon and a true achievement in all aspects of casting, writing, visual effects & music. It absolutely casts A New Hope in a slightly different, yet still exciting light, and never for a moment did I want the adventure to end.

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Next up was a saga entry devoted solely to everyone’s favorite scoundrel Han Solo, in an origin story expected to show how the man met Chewbacca & Lando Calrissian and came into possession of the Millennium Falcon. Although a large subset didn’t see a film of this nature even slightly necessary, production nonetheless kicked off in early 2017 with a cast that included Hail, Caesar! standout Alden Ehrenreich in the titular role alongside Donald Glover as Lando, in addition to such notables as Thandie Newton, Game Of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke and the always-reliable Woody Harrelson. Firmly placed in the director’s chairs were Phil Lord & Chris Miller, fresh off successful releases like 2014’s pop culture overload The Lego Movie & two 21 Jump Street reboots, who when added to the promising cast seemed to indicate that this as-yet-untitled take on Han Solo’s early escapades might be poised to present an enjoyable romp through a galaxy far, far away.

Unfortunately, the curse once again manifested itself last summer, when Lord & Miller found themselves ousted followed the dreaded label of creative differences, prompting Lucasfilm to employ Ron Howard as director. This move, by all accounts, resulted in somewhere around 70% of the film being reshot under Howard’s newly-appointed supervision and the transformation of the film from a rumored improv-based comedy akin to Lord & Miller’s earlier efforts into more conventional sci-fi. It was also said that Ehrenreich’s take on Han Solo wasn’t quite where it should be, and word began to spread that an acting coach had been brought onto the set as well to reel in the actor & fine tune his performance overall. Nothing seemed to be in what one would consider good shape, not at all helped by the length of time before any official photos or footage would at long last be seen, which luckily finally arrived in the form of a promising teaser released during the Super Bowl in 2018. Subsequent trailers, all of which sported the name Solo: A Star Wars Story continued to look encouraging, all showcasing a decidedly western-esque setting, some honestly thrilling space sequences and brief snippets of what Ehrenreich & Glover would potentially be bringing to the table. One could most definitely now begin to ask the big question-would Solo be any good?

Sure. I suppose. It’s fine.

The pros and cons seem to balance out nicely, with the positive end favoring the cast, score and a smattering of scenes befitting of any great Star Wars film. As the man himself, Alden Ehrenreich ranges from good to great, overall presenting a version of Han Solo that may in no way physically resemble Harrison Ford but works in its own way. Ehrenreich’s Solo gives off much more of a rugged vibe, owing more to the actor’s old school movie star looks, but the smirk, the delivery, the cockiness and even a childlike innocence all mesh together to create a Solo you can’t help but love-it’s in the differences from Ford’s portrayal that he becomes all the more endearing. Every time Solo and Chewbacca interact, there’s a real sense of what would become one of moviedom’s most treasured partnerships forming, however it’s Donald Glover who steals every scene he’s in-the first time we find his Lando is during a game of Sabbac, where the Millennium Falcon’s being used as collateral-it’s a great scene, signature of any good western but still a welcome part of Star Wars. Glover’s Lando is suave, daring, and when he first opens his mouth the resemblance to Billy Dee Williams is beyond uncanny. If the recently-announced plans for a Lando film come to fruition, I will be purchasing my ticket as quickly as I can, thank you very much.

Supporting characters round out the cast well, almost to the point where Han Solo begins to feel like a side character in his own movie. Paul Bettany, who previously worked with Ron Howard on A Beautiful Mind and is no stranger to villainous turns in films like Howard’s The Da Vinci Code and the underrated Firewall (coincidentally starring Ford), takes his relatively small bad guy role and makes the most of it, as does Thandie Newton as the spouse of Harrelson’s Tobias Beckett, the latter of whom could be seen as Solo‘s pseudo-Artful Dodger-that said, you’d better believe he again plays himself in the best way possible following his share of Hunger Games sequels. Phoebe Waller-Bridge continues to showcase how these films serve as vehicles for unforgettable droids, in this case playing L3-37, a sidekick of Lando and a strong proponent of droid rights-in playing L3, Walter-Bridge gives us a sassy, witty character that fits alongside her predecessors easily. The only low point might be Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, the obligatory love interest who tries her best but either doesn’t have enough to work with or doesn’t completely understand the character. It’s not bad, and certainly contains some substance, but sadly didn’t do much for me.

As composer, John Powell has created some truly fantastic music that compliments the onscreen action almost perfectly-sure, some sound editing could have been tweaked so as to not allow every loud noise to completely drown out Powell’s work, but when it’s heard, it’s outstanding. Even original Star Wars maestro John Williams lends a hand, having contributed his own theme for Han Solo-in general, there’s far more creativity in the music department, paying tribute to Williams’ legendary music while still showing off its own unique voice. It far surpasses Michael Giacchino’s score for Rogue One, which while great in its own right at times felt a bit too much like the result of plugging the term “John Williams” into a symphonic orchestra generator and using the resulting music.

However, the plot truly does lack in more areas that one-plain and simple, this is a heist film, which isn’t anything one hasn’t already gathered from the trailers but isn’t enough to carry the movie. There don’t exist any major implications of the onscreen action unlike in Rogue One-it is, I suppose, appropriate of the exploits of an underground outlaw but could easily be viewed as dull as well. The big questions about Han’s initial encounters with Chewie and Lando, as well as the unbelievably groanworthy way that he came into possession of his last name, exist as the key moments that could’ve made for an unforgettable short film without the narrative framework that is, in all honesty, somewhat boring. Sure, our first gaze upon the Millennium Falcon may be downright breathtaking, there’s plenty of quick tributes that will certainly make your inner geek smile and some decent Easter Eggs can be spied here and there, though a few are honestly confusing and ultimately hold lifetime subscriptions to Fan Service Magazine. Some of these winks to the camera are about as subtle as a punch to the face, not at all helped by dialogue that can’t help but drift into a sea of cheese more often than one would prefer. Furthermore, look out, as Hurricane Exposition arrives right off the bat, threatening to derail large chunks of conversation throughout the film, accompanied by references to planets & people that I’m sure are important parts of the Star Wars universe but due to the sheer volume began to sound like they were being made up on the spot by whichever actor was occupying the screen at the moment.

The pacing issues affect more than just dialogue-as a whole, Solo moves along a bit too quick, while can cause cuts in the film to run into one another and make it hard to keep up with at times. On the other side of coin, an early train sequence starts off exciting but ends up going on disappointingly long, same with a shaky opening chase scene that teeters between attention-getting and uninteresting at the same time. There’s also a battle on a planet at roughly the midway point that has a lot going for it but can’t help but drift dangerously close to unraveling into a total mess. Oh, are we forgetting the love story between Newton and Harrelson? It is, quite possibly, the most supremely underdeveloped romance in film history. Even the cinematography and mostly-practical effects, as beautiful as they can be, tend to become muddled at times-the gritty environments, which somehow looked clear and still easy to gaze upon in Rogue One, find themselves awash in ugly shades of orange and brown more often than not.

At the end of the day, Solo isn’t without its share of fun, due in no small part to a committed cast of talented people that clearly want to be there, along with a welcome musical score. It is, however, fraught with plenty of problems in terms of pacing & story, with a finger aimed squarely at screenwriters Lawrence & Jonathan Kasdan, and although it’s hard to tell which footage was shot by which director, I did find myself at times wondering what Lord & Miller would have given us had their version of Solo crossed the finish line. Whereas Rogue One felt like a true companion to the original trilogy, Solo seems to lean more towards the prequels, whether intentional or not. There is a moment where that same dreaded prequel trilogy receives a massive nod-in a weirdly nostalgic way, for a moment I flashed back nineteen years, when my 16-year old self sat in a darkened theater ready to experience the first new Star Wars in quite some time. Though undoubtedly an unusual feeling, I found myself embracing it, in a manner only Star Wars could accomplish. That, I believe, is the ultimate goal of these films, and for that I’ll remain grateful, eager for the next journey Lucasfilm brings us next.