Remember when we could all just be excited about new Star Wars movies coming out? You know, the days before every movie in the franchise was mercilessly over-examined and debated into the ground? Yeah, me either.
I suppose Star Wars has always elicited a strong reaction from fans and the general public, ranging from “these movies are everything to me” to “YOU RUINED MY CHILDHOOD, GEORGE LUCAS/JJ ABRAMS/RIAN JOHNSON!!” The passion seemed to reach a fever pitch with the recent Episode VIII (The Last Jedi) that was both praised and berated by die-hard fans and general audiences alike.
Now there are many distinct camps within the fandom – Original Trilogy purists, Prequel haters, JJ defenders, Ewok lovers, Last Jedi detractors, etc. Bottom line, it’s very hard to make a Star Wars movie that’s going to please everyone, and trying to do so may result in something that no one can fully embrace. With Solo: A Star Wars Story, we now have that movie – a film so dead-set on pleasing every different type of fan that it’s unlikely to please most of them.
On paper, Solo has a lot going for it – one of the most beloved sci-fi characters of all time in the lead, an amazing cast, and some of the most beloved writers of the series to name a few. Somehow, amidst all of this, it doesn’t ever really fire on all cylinders. There are points where the action works, parts where character beats really hit, and parts with amazing visual style – but rarely, if ever, are they all at once. Usually one thing is working while the others fall out.
Part of this could be due to the change in directors caused by “creative differences”- from up and comers, Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street), to the veteran hands of Ron Howard (Apollo 13, The DaVinci Code, Backdraft, Willow). I like both director choices, but it’s obvious why things went the way they did. Lord & Miller are known for shaking things up and coming at their subjects from a different angle. While, Howard is very much known for his four-quadrant people-pleasers. Disney & Kathleen Kennedy are notoriously protective of their precious Star Wars, so, in hindsight, Lord & Miller were always going to clash with the producers. Rumors are that Lord & Miller wanted to push this film into a tone based more around comedy ala Guardians of the Galaxy, while Kennedy wanted to maintain the traditional Star Wars vibe. Obviously, if you want someone to be efficient and not rock the boat, you call your friend, Ron Howard. And that’s what the tone is – it is the textbook definition of safe. To some it will feel like a warm blanket, to others it will feel pitifully stale. It left me somewhere in the middle – you win some, you lose some.
Outside of the “does the movie work” question, the main concern going into the film is the cast – most notably, Alden Ehrenreich (Hail Caesar). Can this kid fill Harrison’s shoes and do our beloved Han Solo justice? For the most part, he does an admirable job. He doesn’t do a Harrison Ford impression, and, in turn, negates a lot of issues that lesser actors may have gotten caught up in. Yes, there are some supremely wooden moments, but everyone in the cast seems to suffer from that at one point or another – and this is largely due to having to deliver an eye-rolling amount of expositional dialogue to hold the audience’s hand throughout the movie. But, is Alden giving the performance of the film? No.
One of the stand-outs will surprise no one, in that everything the guy does turns to gold these days – obviously, I’m talking about our man of the hour, Donald Glover, who plays Lando Calrissian to near perfection. He not only services the character we know and love, but he provides a much wider range of emotions and depth that the character was previously lacking. Sure, he does do an impersonation of Billie Dee Williams to a point (and a spot-on one, at that), but he still manages to make the character his own. It’s no wonder that Disney is planning a Lando movie next – the guy is 100% charisma.
The second, and more surprising stand-out of the film is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who plays Lando’s droid companion L3-37. As usual in Star Wars, the droid in Solo is by far the most quirky member of the crew, but Waller-Bridge gives her droid a unique, contemporary “droid equality” spin to help it stand out from the bevy of stand-out droids in Star Wars lore.
The remaining main cast members – Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Joonas Suotamo, Jon Favreau, and Paul Bettany – all do a serviceable job with their characters. Again, no one seems to deliver the expositional lines with any convincing fervor, but they all have their moments to shine.
Cinematographer, Bradford Young (Arrival, A Most Violent Year) tries his damnedest to inject Solo with a unique visual sheen; however, while there are moments that really pop, the movie suffers from being too visually drab overall. Even space somehow feels overcast in the film. Some may love the darkness – I personally would have loved to see some more color.
Finally, the beloved writer of Empire Strikes Back, Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan, I believe deserve at least some of the blame for the overall bland feeling that people will be left with when exiting the theater, as the cut and paste heist plot makes Solo one of the more paint-by-numbers blockbusters to come out in some time. Yes, there are a lot of things referenced in the earlier films that play out for us here – most moments simply leave you with the feeling of, “Oh, that’s it, huh?…Neat?” Between that and the aforementioned unholy amount of exposition (which was definitely not present in Empire), it’s hard to give these guys a pass. Plus, there’s a moment towards the end that will undoubtedly confuse fans about just exactly when this film takes place and how friggin’ old Han has to be by the time we get to A New Hope. It’s blatant fan service for the sake of fan service that only muddles with the continuity of the films as a whole. To avoid spoilers, that’s all I’ll say.
In the end, you’re left with a series of moments that you’d heard about in other films that barely hold together as a complete film itself. There’s some great action here and there amongst the darkness, some fan service, some inspired acting, some awful acting, some interesting choices, and some terrible choices – but none of these things ultimately inspire a lot of emotional response, hence the feeling of safety. I’ll likely require a few viewings before I completely nail down my feelings about it, but, for now, it’s merely OK. And, for a Star Wars film, that’s kind of depressing.
Directed by Ron Howard (sort of), the film stars Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Joonas Suotamo, Jon Favreau, and Paul Bettany.
During an adventure into a dark criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future co-pilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion. Heisty things ensue…
Solo: A Star Wars Story is in theaters this Friday, May 25th. Get your tickets now!