Film Review: Does "Solo" Crash or Soar?
Harrison Ford brought the third dimension to Han Solo. Without Ford’s unique cantankerousness – the pure I-don’t-give-a-damn charisma -- and his boundless creativity as an actor and collaborator, there isn’t much to this smooth-talking smuggler pilot and his superhuman luck. Which is okay. Han Solo has always functioned as a supporting character.
Nevertheless, when the sharp and hip comedic duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller were announced to direct a young Han Solo movie, there were reasons to be excited. It signalled a clean break from George Lucas' traditionalism, and the promise of something fresh within a shop-worn premise. They were canned for reasons of “creative differences” and the thoroughly vanilla and competent Ron Howard was brought in at the eleventh hour to salvage the movie – or suck the life out of it until it’s entirely smooth and non-threatening. And so, Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (hereafter Solo), like many prequels, expends quite a bit of plot real-estate to answering questions nobody asked: Did Han Solo really do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs? How did he get that blaster? Why is he so selfish? Why is his last name Solo?. The heists and action scenes effectively are there to answer these pretty boring questions. Yes, the scenes are well choreographed and pleasingly Star Warsy, but the might of the Disney/Lucasfilm machine is as such that anything less would be surprising.
Despite being a prequel devoted to answering dull questions, there’s a gaping mystery at the centre of Solo: Where does its heart beat? In Chewie and Han’s meet-cute and eventual legendary partnership? Han and Lando’s situationally fluid friendship? Han and Qi’ra’s romance? Perhaps a group of mercenary outlaws headed by a Woody Harrelson mentor figure? Solo lays out these story strands with such functional efficiency that there isn't time to feel much of anything before it invariably hurries along to the next bit of plot business. It’s so perfectly dutiful, like a droid checking off a list. Ironically, this is the first Star Wars films to plainly posit that droids do indeed have souls.
The foundation here is to have Han Solo start out as the plucky, good-hearted kid and inch him closer to the grouchy son-of-a-bitch out for number 1 – aka the guy we’re introduced to in Star Wars (1977). That's a good character arc on paper. But when Alden Ehrenreich finally channels Harrison Ford in the last few scenes, it’s coldly calculated to tickle Star Wars’ fans’ balls, when instead it should feel like a light has gone out, it should feel tragic. It could be that Star Wars is just too iconic for its own good, and that these “A Story” films need to find brand new worlds to mine from rather than attempting to wring the last few drops of blue milk from a tired old Bantha.
Not too spirited, not overly serious. Not bad, not great. Squarely decent. One for die-hards only.
3 Stars out of 5