SOLO is the most OK Star Wars movie I’ve ever watched. The first Star Wars spin-off ROGUE ONE didn’t knock it out of the park, but at least it felt complete, what was intended, and it balanced the nostalgia factor with enough that was new. Solo is a film of peaks and troughs, Kessel Runs and pieces of junk exposition. They get the casting spot-on, but not a whole lot else meets your expectations.
Long before he became the Rebel Alliance’s favourite scoundrel, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) escapes his life in the slums by joining the Imperial Academy and is recruited by Tobias Beckett’s (Woody Harrelson) gang of smugglers to undertake a daring heist, meeting future friend Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and frenemy Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) en route.
There was a bit of an outcry during the film’s troubled development when it was revealed by original Solo directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller that “Han Solo” might not be the character’s real name. Rest assured, he is really called Han.
While he is better at portraying Harrison Ford’s smirk and attitude than his voice (and he needs a chin prosthetic to look even vaguely like him), Ehrenreich makes a pretty good young Han and most importantly makes the BFFs-at-first sight relationship with Chewie hit home. Glover nails Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Drawl and crafts a compelling rivalry between him and his “ol’ buddy”. Harrelson does his usual thing (can/should Star Wars characters have the surname “Beckett”?) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge like Alan Tudyk before her in Rogue One, crafts one of the most interesting and contradictory non-human characters, “droid rights” campaigning droid L3-37. Less convincing are Emilia Clarke and Paul Bettany, the former only defined in terms of her relationship to the men around her and the latter who needs much more than scars and inappropriate smiling to be scary.
The film’s first act feels very TV pilot-y, throwing characters, conflict and ideas at you at a staggering rate while never giving the impression that the whole story has been worked out yet. Network TV can do this: they have time to try things out and the opportunity to ditch things that don’t work before they stick. A two hour film? Not so much. It gains confidence in the first big set piece, a train heist lifted straight from the broadcast pilot of FIREFLY, “The Train Job” and spruced up with better effects and more exciting staging. The long-awaited Kessel Run is a killer sequence with STAR TREK reboot-level stupid physics and even more jeopardy than you might expect, not just to beat the parsec record for getting through the nebula, but to do it before the Falcon’s highly volatile cargo explodes or the ship, which is falling apart around our heroes, gets too many holes to keep the outer space, erm, out.
There’s some serious AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 syndrome in evidence here. Tell. The. Story. You’re. Telling. I’m so sick of teasers for future instalments that might never manifest, when the plot stops dead to allow for a “this will matter later” moment. They keep referencing Jabba the Hutt and the other bounty hunters and seemingly building towards Han’s defining moments, but the aforementioned Kessel Run and freeing Chewie aside, nobody seems in a hurry to get there. Solo’s story is a bit of a messy grab-bag of genre tropes and story beats, at various points playing dress-up as ALADDIN, SPARTACUS and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN among others.
There are surprises for sure, some of them without much point beyond solidifying the current iteration of the wider mythology. I certainly wouldn’t object to seeing Ehrenreich in the role again in some capacity, though whether this is in a direct sequel or a spinoff focussing on a different character remains to be seen. The original directors jumping (or pushed from) ship and replaced by Ron Howard midway through production implies a more incoherent final product, but really Solo just ended up being frustratingly inconsistent. It may look and sound good and have some talented actors fronting it, but it’s not daring or memorable enough to make me consider revisiting any time soon. SSP