Solo: A Star Wars Story

(Howard, 2018)

This review contains spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story

After a notoriously bumpy production (Ron Howard took over the role of director after Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired in June 2017), Solo: A Star Wars Story was met with skepticism from fans and critics who all asked themselves the same question: “Why?” Why make a prequel that requires you to recast the least recastable and most beloved character of the entire franchise? Why give a backstory to the one character who doesn’t need it? Why do it now, when Harrison Ford’s charm and swagger as Han Solo are fresh in our minds from 2015’s The Force Awakens? If the answer is money, then Disney should be rethinking that decision right now. Grossing only $84 million dollars in its opening weekend (for comparison, Rogue One opened to $155 million), Solo is a rare financial failure for a franchise that usually cleans up at the box office. And as for quality, Solo is the worst Star Wars outing since the prequels. It feels cold, kitschy, unfinished and unfocused. This may seem like a cruel analysis, but when you’re attaching yourself to the world’s biggest franchise, and that franchise’s most popular character, you have to know that it will be scrutinized. And if it’s not great, people are going to call you out for it. Suffice to say, it’s not great.

Solo follows Han (Alden Ehrenreich) through various criminal exploits as he tries to collect enough money to buy his own ship. Once that is done he plans on flying back to Corellia to rescue his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), from the oppressive life they grew up in. However, when Han meets with the leader of a crime syndicate, he finds out that Qi’ra has already made it out of Corellia… and is one of the crime syndicate’s top lieutenants. Together, they must do an impossible heist or Han will be killed by the syndicate’s leader. At its most basic, the plot of Solo is intriguing, simple, and easy to follow. But all the fluff— all the Easter eggs and references and tongue-in-cheek humor— derails an otherwise passable film. Ron Howard’s direction feels flat, but that could be because of the time constraints. Really the most egregious element of this film is its script. The story of the movie is really convoluted, almost to the point of Ocean’s Twelve, with jobs and heists to make up for other jobs and heists (we’ll talk more Ocean’s comparisons later). The wit of characters like Han and Lando is clearly attempted, but the jokes don’t feel natural and they never quite land. Additionally, the dialogue is hollow and leaves the actors with little room for nuance. As good as Donald Glover is, he felt like a shell of Billy Dee Williams reading that cheesy dialogue. And supporting characters like Qi’ra, Beckett, and yes, even L3, were so one-dimensional that it was easy to predict what they were going to do and say.

Predictability is one of the glaring problems with Solo. There are so many moments that are treated like reveals that aren’t actually a surprise to the audience. For example, the fact that Qi’ra and Beckett betray Han shouldn’t be a surprise by the end of the film. Qi’ra spends the whole movie side-stepping questions from Han about her love for him and Beckett gives Han a speech about not trusting anyone, only to (very obviously) betray him. The Marauders turn out to be good guys, which actually makes a lot of sense since they never do anything bad in the film except make it hard for bad people to steal things. L3-37, the exhaustingly sassy droid (don’t @ me), is expectedly killed while liberating other droids from the mining camp. And while I love that element of the plot (it’s a pretty clever reference to the Malloy Brothers’ plotline from Ocean’s 13, I’m pretty sure) the “death of the sassy droid” cliché should have died with K-2SO. Chewbacca is the only character who feels like himself, and watching the start of his relationship with Han was actually one of the strengths of the film. The only true reveal was that Qi’ra was working for Darth Maul, who was presumed to be dead by this point in the timeline. While this reveal was actually unexpected, it was very unsatisfying. It mostly just confused the entire timeline (does this movie took place before or after The Phantom Menace?) and reminded me that the “old red villain you thought was dead but isn’t” award still goes to Red Skull.

The biggest strength of the film? Well, I’m as surprised to say it as you are to hear it: Alden Ehrenreich. Granted, he is not Harrison Ford, but then again, nobody is. Of all the performances, Ehrenreich’s is the most human. He took that crappy dialogue and he really ran with it. There were even a handful of moments where I saw a glimmer of the original Han in his face. Faced with the daunting task of leading the Han Solo movie, Alden Ehrenreich delivered. He didn’t feel like Harrison Ford, but he felt like Han. Sadly, the overarching problem is simply that we didn’t need a Han Solo movie. Han’s backstory has always been something of a mystery, but that’s Han. He’s tight with Chewie, he’s got the Falcon, he’s a smuggler, a romantic and a damn good pilot. We know and accept that about him from the minute we meet him in Star Wars. We didn’t need this movie to tell us all that. The worst thing about Solo is its irrelevancy. Rogue One worked because it gave us something more. We got to see the suicide mission that sparked the first big win for the Rebellion, that insane battle that ended with the Death Star blueprints in the hands of Princess Leia. Solo doesn’t tell us anything new. What it tells us is that Disney doesn’t know what Star Wars fans care about, or who they are yet. ★★½

David Merkle