SOLO – A STAR WARS STORY [Review]: Nods & Winks.
The Disney train rolls on with this month’s big tentpole, this time from Lucasfilm with the second of the ‘anthology’ Star Wars movies with SOLO. The prequel aims to flesh out our favorite charming space pirate, by finally fully realizing all the stories we’ve heard over and over again in the original trilogy — and yet the thing that feels the most Han about Solo is the odds stacked up against this movie.
It’s the fourth straight year of Star Wars movies, with The Last Jedi being less than half a year old still, Han may be the most iconic face character in the whole cannon, and most importantly there was very public drama regarding the original directors of the film, with the resolution happening relatively close to the movie release. But never tell Disney the odds, because despite it all — SOLO is not only coherent, but it’s a fully serviceable adventure film that’s quite entertaining. That being said, for this apostle, Solo fails to out-charm the pitfalls of prequels, with the stakes being as absent as Han is iconic.
First and foremost, it should be said that all the worries one might have had when Lord and Miller were fired by Kathleen Kennedy well into production of the film can be almost fully eased. Solo feels like a tonally coherent, well-paced, firmly executed film. Ron Howard may be more of a Luke to a more auteur director’s Han, but his practical production expertise and experience shines in the fact that this movie doesn’t overly feel like a salvaged heap and doesn’t give the audience any chance to speculate what was Lord and Miller’s, and what was Howard’s — as they may have done in a film like Justice League, save for probably the most anticipated aspect of the film: Donald Glover’s turn at Lando.
At times the “Childish Gambino” channels Billy Dee Williams quite adeptly, down to his speech patterns and mannerisms. Then there are times where Donald has to play the scene dramatically and he strips everything away and is just a great actor with his own sense of bravado. Either one of these choices can work for people, depending on their own subjective taste, but it’s hard to get over the dissonance that happens when he fluctuates between the two. Hindsight is 20-20 but it would have been interesting to see his Billy Dee persona being tied to faux bravado, and while it will be argued that that’s actually the case, the film itself doesn’t make it feel like an actual character choice.
Fortunately the rest of the cast seems to be more consistent in their performances, mostly because everyone else, other than Alden, gets to play characters we haven’t seen before on screen. Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra, Woody Harrelson’s Beckett, and Paul Bettany’s Dryden all bring some appropriate grit to the movie as character’s that fill out the non-epic side of the Star Wars universe. Much like Harrison’s Han brought character and swag to the opera that was the original trilogy, it’s refreshing to see characters that aren’t either Rebels or Empire, Resistance or First Order, Jedi or Sith in this new era of Star Wars. Even the rebellious Jyn Erso was driven by the overwrought idealism of the military side of Star Wars.
Solo brings back the rogues, criminals, and treasure seekers to the far away galaxy and all the actors filling in those roles do so with commitment and confidence. Yet all this lives or dies with how you feel about Alden Ehrenreich himself who has to climb the insurmountable hill of being as charming as one the biggest movie stars to ever have existed, and no matter how you feel about his performance, the dissonance in the difference between him and Harrison will leave anyone with at least a toe out of full immersion, and to the film’s fault, it tries to make up for it by hitting every single beat that’s expected to be hit in a Han origin story, to the point where it feels like checking things off of a checklist. It’s a lot like how in the movie Han has to literally say out loud that he’s a good pilot before he gets the chance to actually prove it. Because of this slavish devotion to paying off the stories that were told about Han, usually by Han, in the original trilogy, the film itself doesn’t really have that many new things to say about our favorite rogue or his furry friend that really felt it was really necessary to say.
A New Hope may have ostensibly been Luke’s story, as he goes through the film’s main hero’s journey, yet many credit Han Solo for giving the fanciful space opera feel of Star Wars a little bit of edge and grit. There was the light, the dark, and just the guy that was looking for his next job — something we can all relate to. Amongst that grey area, there was characterization of Han not being as vanilla as Luke. It’s easy to imprint onto the clean pressed dress shirt of an innocent farm boy that’s trying to get out of the space-boonies, but it’s more fun to aspire to be lived-in, stylishly worn leather jacket of a handsome rogue that drives a space cadillac with a badass, loyal beast.
Unfortunately, on paper and in execution, Solo simply adds up to be the mass produced, Macy’s faux version of that leather jacket. It carries the same name and cut of that 70’s leather jacket, but looks plain on the rack — un-worn and without character. 3.5/5 Bibles.
Walt Disney/Lucasfilm’s Solo: A Star Wars Story is in theaters this Friday.