The galaxy far, far away is back showing a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) getting his start in the crime world under his John Silver mentor, Tobias Becket (Woody Harrleson). When a job goes array his new friends including Chewbacca need to pull off another heist to pay off Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). This eventually leads to the fateful meeting with Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and other back stabbing dark alley tricks.
Ever since comedy duo, Phil Lord and Chris Miller were replaced by Ron Howard, public anticipation for this semi-requested side story has soured at the very least. Howard’s not a bad a director, but definitely a far cry from his glory days of Apollo 13, Cinderella Man and Frost/Nixon. He does have longtime series writer, Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan to guide him through this last minute change. And if films were judged by production troubles alone, Jaws and The Wizard of Oz would be some of the worst of all time. The thing is those delays can show in the final product and that’s the case her because this the dullest looking Star Wars feature since the digitally overloaded prequels.
Aside from some helicopter shots and a gravity defying train robbery, Howard feels like a director for hire when showcasing the universe after the events of Revenge of the Sith. Rogue One may have had its fair share of re-shoots, but Garreth Edwards brought his own battlefield vision along with the grim tone. And that’s overlooking the longtime fan complaint debunked in the process. Here, the trivial questions are answered while important ones are brushed aside like How did Han become cynical? When did he ever debate on being a good guy? How does Lando’s card game work? Why is there so much sequel bait for other unanswered questions? There’s more to Han’s story than multiple close-ups of his iconic dice. Sure, the characters might be a little better than Rogue One, but without any surprises is there any point to this? Since we know Han, Chewie and Lando are in the cannon films, there’s not much suspense when worse comes to worse. Some might say this wants to be different from all the light-saber battles and good verse evil philosophy. Okay, what separates this from the inspirations like Magnificent Seven, Saving Private Ryan and The Sting? Nothing that holds significant relevance to the story. Because of that, the pacing is either too slow or completely rushed. Even worse, half the action sequences are either in the dark or literally clouded by mist, so it’s hard to see what’s going on during a mine revolt. Who’s punching who again in the Kessel mine uprising?
For the massive responsibility welded on his shoulders, Ehrenreich is a good fit. Obviously this is before he became the everyday smart-Alec who usually knows better than most, but he’s got the swagger, determination and skills to start off with. It’s not definitive nor miscast, it gets the job done. Same goes for Harrleson as Becket. However it’s Donald Glover as the devilishly witty Lando that steals the show, particularly when his patience runs out and we see the anger behind the charm. Having Paul Bettany as a villain for a change is nice, but he doesn’t get enough screen time to leave much of an impact. And that’s this movie in a nutshell.
Solo: A Star Wars Story feels less necessary than half the prequels, which is sad as it seems only yesterday that hope was rekindled for this franchise when George Lucas decided to let filmmakers and not business executives play around with it. In it’s very little defense, it’s not the worst of the year and this is a tricky tightrope to navigate given how venomous the fan base has become recently (#SupportKellyMarieTran). How do you make an origin story that stands on its own but stays faithful to an iconic character? But that barely excuses what a forgettable wasted opportunity this is. At its best, it plays it safe with a few funny jokes. At it worst it’s a big budgeted television episode extended to two hours answering less questions that Prometheus. So much so that my hopes for the Lando spin-off are in jeopardy with that sequel-bait ending. For all the repeats in Force Awakens and plot holes in Last Jedi they were more than blatant cash cows: they were trying to move forward in new lore. If you’re willing to overlook the many flaws on screen and off, there’s a bit of fun to be had. But if you want the deep questions answered about one of the coolest smuggler’s in the galaxy, then toss this in a sarlacc pit and wait for episode 9.