Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story fulfills advertised requirements with a workman’s attitude. You’ll meet young Han Solo, and it’s most certainly a Star Wars movie. That’s made abundantly clear by every wink-wink, nudge-nudge towards the future escapades of Lucasfilm’s famously roguish smuggler. But past that generic withstanding? You won’t find much. Mainly because Howard’s murky and uninteresting visual “spectacle” suffers the unfortunate fate of following Rian Johnson’s cosmically picturesque The Last Jedi. It’s not even fair to compare the two on cinematic appeal, but such is the precarious position Star Wars has stuck viewers in.
Nevertheless, Solo ushers in Alden Ehrenreich’s reign as interplanetary grifter Han “I Shot First” Solo. You’ll breeze through his time spent as an Empire pilot/footsoldier, cherish Chewbacca’s (Joonas Suotamo) first reveal, witness the infamous 12 (or 14) parsec Kessel Run – it’s all here. You’ll also reunite with old friends in Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) or strike new allegiances with Crimson Dawn’s Lt. Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and mentor thief Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Before the carbonite, before Leia, it all starts with a crazy romantic’s plan and a dangling pair of gold dice.
You know, just in case you forget the “Solo” refers to Han Solo. He’s the pistolero with the golden Sabacc mirror ornament. The Millennium Falcon guy! You didn’t forget, right? Here’s a shot of the dice one more time just in case.
If my infantile sarcasm wasn’t enough of a tell, consider Solo one assertively nostalgic stroll down memory lane. Scripted advancement hinges on events we already foresee – Lando’s meetup, the Millennium Falcon’s breakout, Chewy’s intro – and never with more than bromance establishment on the mind. Solo’s Empire servitude doesn’t matter past learning flyboy techniques (before getting kicked out of the program) and that’s good enough for Beckett’s recruitment. You get what you pay for, which is Star Wars’ continuing saga by way of heist-themed reintroductions. You’re right to think it could be worse, *far* worse, even if we’re talking about what’s little more than a blaster-ready passage of time.
Solo is the play-it-safe, predictable “honor amongst thieves” beginner’s class to Rebel desires we knew Ron Howard could deliver. Descriptors all walk a tame line of “crowd-pleasing” and “gets the job done,” which hardly makes for an aspiring Star Wars chapter. Writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan serve up a wonkily paced “adventure” with timid ambitions and awkward commitment to Wookiee dialogue, which Howard isn’t able to hyperspeed through.
Thandie Newton’s Val and Jon Favreau’s Rio are but inconsequential pawns leading towards Han’s eventual Kessel Run, exemplifying the way new additions bare no comparison to fabled legends. It’s nice to avoid burdensome “Force” talk for once in the Star Wars world, but Howard’s vision lacks the balance of Jedi masters – it’s just too tedious for a movie about space cowboys (not Clint Eastwood’s Space Cowboys, either).
That’s not to say Solo is total Bantha dookie. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3-37 droid canonically confirms robot/human sex is a Star Wars universe happening, is the only character who can pace Lando’s screen domination and fights an existential battle for mechanical equality with total success. We can also now count Clint Howard as part of the Star Wars family, which *had* to be expected. Brother Ron Howard’s best work is of Kessel’s Spice Mine liberation, Han and Lando’s Sabacc duel, inclusive usage of countless alien races and a third act that finally sees Bradford Young’s cinematography breathe some kind of colorful vitality. These are all glimpses of the high-stakes Solo that fandom dreams are built on.
My major complaint returns to the aforementioned cinematography of Bradford Young, whether it was his choice or not. Specifically, the film’s color palette, which is a dull shade of shadowy grey. All the burnt siennas and bursting yellows found on Solo posters seem to have sucked the presence off theater screens, as Acts I and II hide under dimmed 80s basement lights. With all the personality of a boiled ham, some scenes are dark to the point where character faces are barely visible. It’s a strange visual style to adapt that lumps right back into the generic cookie-cutter mold of *most* Star Wars films to date, if only worse. Bless Lando’s cape closet and a sandy Coaxium stabilizing plant, then, for injecting *some* festiveness into an otherwise monochromatic pastiche.
Ehrenreich’s Han Solo may be the titular hero, but he’s outmatched by more charismatic players in Glover (smooth-as-butta Lando) and Harrelson (career lawbreaker Beckett). Han’s dynamic with Chewbacca is sometimes offbeat and Ehrenreich’s Harrison Ford “interpretation” misses slight nuances – he’s a more stone-faced, traditional hero type where Harrison cut a bit of a sharper edge. Clarke constantly steals scenes away from Ehrenreich (gotta love bladesmanship), too, and she’s far from the only one. Should this happen when your film – titled Solo – prominently originates one of Star Wars’ biggest sellers? Even Suotamo’s intergalactic Sasquatch manages an overshadowed moment or two (why does the camera focus on Chewbacca while Han and Beckett are chatting, for example).
My final verdict? An unenthusiastic but approving “¯\_(ツ)_/¯.” Solo: A Star Wars Story is just zany enough to get by on surprises like Dungeness crime lord worms and oddly framed Wookiee monologues (what’s he even saying!), yet phaser-to-head, there’s little content worth recalling. A Kessel Run Lovecraft space octopus? I’ve seen Altitude. More metallic exteriors on cloudy days under hazy color desaturation? Sounds…familiar. A story of love lost, evil scar-faced Paul Bettany bosses found and one “terrible” man learning what it takes to be “good?” That’s the Han Solo we (or I, at least) love, who still shines through in the end – it’s just a shame how this Wild West stagecoach refitting barely benefits from outer space aesthetics.
How does a movie about the galaxy's most dashingly roguish outlaw end up being the safest Star Wars to date?