Solo: A Star Wars Story ★★½

It’s no secret that Solo went through a somewhat disastrous production process, much beloved directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord sacked for “creative differences”. This heavy handed management of the brand, combined with a limiting premise, seemed to doom Solo from the start. The good news is that the result isn’t nearly as much of a calamity as many expected. The bad news is that Solo is the epitome of average, tying together enough fun moments to somewhat, but not entirely divert attention from its thin script.

The story begins with a young Han meeking out a meager existence as a small-time thief on the planet Corellia. He’s indebted to the head of the orphanage he grew up in, but dreams of escaping the planet with his girlfriend Qi’ra to become a pilot. He eventually manages to get away from his home, but in the process is separated from Qi’Ra, and vows to get a ship so he can get back to her. There’s some clever misdirection that I’ll avoid spoiling, but luckily there is a much needed inversion of the damsel in distress trope.

While prequels have a mixed track record for this series, the overidding charm of the Star Wars universe is preserved here. I never attempts wow audiences with a wave of interesting new creature designs, but the costuming and CGI create a cohesive world. A speeder chase early on exemplifies this, conveying the kinetic energy of fake hover cars smashing into each other with a level of believability that many sci-films strive for. It seems as though the show runners for Star Wars films have learned that there is substantial anti-CGI sentiment in the franchise’s fan base, comrpised of people who are still reeling after the green-screen filled prequels.

A few of the action sequences do a great job of utilizing this blend of practical effects and the fantastic. The standout is a train heist gone wrong, the Solo crew battling a group of raiders on a winding metal behemoth. As the rail lines zig-zag through a mountain range, a well choreographed fight scene take place between Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and the leader of the raiders. An homage to WWI trench warfare also makes an appearance, continuing the recent entries’s trend of references to styles of 20th century combat, but it’s a little too brief to entirely leave an impact.

However the main issue with the film is that it always feels like we’re just drifting through these intricate worlds. Part of this comes from the fact that script writers Lawrence and Jonathon Kasdan never commit to any given genre, resulting in a lot of half-baked pastiche. Even when a clear objective is set that defines the remainder of the movie, there’s a strange nonchalance around the proceedings. This depiction of Han defines this trend, and largely feels like a passive protagonist who random circumstance occur around. Ehrenreich’s performance isn’t awful, the script just doesn’t give him much to work with, not even attempting to emulate the rogueish charm of Harrison Ford’s original performance. We get absolutely none of his internal sentiments beyond his vague motivation to be a pilot, and he never seems particularly wracked with guilt over abandoning Qi’Ra. He never seems particularly anything, a mildly likable amorphous blob of a character.

The rest of the cast is given much better material. Although I usually find Emilia Clark to be a little bit wooden, she does a great job of presenting the tight-lipped and ambiguous Qi’Ra. Her motivations constantly leaves us in the dark, straining her relationship with Han. Donald Glover is an absolute standout, selling his Billy D. Williams impersonation with aplomb. Wavering between swaggering confidence and embarrassment over his frequent blunders, Glover’s Lando feels like a natural precursor to how this character develops. Harrelson‘s gruff performance is well delivered as well, Beckett functioning as a cynical mentor figure whose impact on Han feels formative.

While the prequel’s obsession with tying every character into every element of the grander plot was grating and ridiculous, Solo’s approach is much breezier and fun. While I never felt I needed to see how Han actually performed the Kessel Run, the presentation of these previously referenced moments is the only thing that keeps the story going. Seeing the Solo-Chewbacca bromance form, and witnessing Lando’s and Hans gambling battle over the Millennium Falcon are a treat.

In the grand context of Star Wars canon, nothing about Solo feels essential. It goes through its plot beats lazily, failing to drum up suspense or investment. There’s nothing even remotely daring or striking about any element of its cinematic elements, lacking a single memorable shot, cut, or camera movement. But, the film is entirely saved by some great supporting performances and occasional moments of action spectacle that make it a thoroughly watchable pop-corn flick. While the box office has spoken and a sequel seems unlikely, it’s hard not to daydream about what the Lord/Miller version of this prequel would be.

Rating: 3/5