Solo: A Star Wars Story ★½

This movie is a disaster. Let’s get the finicky stuff out of the way to begin with. The primary problems that I had with the latest effort from a galaxy far, far away were less with the film in its singularity, and more with the way in which it fits into the larger Star Wars universe. I don’t think it’s being too nitpicky to take issue with a movie on these terms when it is built on the back of and cashing in on some of the most famous characters and iconography in the history of the movies.

What is most problematic of all here is that the primary trouble that this movie causes for itself comes from one single scene that comes late on in proceedings (bring back George Lucas and his scissorhands tendencies, please), that while in isolation is pretty cool to behold, is in a world of ever more extended, wide ranging, medium crossing universes the sort of problem that is sadly probably only ever going to start rearing its head more and more.

*spoilers for paragraph ahead* When you feature a character previously seen killed off on the big screen, but apparently resurrected via stories in other mediums and returned to the big screen here without the slightest explanation… I would say your extended universe is getting overly contorted. Now, of course the inevitable Solo sequel that this movie spends so much time tipping its hat towards may cook up an entirely different, non cartoon related explanation for why this character is alive and well, but the fact that this movie makes no effort to do so works against it in isolation. It’s to their credit that the Star Wars folks’ Disney cousins over in the MCU have managed to avoid having major problems of this nature. They too once brought someone back from the dead, but had the good sense to keep him away from the stories from which he had come.

When you get into this kind of territory where you’re requiring your viewer to either watch your related product from another medium, or more simply get an explanation from someone more devoted to the brand to understand what the hell is going on in your movie it’s safe to say you’ve reached the point where the brand is more important than the stories, and that’s a sad place to have reached.

The aforementioned scene seems to exist to offer Disney further avenues for merchandising, new toys they can create and what not, and as one of numerous scenes in the film that put it in league with recent inane blockbusters like Tom Cruise’s Mummy reboot, and the Independence Day sequel as a piece of work that exists almost entirely to set up a sequel. Its final act in particular seems intent on opening/widening further plot strands for no reason other than to get you hyped for another one of these.

The issue for me is that it’s tough to feel that way when the movie that we have here which is meant to build anticipation for a follow up is so underwhelming in almost every regard that it’s hard to want to see more. In fact the whole thing feels so slight that I couldn’t believe it just suddenly ended when it did. It was impossible not to think “That’s it?” it feels more like the end of an episode of TV, maybe a season of TV at the very most, it’d be like if Return of the Jedi ended after the rescue from Jabba the Hutt, not uneventful, but thoroughly inconsequential.

Beyond that… It’s not bad. Considering the ridiculously difficult task they’ve set themselves of building the history of these beloved characters, and trying to recast a role played by Harrison Ford in his prime, they do essentially succeed. Alden Ehrenreich is an actor who’s proven himself so capable over the past decade ever since Coppola bought him to the worlds attention in Tetro, he’s worked with so many wonderful directors in a wide variety of roles, and yet nothing that he’s done could have prepared him for this. That he’s so successful in the role is as great a triumph as he’s probably had to date. He doesn’t do a Ford impression, that’d just be asking for trouble, instead he gets by on his own natural charm, and it works fine. Donald Glover is closer to Billy Dee Williams in the role of Lando, but even he isn’t suffering in a way that so many actors in say JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot did. You never feel for a moment that he’s doing an impersonation, everything about it feels natural.

Around them are a variety of names, big and small, some never appearing on screen but doing tremendous vocal work (much love to Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a major highlight - like in Rogue One the robot outshining the humans - and very briefly, the great Linda Hunt) others like Paul Bettany and Woody Harrelson prove strong additions, reliable as always, some like Thandie Newton have far too little to do, and then there is Emilia Clarke.

Another mark against the movie for me would be the fact that it’s probably far too long. Rogue One was also a fairly lengthy movie, but that one actually had some heft, some great tale to tell. This is much more slight in comparison, and for me at least not deserving of so relatively sprawling a run time. It’s rarely overly boring (though the mid section does sag a little) and it’s basically well made, but man… There’s really nothing about it of any great significance, and it’s a shame that the return of Star Wars has already gotten to that point of mundanity. In that regard I guess you could say it’s a Ron Howard movie to its very core. It’s just there. As good as the primarily players basically are, as interesting and amusing an idea as it is to build a movie around the idea of Han learning to shoot first, fingers crossed this will be the solo effort for Han. He’s gone, it’s over. Let it go.