Never has the indefinite article done such heavy lifting since the “A” in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Solo is technically a Star Wars movie, but it’s one that has set pieces in place of a personality. It’s a film whose base level is “fine”. Despite some unique cinematography from Bradford Young, Ron Howard’s direction is staid, stolid, and completely without personality, which is a problem when your movie is the story of a young rogue like Han Solo. Solo doesn’t do anything egregiously wrong, but it doesn’t do much right, either. There are a few bright spots, especially the relationship between Han and Chewie, but the plot drowns in the perfunctory as new characters, outside of woke droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), fail to leave an impression. I don’t have a bad feeling about Solo: A Star Wars Story. I don’t have much of a feeling about it at all.
After a brief prologue where we see a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) making trouble on his home planet of Corellia, he gets separated from fellow runaway and first love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Determined to make it back to Corellia and rescue her, he enlists in the Imperial Army only to desert and hook up with a band of criminals led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). The job is to steal a supply of a valuable mineral for criminal overlord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Eventually, the gig leads Han to cross paths with the loyal Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), the charismatic Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), and the socially conscious droid L3-37.
Ehrenreich continues to amaze by channeling Harrison Ford’s devil-may-care attitude without ever trying to do an impression of Ford’s unforgettable character. Glover fares almost as well, and while he does occasionally lapse into doing a Billy Dee Williams impression, for the most part he conveys the effortless cool of Lando and how his controlled confidence clashes with Han’s constant improvisation. L3-37 is also a lot of fun and seems drawn from a better, more self-aware picture where a droid is actually concerned about droid welfare. Droids have always lived in a grey area in the Star Wars universe (are they robots, or are they sentient beings enslaved by other species?), and L3-37 is a blast playing in that grey area.
Unfortunately, the other new characters don’t really much of an impression. While it’s nice that the movie just jumps to a love story between Han and Qi’ra rather than going through the motions of a romance, the relationship never convinces because it lacks definition. We can tell that Han and Qi’ra are close, but the only thing that seems to link them is their past rather than any mutual affection or characteristic. They’re in love because the film says they’re in love. A similar issue afflicts Beckett, who is a waste of Harrelson’s talent as he’s relegated to simply playing a tired old crook who’s still looking for that one big score.
This fear or unwillingness to branch out of these archetypes and try new things renders Solo oddly joyless. It’s a movie that throws a ton of special effects at the screen, but no one really seems to be enjoying themselves or taking stock of their situation. It’s to Howard’s discredit that he could make a movie firmly in the mold of an action-adventure and it rarely feels adventurous. While it’s a futile gesture to try and take stock of how original directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller would have handled the film, I have to believe they would have had a bit more spark to their picture. For Howard’s part, his greatest concern seems to being making sure everyone hits their mark and says their lines. It’s the bare minimum of direction as the score does the heavy lifting rather than injecting an actual personality into this movie.
A Solo movie was always a bit of a tough sell because it’s not like he’s ever been one of the most layered Star Wars characters, and a movie going into his past either robs him of his mystique or explains what added texture to the preceding movies. I don’t really need to see the Kessel Run to know it’s important when Han tells Luke that the Millennium Falcon made it in less than 12 parsecs. It’s a detail to let us know that A) Han likes to brag; B) He’s got a fast ship. Seeing the Kessel Run play out in real time doesn’t add anything to the Star Wars universe. It’s just another set piece.
And sadly, Solo: A Star Wars Story is just another Star Wars movie. Despite the strong performance from Ehrenreich and the hint of future adventures to come, I can only hope that this young Solo gets better stories and better direction that play into the character’s personality. Han Solo is a roguish, daring character. Shouldn’t his movie follow suit?