Movie Reviews: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

There was a time when the newest Star Wars film would have been the biggest release of the year, and yet, it isn’t even the biggest (or second biggest) film of the first half of this year released by Disney.  Partly, it’s because that film was the epic culmination of years of buildup in the biggest series of all time.  Partly, it’s because that film was a follow-up to a cultural and critical sensation in its own right.  Partly, it’s because we were just here five months ago with a controversial (to an underserved degree) and uneven proper series entry.  Mostly though, it is because this is a spinoff no one was asking for which was taken over mid production by Ron Howard, a director who a few great films aside (namely Frost/Nixon, Rush, and Apollo 13), could best be described as “safe” and “generally alright”.

That’s not to say we haven’t been here before.  We already had one unnecessary Star Wars spinoff prequel film with a darker tone which focused on one minor near throwaway moment of the original trilogy fire its director mid production and then reshoot large portions of it (if not nearly to the extent done so here) and it turned out rather well.  It’s not even the first time we’ve had an origin story for a George Lucas-created Harrison Ford character, and that was for the superior character.  Not only that, but as maybe the one person who isn’t very fond of the previous directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller or the improv style they were using to film, I had no problems with that switch.  Also, at the bare minimum, like everyone else I could get hyped over Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian (or rather Donald Glover as anything besides Season 2 Earn) stepping in for Billy Dee Williams.

Let’s get the good out of the way first, Glover is great.  Don’t expect him to be in it too much, but his portrayal of Lando is far and away the most interesting part.  He’s still hampered by the dialogue, which is overall atrocious, but he makes the most of his every moment.  Glover is also the probably the only person able to make anything out of the countless failed quips the movie crams in there and the one person able to generate chemistry with others.  The rest of the cast isn’t completely worthless as Phoebe Waller-Bridge has some solid moments playing off Glover (in a role clearly written to capitalize on K-2SO’s popularity in Rogue One) and Thandie Newton is gives it her best, but sadly as I am not the first to note, the movie chose to focus on absolutely the wrong person.

I may be biased since my opinion of Alden Ehrenreich after his “breakthrough” scene in Hail Caesar! was “Is that it?”, but the Solo movie poster has more depth and charisma than he does as Han Solo.  I could complain about how he doesn’t resemble Ford’s Solo at all, but I wouldn’t have cared if he was interesting in his own right and he is certainly not.  Instead, the little references to the prior films just made me wish I was watching them and I’m not even all that attached to ’em.  It was a lovesick puppy dog performance which when combined with a lackluster attempt at romance with a similarly wooden Emilia Clarke brought back fond memories of the prequel trilogy, a series this would have fit in effortlessly. 

This is where I’d love to make a quip about how he had more chemistry with Chewie or Lando, which while true isn’t saying much.  Chewie is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but he’s all physical comedy and Ehrenreich can’t hold up his end of the duo comedically while Lando and Han don’t get nearly enough scenes to play off each other, those scenes instead devoted to Han and Woody Harrelson playing a generic and predictable criminal and would be mentor to him whose every character beat and line can be plotted from the second he shows up.  The film tries to develop Han as a character, but it is too gutless to do anything serious about it, having to constantly tell us how good he is because we know that he will eventually join the resistance (and then unjoin it, etc.), but make half-hearted nods to him becoming the man we see in A New Hope.  Paul Bettany shows up as the villain and besides looking like a young Peter Weller and making my mind start to wander as I wished for him to show up in a Star Wars movie (or at least a more interesting Star Trek) he adds nothing to the film and never sells any sort of menace or charm.

The action is as soulless as to be expected in any mega-budgeted film and may be the least memorable in the series yet.  It’s not bad, just tedious as they seem to work down a basic checklist with maybe two interesting set-ups at all (the first of which was merely handled dully, the second poorly and in under a minute).  Someone’s been learning all the wrong lessons from their corporate brethren at Marvel and I’m not just talking about their desperate character who might as well have been named Bocket Baccoon.

I wish there was more to say about the film, but I really am struggling to say more.  There have been bad Star Wars films before, but never has one felt so soulless and empty while attempting nothing new.  It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of parts of all the other films that captures none of what I liked about the best of those films.  It’s closest in tone to Rogue One but lacks the balls of that film or frankly any kind of guts whatsoever.  My recommendation is to just wait for it to come out on some kind of service you can watch at home.  You’ll truly appreciate the ability to skip to when Donald Glover shows up.

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