Many people are fully aware of the drama that ensued behind the scenes for the second “Star Wars” anthology film, “Solo: A Star Wars Story”. With original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller fired from production and Ron Howard taking over many have wondered whether or not this standalone story would truly fly or crash and burn. Now that I’ve had a chance to view the film myself I have put together my own opinion. Is this film a worthy entry in the epic “Star Wars” filmography or is it an unnecessary mess that lives up to its troubled behind-the-scenes story? Let’s take a closer look. This is my review of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” or simply “Solo”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Solo” tells an origin story for one of the most famous characters in the “Star Wars” series, Han Solo, played by Alden Ehrenreich. After escaping his home planet of Corellia but unable to bring his love interest Qi’ra with him Solo joins the Imperial Army intent on becoming a pilot but years later he meets and joins a group of criminals led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). After a failed mission they are tasked by Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), a ruthless crime lord, to steal a valuable fuel substance from the planet Kessel. To Solo’s surprise Qi’ra is a sidekick to Vos and joins Solo and Beckett on the mission along with Solo’s new friend Chewbacca and together they recruit the captain of the Millennium Falcon Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) to make the famous Kessel Run. However Solo soon discovers there is much more to his mission, and those who joined it, than meets the eye.
Up front this was a frustrating film for me, and this is coming from someone who’s not an obsessed fan of the franchise but respects its quality and legacy. That said there were several things about “Solo” that I found memorable and enjoyable. I had my problems with the titular character of the film, but I’ll get to that in a few minutes. There were however quite a few side and supporting characters that shined brightly throughout the adventure and added some joy to an otherwise dry project. The main villain, Paul Bettany’s Drydon Vos who is pictured above, is a memorable sarcastic baddy with some cool weapons, a neat design and a well defined personality that’s both charming and threatening. In addition many characters we only see for a short time in the film were also fun additions to the cast including Jon Favreau’s witty Rio Durant and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s scene-stealing droid L3-37 who add much needed humor and committed line delivery to the film. They provide much of the levity for the first part of the story where it TRULY needed some help. Sadly we don’t see as much of them as I personally would have liked.
Two main characters that truly shine are Woody Harrelson’s Tobias Beckett, a thief who becomes Han Solo’s mentor, and Donald Glover’s younger take on Lando Calrissian (pictured above) who was first portrayed by Billy Dee Williams in the original trilogy. Harrelson depicts Beckett sort of like the John Silver character from “Treasure Island”, a comparison I made when I watched the film before I saw him described as such on Wikipedia. While not his best performance Harrelson is perfect for this role and brings a cool mix of humor and gravitas to the performance that makes him feel like a truly conflicted human. The real star however is Donald Glover as Lando who steals and chews up every scene as a smooth and slick smuggler with an ego that would make Donald Trump seem humble. Glover dominates every moment he is on camera and is a true joy to watch with sarcasm aplenty and an ever-present aura that he truly believes he is the smartest man in the room. The charisma bleeds of the screen, which is what Han Solo’s actor should have accomplished but…doesn’t.
Aside from some great supporting characters “Solo” does have a pretty neat finale. Even though it takes a while to get to the point the Kessel Run itself is neat to finally see and the final confrontation is filled with some effective slight of hand that leaves the characters, and viewers, guessing what’s going to happen next. We do finally get to see the sneaky Han Solo we wanted to see in these final confrontations but it’s too little too late to save the film from being anything above subpar. I can’t deny though that in the end “Solo” at least kind of worked and eventually got interesting enough to invest in. Even though it felt a bit stale at times it did offer some intriguing twists and some good characters as well as shedding some light on a few cool character traits of Solo, including the origin of his trademark blaster as well as his friendship with Chewbacca and even where he got his last name. We also find out how he came to own the Millennium Falcon. This all makes “Solo” feel somewhat necessary to the “Star Wars” canon, but It’s a very sloppy film. That brings me to the many things I disliked about “Solo”.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
There’s so much to go over here but I’m going to start with the lead characters. Alden Ehrenreich plays the titular Solo and, well, he’s not good. There’s been a lot said about the casting of Solo and despite having an acting coach on hand and switching directors Ehrenreich is a bore as Han with an immature and almost childlike personality that, somehow, doesn’t really fit the character even early in his life and absolutely no charm to speak of at all. He does find his footing at the end, but again it’s too little too late. Most of the time Solo actually takes a back seat to other characters because Ehrenreich lacks the ability, charisma and dedication to own the scene. He’s the star of the movie and the titular character and he just fails in every way to bring him to life respectfully.
Then there’s Emilia Clarke who portrays Solo’s love interest Qi’ra. This had the makings of a decent character with some mystery behind her past especially when she reconnects with Solo in the movie. But it’s hardly ever explored. Clarke does do an okay with this role giving Qi’ra a daring and dominant personality that actually makes her more charming than Solo, but there’s not enough here to make her more than something to look at or to motivate the main character. We do get to know and respect her character somewhat in the finale, see a theme here, but up until that point she’s just kind of there. It’s clear Howard and the writers of this film didn’t quite know what to do with this character for the bulk of the movie which seems odd because she plays a pretty neat role in the final fight. In the end Qi’ra is the exact opposite of Solo, portrayed pretty well but the script and story do nothing to help her shine and that’s a real pity.
Now to the parts of the film that really annoyed me, the first being the color palate. This film is VERY dark, and I don’t mean in tone. I’ll get to tone in a minute. I mean in color. I found myself struggling at times to even see what was happening on the screen even in a pitch black theater. To drive home my point I’ll say I actually had to brighten up the pictures I used for this post, but the one above more closely relates the kind of color we get in the story and that was in one of the brighter settings. It kind of reminded me of “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem” which was notorious for being so darkly lit you had to strain to see the action. Much of “Solo” is designed with a grey or dirt brown palate which don’t match the joy that it seems we’re expected to experience during the film. Now this doesn’t speak for the WHOLE movie, but it does apply to the bulk of it. I found myself waiting impatiently for things to brighten up because the darkness took me out of the film, frustrating me and making this movie very unpleasant visually. It was a confusing design choice that kept me from getting invested and was contradictory to pretty much all of the other films before it. Even “Rogue One”, a movie with a decidedly bleaker story, was brighter than this and much more of a pleasure to watch.
Speaking of the tone, this movie was all over the place. One of the criticisms placed on the original directors was that they weren’t really sure where they wanted to go with the story and honestly it doesn’t seem like that changed when Ron Howard took over. “Solo” is a confusing movie that switches from comedy to drama to action and never really blends any of these genres together effectively. I couldn’t really tell what it wanted to be. Is it a heist film? A buddy comedy? A space epic? It lacks an identity which is ironic because this was the issue Howard was hired to fix. I know I sound like a broken record, but again it was extremely difficult to invest is almost anything because I wasn’t really sure how the movie was supposed to be interpreted and unlike arthouse films that do this for effect and to make the audience think, it never felt like “Solo’s” odd lack of a solid tone had any real purpose. It truly came off like nobody knew what to do with this story. The whole experience was confusing and at times boring and unsettling to say the least. That brings me to my final point.
While I admit “Solo” had some fun moments it take WAY to long to get there and the boring segments of the film are REALLY boring. Han Solo is supposed to be this epic smuggling criminal with personality to spare and honestly does seem like a good character to base a film around. However not once did I feel like this film was truly necessary and that’s because it was so damn slow. I counted four times in the movie between the first and second acts where I muttered to myself “let’s get to the point” and I swear I almost dozed off in the first act. This is due to a combination of factors, including many of the issues I stated above, but it also has to do with the uninteresting story leading up to the Kessel Run. The second half of the movie offers a few interesting and fun scenes and puts the film back on course, but until you get to that point “Solo” is a major slogfest. There was so much potential here with a likable character and an already established legend in the Kessel Run that people did want to see, but the filmmakers wasted all that potential and the worst part is you can tell they actually tried. So not only is “Solo” subpar at best, it’s even more depressing when you realize this was everyone putting their best foot forward. They didn’t phone it in to just cash in on this. They actually tried and we STILL got a mess.
So, I’ve torn this movie apart, but again I’d be lying if I didn’t say in the end I wasn’t completely disappointed I saw it. The first half is extremely boring but once the Kessel Run kicks in the film lightens up and evens out to become at least somewhat engaging. I can’t overlook though that the star just doesn’t shine. Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t do justice to Han Solo and he’s not interesting to watch. He’s overshadowed by his supporting cast which is never a good thing, but those characters that do stand out are a real joy to behold. The biggest sins are a lack of consistent direction and tone and horrible lighting choices that make “Solo” a very uneven and often frustrating movie visually. Despite the potential and a capable replacement director in Ron Howard “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is nothing special and nothing too memorable past the first viewing. It’s proof that not all “Star Wars” stories are worthy of cinematic rendering and even the best of those stories need careful planning and commitment to live up to the potential. “Solo” might be better than a lot of films, even within the “Star Wars” saga (like the prequels *cough cough*), but by any standard it’s average at best and a good example of how poor execution can compromise even the most promising characters or stories.