Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

This origin tale for the famed character has action but few surprises

Solo: A Star Wars Story
Directed by Ron Howard
With Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson. Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany

The producers decided to play it safe with Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest entry in the ongoing space opera series. The resulting film answers some long-standing questions of how characters met, and what a famous phrase means — and has plenty of action on elaborate new planets. But it never tries to get out of its comfort zone.

This is not one of the main nine films in the series, but a spin-off story, similar to 2016's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. These fit between the main films and flesh out the events happening a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Solo: A Star Wars Story explores what happened to the gruff pilot shortly before he met up with the characters of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.

There is a lot of action on several quite stunning locations, but some scenes are drawn out way too long, becoming a bit dull when the excitement wares off. The action and heavy-handed exposition are also paced a bit oddly, never hitting a convincing flow.

The music is also overdone, trying way too hard to boost the excitement and instead of distracting from it. Only a few snippets of famous Star Wars themes by John Williams are used, and these at least bring a sense of familiarity. The rest of the hyperactive score is by John Powell and offers nothing memorable, at least not in a good way.

Alden Ehrenreich takes over the role of Han Solo, made famous by Harrison Ford. They are big shoes to fill, and Ehrenreich is a bit less than convincing. He shows a lot of arrogance and disrespect for rules, but he totally misses the world-weariness of the character. And he doesn't seem nearly as smart or as pragmatic. Ford's Han Solo is similar to Rick (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca — looking out for himself while the world burns around him. Ehrenreich's take on the same character is to make him charming and romantic in a rough around the edges way.

Another classic character to turn up in Solo is Lando Calrissian, the caped gambler played by Billy Dee Williams in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The role is taken over by Donald Glover, and it is another miss. Glover makes a compelling roguish character, but it is hard to see how that character became the same person who is the administrator of Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. Glover's version is way too concerned about his capes and appearance and again doesn't seem as sharp as the original version of the same character.

Fans of the series will never forget Jar Jar Binks, a character that became an embarrassment, dragging down The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. This time the annoying character is a robot named L3-37, who just talks way too much with what one might suppose is meant to be comic relief. Her one and only topic is robot rights, with rhetoric that borrows heavily from modern feminism. Overall, though, it seems to ridicule the topic.

There are some good things in the film. Woody Harrelson creates a compelling criminal in Tobias Beckett. Thandie Newton, another talented actor, also has a role in his gang. Solo winds up tagging along with them for part of the plot. Emilia Clarke, famous for Game of Thrones, also has a good turn as Qi'ra, a rather complicated character who could have actually used more screen time.

Lawrence Kasdan co-wrote the script, and he was also one of the writers of The Empire Strikes Back, which is arguably the best of the series, and Return of the Jedi. This new film being a bit pokey and uninspired is a surprise, considering he should have had a good sense for the characters.

Solo: A Star Wars Story was a troubled production. When filming was almost finished, the original directing team was canned for taking too long and getting the wrong overall tone. Veteran Ron Howard was called in by executive producers to reshoot 70 percent of the film in a hurry.

He is a good choice for someone to come in and fix things. His credits include shooting the quick, low budget car chase film Grand Theft Auto (the same year the original Star Wars came out, 1977), sci-fi films like Cocoon and Apollo 13, and the fantasy Willow for Lucasfilm in 1988. All of his work is consistently professional, and at times inspired.

Howard brought the reshoots together quickly and delivered something that was not a sprawling mess. Considering the tales from the set, this is an accomplishment.

But it adds little to the Star Wars saga that people didn't already know, save for the answer to that one trivia question.

Most of the classic Star Wars films were summer releases, with the new ones instead coming out for the Christmas holidays. Solo returns to the summer release concept.

Star Wars: Episode IX, which still does not have a full title, is slated for December 2019, so there is a bit of a wait. J. J. Abrams is directing.

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