After one of the more tumultuous productions in recent film history, Solo: A Star Wars Story has made it to the big screen—completed by a different director than the ones who started the gig.
About a year ago, director Ron Howard took over for the directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) after producer Kathleen Kennedy showed them the door. Howard took the reins when principal photography was near completion—but then wound up re-shooting 70 percent of the movie.
The film definitely feels like more than one director had their hands in the pot. It’s sloppy; it’s tonally challenged; and scenes crash into each other at times, killing an otherwise brisk and fun pace. There are moments in this movie that feel like they were shoehorned in to fix a story problem.
Yeah, there are some definite negatives at play here—but there are plenty of positives, too. The positives aren’t enough to keep Solo from being one of the weaker Star Wars films, but they are enough to keep it recommendable, and make it a relatively good time at the movies. Diehard Star Wars fans, years from now, will probably shrug and say, “Eh, it was OK,” when asked to re-examine their feelings. In the end, Solo will probably fall somewhere in between The Star Wars Holiday Special and Revenge of the Sith.
Stepping into the iconic role of Han Solo is Alden Ehrenreich (hilarious in the Coen Brothers film Hail, Caesar!), and he’s a guy who has very little in common with Harrison Ford. He doesn’t look like him; he doesn’t sound like him; and he lacks that bemused Ford swagger. However, Ehrenreich does have his own charms, and is a likable actor, so he puts his own spin on Solo. While he didn’t feel like “the” Han Solo to me, he gets by as an enjoyable variation on the guy. Hey, not all of the guys who played James Bond were alike, but there’s more than one good Bond in film history, right?
The film is an origin story, which begs the question, “Does Han Solo really need an origin story?” As a fan, I don’t really need to know the reasons why Harrison Ford’s Solo was a scoundrel with a heart of gold, willing to shoot first and ask questions later—and also put his life on the line multiple times to save the universe. I just liked his attitude, and had no need to see how his past romantic relationships formed that attitude.
That said, it is undeniably enjoyable when he meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) for the first time. Han’s budding bond with Chewbacca is a constant smile-inducer, and Glover does Billy Dee Williams proud as the new Lando. In fact, his portrayal of the younger Williams is far more convincing and buyable than Ehrenreich’s younger Ford. Glover is the film’s shining star.
Not faring as well is Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, an early Solo love interest who just doesn’t catch fire as a worthy character. Clarke has a hand in many franchises (including the latest, failed attempt to reboot the Terminator franchise), and while she is terrific on Game of Thrones, she’s yet to find a feature vehicle that suits her. She seems a bit lost here—perhaps one of the fatalities of the director switch. As an early Han Solo associate in his young gangster days, Woody Harrelson has a little more luck as the crusty Beckett.
As the film’s central villain, Dryden Vos, Paul Bettany might be the dullest Star Wars bad guy yet. This film needed Jabba the Hutt, but instead goes with a guy who sits around in a dark room, sniveling.
There are a couple of fantastic action set pieces, including the infamous Kessel Run and a terrific train heist. When the film is in action mode, and when the Millennium Falcon takes flight, and when Glover occupies the screen, Solo: A Star Wars Story soars. When Han pauses to chat or make out, it stops in its tracks. I enjoyed it … but barely.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is playing in theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.