After one of the more tumultuous productions in recent film history, Solo: A Star Wars Story makes it to screens, completed by a different director than the ones who started the gig.
About a year ago, director Ron Howard took over for directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) after executive producer Kathleen Kennedy showed them the door. Howard took over when principal photography was near completion, but then wound up reshooting 70 percent of the movie.
The finished film definitely feels like more than one director had their hands in the pot. It’s sloppy and 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 into the plot to fix a story problem.
OK, so there are some definite negatives at play here, but there are plenty of positives. 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 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 reexamine their feelings. In the end, Solo will probably fall somewhere in between The Star Wars Holiday Special and Revenge of the Sith on the favorite Star Wars film scale.
Stepping into the iconic role of Han Solo is Alden Ehrenreich (hilarious in the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!), 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. He is a likeable actor with his own charms and 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 very much 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 want 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.
Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, an early Solo love interest, 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 switching directors midstream. As an early 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 just might be the dullest Star Wars bad guy yet. This film needed Jabba the Hut 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, 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.