Despite the end results, the thing that made the Star Wars movies feel special was the time between releases. Having to wait several years until the next adventure premiered heightened expectations. The opening became an event. Even if you weren’t the space-opera’s biggest fan, or the previous outing disappointed, you couldn’t help but be swept up in just a little of the hype.
Since Disney purchased the franchise, things have been different, particularly with the introduction of spinoffs, or origin stories. It may have been two years since the first of the anthology films, Rogue One, was released, but with the openings of the new regular adventures, it now feels as though there’s a Star Wars to hype every few months, and that’s the problem. Nothing feels special. Neither does Solo: A Star Wars Story. In fact, along with Bradford Young’s flavorless cinematography – he favors cloudy, gray skies and dimly lit interiors – the film is ultimately as dull as it looks.
An explanation of plot isn’t particularly important, especially since the studio has, once again, asked that nothing be revealed. As this is an origin story that veers away from the regular series, what can be told is that Solo centers on the early days of a youthful Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), how he got his name, how he met and teamed up with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), the events around his early encounters with smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), and his romantic relationship with a new character, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke).
The issue with the continuation of the Anthology series is how surprisingly uninteresting a story revolving around Han Solo can be. True, among fans he’s a beloved character, one of the three major players next to Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, but like an act that loses a member, then goes it alone, a whole film about the smuggler doesn’t feel enough. Cynically, it feels more like milking an idea rather than a genuine inspiration for storytelling. Solo is a good character, but it’s a character that works best when part of a team, where Skywalker, Leia, and Han support each other. I’m not even sure that the Han Solo we know from the Harrison Ford days would be all that impressed.
What many may find more interesting is the well publicized drama behind the scenes during the making of the film and how it affected the final outcome. Writer Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan clearly take their Star Wars seriously and found themselves battling with original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Having found great success with a more comedic approach to films after Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie, and the movie version of 21 Jump Street, the film directing duo encouraged humor on the set and incorporated a certain amount of snarky ad-lib from their central character, but the Kasdans and producer Kathleen Kennedy weren’t so happy. They wanted an adherence to the script. Lord and Miller were eventually dropped. Ron Howard was brought in.
Without seeing what Lord and Miller had filmed, it’s difficult to comment on the tone of their work. Maybe they were trying with Star Wars what Guardians of the Galaxy did for Marvel, but clearly, that free-for-all, comedic approach was not what the Kasdans wanted. Shame, because if there’s anything Solo is missing is a real sense of life and humor. Considering how cynical and snarky we already know the character to be, a youthful version of this space cowboy with an inexhaustible amount of energy might have made him even more entertainingly insufferable. But that’s not what we get. In an origin story and an adventure that doesn’t feel particularly interesting, if the film needed anything it was a strong dose of self-deprecating humor. Unfortunately, the Kasdans revere the character too much.
Director Howard, who is said to have re-shot over 80 percent of the original work, keeps the action sharply focused on speed and telling its story through movement. There are twists and turns, lots of double-crossing, and an eventual lesson for young Solo to learn: No one is ever to be trusted… except maybe Chewbacca. But while all of those laser blasting, space-craft zipping, last second escapes are expertly created and efficiently edited, they’re not particularly exciting. Perhaps for the young viewer whose trips to big screen adventures are still in the early stages, Solo will undoubtedly keep them glued to their seats, having rarely experienced such speed and action on a big screen before. But for the rest of us who’ve been around for all of the 45 years since the series first began, more of the same doesn’t do a lot, particularly when at its center is a young character not interesting enough to anchor a whole movie.
What uncritical fans bring to Han Solo is the baggage they’ve created in their minds from the previous films when he was played by an older and charismatic movie star. After the original Star Wars, followed by The Empire Strikes Back and finally The Return of The Jedi, meeting up with Solo alongside Skywalker and Leia was something akin to reuniting with old friends. If Solo: A Star Wars Story was the first film to emerge that introduced audiences to the character, your reaction to Han would not be the same. You’d leave the theater impressed with the film’s overall technical achievements, but you might be left wondering, what’s the big deal with the kid at the center of it all?
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 135 Minutes Overall Rating: 4 (out of 10)