SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (Ron Howard). 135 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (May 25). See listing. Rating: NNN
Solo: A Star Wars Story is the first of the new Star Wars movies that never quite makes the jump to lightspeed, which is a little annoying given that it’s about the guy who did that for a living.
See, the thing is that there’s not much about Han Solo we don’t already know. The character who showed up 41 years ago this week in George Lucas’s original Star Wars (yes, that’s what it was called back then) was fully formed: a cynical smuggler who had the fastest ship in the fleet, had a Wookie for a co-pilot, didn’t have much patience for Jedi mysticism and always shot first.
And he looked and sounded like Harrison Ford, with an irritability that was positively charming in a universe of technobabble and space wizards. It turns out that was just Ford, but it worked great the original trilogy would be very different without his attitude puncturing all the gravitas.
Solo, the prequel, rolls back the clock to show us a younger, more callow Han – a Corellian street kid who’s a devil behind the wheel and fiercely loyal to his best girl Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), but who has a long way to go before he becomes the man we already know.
The movie delivers on its promise, in that it shows us how things happened: how Han met Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and a few other space pals how he got into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and how he made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. There are swindles and shootouts and chases and gangsters, and some kissing, and it’s… fine, I guess? But it could have been great, and it isn’t.
A lot of Solo just kind of hangs there, going through the motions of a Star Wars movie. After nine of these, we know the brand and how it’s supposed to feel but where Rogue One introduced new characters and complications to draw us into a story whose outcome was a given, Solo is content to coast on our affection for the established characters.
Maybe the problem is the imbalance between the antic, playful energy of original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – the guys behind 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie – and the anonymous competence of Ron Howard, who completed the film after Lucasfilm dumped them. (I’m willing to bet Lord and Miller’s version would have been a lot more fun, maybe 20 minutes shorter and not hampered by a distracting late-film cameo from a peripheral prequel player.)
Or maybe it’s the casting of Alden Ehrenreich as the younger Han, who’s not quite as Fordy as he needs to be in timbre or carriage. In fairness, that’s made even more apparent because Donald Glover absolutely nails Billy Dee Williams’s louche charm as Lando Calrissian, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge still manages to steal the picture out from under him in a motion-capture performance as the socially conscious droid everyone calls L3.
Or maybe it’s simply that the movie doesn’t have the urgency or the gravity of a Star Wars film as we’ve come to know them, so what’s the point? I suspect Lord and Miller’s version would have compensated for that with a much lighter tone, but Howard’s choices (and John Powell’s John Williams-inspired score) are much more serious.
So, yeah. It’s fine, and occasionally even inspired, with a couple of set pieces riffing on The Defiant Ones and Spartacus and finding the playful energy a young Han movie should have by the barrelful.
But Rogue One set a pretty high bar for these side trips, and Solo doesn’t clear it.