Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 5/25/18
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau, cameos by Linda Hunt, Warwick Davis, Clint Howard, Ray Park

A rebellious and unruly street urchin named Han (Alden Ehrenreich) dreams of running away with his girlfriend Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) to find a better life, but fate has other plans for the doomed couple. In a desperate attempt to escape the local authorities, he joins the Imperial Navy and spends the next few years trying to find a way back to Corellia and Qi'ra's waiting arms. He eventually goes AWOL with a group of mercenaries led by an unscrupulous Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), and rescues a fierce Wookiee named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) in the process. Working for a ruthless Crimson Dawn crime lord named Dryden (Paul Bettany), Han and Beckett are forced to make a dangerous heist on a remote Kessel mining colony if they want to stay alive.

It's a fun, but disappointing movie that fails to live up to expectations. It dutifully checks all of the right boxes, but fails to have a soul. Whereas "The Last Jedi" (2017) made me angry, "Solo" just left me numb. It can't decide if it wants to be a Western, a noir film, or a heist movie, and it suffers from jarring tonal shifts, noticeably sloppy camera work, and uneven pacing. Han's history on Corellia and time spent in the service of the Empire are brief footnotes that could have been fleshed out more, while the legendary Kessel Run dominates most of the story and seems to drag on too long. Alden Ehrenreich has some big shoes to fill and does an admirable job at being a charming rogue. Han is the product of a cruel and harsh environment, but at his core he's just a heartbroken and romantic dreamer. Unfortunately, Ehrenreich's performance feels a bit stiff, overly calculated, and emotionally flat, and he never seems to find a comfortable groove. I'm sure the pressure on him was immense. Donald Glover steals the show as the dashing Lando Calrissian and does an excellent job of channeling Billy Dee Williams. He's very smooth, charismatic, and full of swagger, but his facial hair is questionable. A simple moustache would have been sufficient. Emelia Clarke seems woefully miscast as Qi'ra and constantly looks out of place, but she has a couple of delightful fight scenes towards the end.

And then there's the Millennium Falcon. When I initially saw what they did to the Falcon, I was enraged, but I gritted my teeth and tried to just go with it. Thankfully, by the end of the movie I could almost forgive the filmmakers for what they did. Much like the rest of the characters, the Falcon used to be young, fresh, and shiny, until age, experience, and mileage gave her a more rugged and distinguished look. The timeline is also confusing, as Darth Maul makes a surprise appearance at the end. That would place the film before "The Phantom Menace" (1999), unless you take into account his resurrection in "The Clone Wars" TV series (2009). The latter makes more sense, because the Empire didn't exist at the time of "The Phantom Menace," and the geopolitical state matches what happened after "Revenge Of The Sith" (2005). That would also make the age difference between Han and Luke more reasonable, otherwise he'd be the same age as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Still, it really threw me off. (edit: I didn't notice Maul's mechanical legs until the second viewing) And that wouldn't be the only reference to "The Clone Wars," as Aurra Sing's name is casually tossed out at one point. She was apparently alive in "The Phantom Menace," which also adds to the confusion. Logically, it makes sense for the film to take place between "Revenge Of The Sith" and "Rogue One" (2016), but too many cross-references muddy the waters.

The film also suffered from numerous production issues and had a whopping budget of $250 million. Phil Lord and Chris Miller ("The LEGO Movie" (2014) ) were the original directors of the movie, but they thought it was supposed to be a comedy. Kathleen Kennedy reportedly didn't like the direction they were taking and fired them from the project, bringing in Ron Howard to finish the film. Howard reshot 70% of the movie to be more tonally consistent with the rest of the "Star Wars" universe and undoubtedly saved the film from being a complete disaster. Dryden's role was completely reworked with Paul Bettany, as the original actor was unavailable at the time. Bettany does a fine job, but the character is dull and uninteresting. In fact, most of the characters and alien creatures are dull and uninteresting, which creates an emotionally flat experience. The film relies too much on existing lore and fails to find its own footing, which was probably the smartest and safest thing to do, given the circumstances. But playing it safe doesn't exactly endear you to the inherent scrappiness of Han Solo's character, which is a bit of a disservice. But as long as you go into it with the right mindset, "Solo" can be a fun and mindless sci-fi action diversion that doesn't really add anything new or significant to the series.