“Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi” marked a tectonic shift for the beloved space opera franchise, proving that big-budget spectacle could still be made in original and unexpected ways. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is, I reckon, the inverse of that, in that it is so disappointingly needless. Sure, it may be fun for franchise devotees (I’ll even admit that some sequences warrant praise), but in the grand scheme of the “Star Wars” lore, and even in its ambitions, “Solo” is almost instantly forgettable. By the time I’ve finished writing this review, I will have forgotten more than half of it.
Perhaps the worst part of my experience with the film is that I was almost constantly searching for a reason to care for it. (Did I just write that about a “Star Wars” movie?!) The last thing anyone, let alone fans, should expect from these movies is to try and latch on to at least one aspect to stay invested. This is even sadder when you consider that “Star Wars” veteran Lawrence Kasdan penned this adventure. (His son, Jonathan, shares the writing credit as well.) I remember high-flying chases, various acts of deception and betrayal, a lot of humor that didn’t land, a scene-stealing Chewbacca, an unnecessary cameo, and some wonderfully weird critters strewn about the scenery, but absolutely none of what they meant for the plot or whatever arc the young Han Solo had.
Before it dissolves into obscure plotting, “Solo” actually starts off with promise. A speeder chase led by the future smuggler (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) quickly conjures the essence of a light-hearted western, and the intrigue of a pulp noir piece. This atmosphere, defined by Bradford Young’s underlit, shadowy cinematography and some distinct production and creature design reinforce the film’s status as an underground adventure that is wholly separate from the central canon. The film seems to love its weird side, gently inching its sense of camp towards the experimental edge of the prequel trilogy. “Solo” also benefits from a lack of self-importance and operatic punctuations of classic iconography to get the fans riled up. There is much less pandering here than there is in “Rogue One,” but such is wasted on a story that only manages to wring out a few smiles and chuckles. For all its fan-baiting and plotty structure, “Rogue One” fares better than this.
I think part of what “Solo” had going against it was that it couldn’t bring Harrison Ford back into the fold. This isn’t to say that it's wrong to cast another actor in the part, but one can’t help but shake the fact that Han Solo, as the world knows him, is inseparable from Ford’s physicality and charisma. There really is no other actor that could play him. That being said, Ehrenreich avoids dancing in the shadow of his famed predecessor. His interpretation works in junction with what the film requires, but I had a little trouble buying him as a younger version of what I know Han to be. The devilish smirk, the finger-pointing, and the camaraderie between him and Chewbacca are all there, but Ehrenreich somehow misses the mark more often than not.
The rest of the cast hardly makes an impression either. Clarke struts around the scenery with her usual smoky-eyed charm. Woody Harrelson could play hard-nosed punks in his sleep by now. Phoebe Waller-Bridge fits the bill as the franchise’s token wisecracking droid companion, L3-37. Even the great Donald Glover, doing a full-on Billy Dee Williams impression as Lando Calrissian - albeit adding a few personal touches - hardly grabs the attention of those dissatisfied with Ehrenreich’s performance. His work here is somewhere between distracting and dazzling.
“Solo” succeeds where most CGI-heavy blockbusters do, when the camera pulls back to show us speeders, spaceships, bullet trains, gunfights, fisticuffs, and of course, the Millennium Falcon, in all its shiny, pre-original trilogy splendor. The famous Kessel Run is given the best visual treatment of all the action, featuring the Falcon zooming through violent nebula clouds that obscure one of the saga’s largest monsters (which, for the third time in the Disney era of “Star Wars,” has tentacles). The scene plays out with the light, rambunctious spirit one should expect from a Han Solo movie, but it is a mere diamond in the rough of its rote visualization of a mythology that was more exciting to imagine than it is to see. Go and see it if you please, but I recommend saving your credits for another galactic adventure.