Ron Howard’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (the second spinoff/prequel “Star Wars” film following “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” from a couple years ago) is a thoroughly unremarkable picture—a mildly entertaining and safe prequel/origin story that has little to say about its iconic protagonist and therefore has little reason to exist.
Which is a shame because “Solo” moves at such a swift pace. It may be the shortest two hour and fifteen minute movie I’ve ever sat through. Leaving the theater, I didn’t feel beaten down and fatigued like I would during a “Transformers” movie. But two days removed from my screening, little from the actual movie has stuck with me.
“Solo” is ineffective as an origin story as it provides no real significant insights into Han’s past. The first section, which revolves around Han’s (played by Alden Ehrenreich) upbringing as an orphan by a gang of criminals, is so brief that nothing in it resonates. The first meetings Han has with Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian are handled in such a hasty manner that you wonder why they all couldn’t already be established acquaintances. We’re given explanations for things that don’t need explaining. The name, “Han Solo” is a cool name that speaks for itself, so why do we need a scene wherein the origin of the name “Solo” is explained? It indicates a lack of ideas on the filmmaker’s part.
Furthermore, great origin stories depend on great character arcs. In “Solo,” Han doesn’t have much of an arc. He doesn’t go through any kind of significant transformation as a character or have any kind of epiphany, like Bruce Wayne in “Batman Begins” or Tony Stark in “Iron Man.” Han is an arrogant, selfish intergalactic outlaw with a streak of empathy and goodness, and that’s OK. But when trying to be a “Han-before-the-Solo” style movie,” “Solo” fails. I would have been fine if the movie had simply started with Han as an established outlaw trying to survive.
Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of fan service—winky lines of dialogue and references to forthcoming events in the original trilogy. There’s even a peculiar cameo near the end that doesn’t make sense in the grand “Star Wars” timeline. It seems to be included solely for empty shock value and fan speculation. Meanwhile, the central mission has to do with, you guessed it, the Kessel Run. None of this fan service ever seriously impedes the action or pacing but again, it indicates a lack of creativity. Why not focus on adventures we haven’t heard about? After watching the challenging and subversive “The Last Jedi” (a film that literally tells us to “kill the past”) it’s a little disappointing to watch another “Star Wars” movie fixate so much on the past.
“Solo” is better when it’s just a stripped down heist film. Han eventually teams up with an older criminal mentor named Beckett (Woody Harrelson) for the Kessel mission and they put together a team that includes Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), childhood friend/love interest Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), Lando (Donald Glover) and the droid L3-37 (Pheobe Waller-Bridge). Yet, “Solo” still never rises above mediocre. The heist narrative is aggressively conventional, free of any genuinely tense or surprising moments.
And the film never fully takes advantage of its criminal underworlds. One thing I really appreciate about “Return of the Jedi” is how much time it spends inside Jabba’s drab, sleazy lair. It’s seedy and overflowing with criminals and monsters you wouldn’t want to interact with. It’s an unpleasant, three dimensional space. None of the gangster dens, gambling rooms or back alleys in “Solo” ever gave me that same uncomfortable feeling.
Instead, “Solo” bounces from one unmemorable plot point to the next, eager to get to the end. The final third is somewhat intriguing only because there are a few sudden twists and betrayals. I wish there had been more of those throughout the rest of the movie, though.
Thankfully the cast is very good and keeps “Solo” from being a bore. It takes a few scenes for Ehrenreich to find his footing but before long his Solo exudes charm. Harrelson brings his usual easygoing, folksy energy to Beckett and Glover is effortlessly smooth. However, the real standout here is Waller-Bridge. Her empowered droid is the most vibrant aspect of the entire film. Going beyond the sassy robot sidekick, her witty, down to earth demeanor makes her more human than droid. She could be the star of her own movie.
Ultimately, “Solo” is never outright bad; it’s just inessential and forgettable.