SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY
2018, PG-13, 135 mins.
Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo / Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett / Emilia Clarke as Qi'Ra / Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian / Thandie Newton as Val / Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37 / Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca / Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos / Jon Favreau as Rio Durant (voice) / Jon Kasdan as Tag Greenley
Directed by Ron Howard / Written by Lawrence Kasdan and Jonathan Kasdan
I knew that SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY was going to be creatively lethargic and uninspired within my first 60 seconds of watching it.
During that time
viewers are introduced to three stanzas worth of exposition heavy title
cards that are kind of blandly and lazily thrown up on screen.
Now, one of the most iconic and memorable images of the entire STAR
WARS franchise is the sight of the film's opening title cards migrating up
the screen and into the backdrop of space with John Williams' triumphant
march playing in the background. Why the makers
here opted out of that established stylistic choice over what
they ultimately selected is positively befuddling to me.
Should a lackluster
opening title card sequence utterly derail my overall enjoyment
of an entire film? No.
Of course not. That
would be hyperbolic and silly. Yet,
it's but one small domino that sets off a change reaction of other dominos
falling throughout SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY that left me feeling cold by
the time I exited the cinema. This
is the second in the Disney branded standalone STAR WARS films that are
still a part of the larger cinematic universe of films set in a galaxy
far, far away, but are nevertheless separate entities from the overall
Skywalker family saga of Episodes I through VIII.
The first standalone effort was 2016's superb ROGUE
ONE, which served as a direct prequel to 1977's A
NEW HOPE, whereas SOLO is opting to tell an origin story of one of
the franchise's most legendary and beloved characters that was made famous
in a career jump starting performance by Harrison Ford.
The problems with SOLO - outside of its deeply problematic
production history (more on that in a bit) - is (a) it never really tells
a compelling and worthwhile Han Solo origin story that thoroughly enriches
the character and (b) trying to have someone other than Ford fill the
immortally big shoes of this character is very, very dicey.
roughly a decade before the events of ROGUE ONE and A NEW HOPE, SOLO
chronicles the development of the universe's most dashing renegade space
pirate as he evolves from a small time scammer on a desolate planet to a
heist perpetrating scoundrel and eventually into the good guy with the
proverbial heart of gold that we meet in A NEW HOPE.
Of chief interest to the overall story early on is his life on his
home planet of Corellia, a downtrodden garbage dump of a world that's used
by the Empire for making ships and weapons of mass destruction.
Han (Alden Ehrenreich) has aspirations of leaving his home with the young love of his life in Qi'ra (a feisty Emilia Clarke), but as
they try to sneak their way past an Imperial checkpoint they become
hopelessly separated with no apparent hope of meeting back up.
Dejected and heartbroken, Han decides to enlist in the Imperial
military and begin a new life.
Years pass and
Han - never a pushover when it comes to following orders - finds it
difficult to acclimate to the military life, but during that time he hooks
up with many that would ultimately shape who he will become.
He meets his mentor-like figure in Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who
allows the young Han to join him and his crew on a series of high stakes
heists for his boss, crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).
It's also at this time that Han has a very chance first encounter
with a near 200-year-old wookie named Chewbacca (Joona Suotamo) and the high
stake gambling Lando Carlissian (Donald Glover), who eventually - as we
know via a
brief exchange in THE EMPIRE STRIKES
BACK - forges a friendship with Han and eventually loses his ship
(The Millennium Falcon) to him in a game of cards.
When a caper to nab a very big score for Vos goes horribly wrong
for Becket and Han, the team realizes that they must embark on an even
riskier mission for the maniacal criminal...or be terminated. While plotting their next move Han, rather predictably,
rekindles a romance with the woman he thought he once left behind for
One of my main
misgivings about SOLO going in is that it takes a character that was
already chiefly established as a wonderfully enigmatic rogue that had an
unpredictable edge through the original series of STAR WARS films and
unnecessarily tries to provide a detailed back story that most
series fans have not really been clamoring for during the last 40-plus
years. Han Solo is a
character that somehow doesn't require a fleshed out history to make him
more intriguing, but SOLO endeavors to do just that, with middling
results. The screenplay -
under the watchful eyes of co-writer Lawrence Kasdan (writer of EMPIRE
STRIKES BACK and the recent THE
FORCE AWAKENS) - never really finds a truly novel manner of
tapping into this character's pre-Rebellion life.
ROGUE ONE, to its credit, told a fresh new tale involving new
characters that had meaningful connections to A NEW HOPE, whereas SOLO
seems pretty safe and pedestrian as it taps into obligatory heist
movie conventions. The dramatic stakes in SOLO rarely, if ever, feets weighty and
grave because we can see where's it's going from the beginning.
The mediocre origin narrative is unfortunately married to the misguided casting on the
titular character. Alden Ehrenreich is a fine actor, especially if you saw his
gut bustingly funny work in the Coen Brothers' HAIL,
CAESAR! or his more serious turn in the underrated Warren Beatty
drama RULES DON'T APPLY.
Casting someone to play a young version of a character that's
so deeply entrenched in our collective subconscious by one worshipped
celebrity is a Herculean task that doesn't make me envy the job of the hired actor
in question. Yet, Ehrenreich looks physically nothing like a young Ford (which, to be fair, should be
part of the casting prerequisite), and he never manages to capture Ford's
nuanced and natural bravado and wry charm. Instead, Ehrenreich's charisma feels dutifully manufactured
and forced and there's rarely a moment in SOLO where you 100 per cent buy that
this Han Solo would eventually matured into the Han Solo of the original
trilogy. Donald Glover, on
the other hand, looks, sounds, and acts like a young, swaggering Billy Dee
Williams as Lando while making the role smoothly his own (he walks away
with the film), but this film is called SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY and
not LANDO: A STAR WARS STORY.
When a side character upstages the main one...that's a problem.
Much of the
remaining cast feels mournfully wasted.
Woody Harrelson can be devilishly good when given just the right
role in blockbuster films (see last year's villainous turn in WAR
FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES), but here he seems oddly aloof and disinterested
throughout the story as his conman with a murky past.
Emilia Clarke injects some much needed feminine power to this
mostly sausage fest of a movie, but she too occupies a character that
seems oddly underwritten and is used for moving the plot forward in
manipulative ways, especially in its third act. And as far
as STAR WARS antagonists go, Bettany's Vos is pretty routine and one-note and fits
neatly into mobster clichés, which makes it hard for him to stand out as
a truly menacing and memorable villain.
And there's even a wise cracking robot sidekick sprinkled in here
in L3-37 (voiced well by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a character that would
have felt innovatively cool if it were not coming after the alarmingly
similar K2S0 in ROGUE ONE.
An egregious lack
imagination taints SOLO through so many facets, which may or may
not have everything to do with the fact that Disney very publicly fired
original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller deep into production and
replaced them with Ron Howard, which initially seemed like an ideal choice, seeing as
he's a George Lucas disciple and even directed WILLOW
for him in the late 80s. The
best compliment that I will give SOLO is that, considering its production
woes (Howard apparently reshot up to 80 per cent of it), the resulting film
doesn't feel like an incongruent hatchet job.
Having said that, SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY - despite the veteran
presence behind the director's chair - is one of the most visually ugly
films in the franchise. Considering the bright and vibrant hued poster advertising
campaign leading into its release, SOLO is so dull, drab, and dreary and awash in sepias and greys that it feels like someone smeared grime
on the lens. STAR WARS films
should evoke a childlike sensation of legitimate awe and wonder in their
sights, sounds, and otherworldly vistas, but SOLO feels pathetically like
it's made up of the spare and regurgitated parts of past sci-fi action
pictures. That's a shame.
MY CTV REVIEW: