What it's about: Han Solo [Alden Ehrenreich] is an intergalactic smuggler years before he helped a rebellion defeat the Empire. Separated from his bleak home world, he vows to return with a ship and some money to help his love Qi'ra [Emilia Clarke] escape. On his adventures, he begins working with a small group of bandits led by the principled Beckett [Woody Harrelson], who are trying to steal a powerful energy source for a crime lord. On his adventure, Han finds new friends, glory, and the start of his quest to save the galaxy.
I'm not much of a Star Wars person. I never really watched the films when I was a kid. I don't have any special affinity for the characters or their lore. I'm pretty sure The Empire Strikes Back is the only in the series I've seen more than once.
That puts me in a tough place for Solo. It seems to be a film designed for the fans of the franchise who have always wondered about the roots of their favorite character. I assume Solo is filled with references and Easter eggs that have been mentioned in previous films -- I caught some of the more obvious ones, but I'm sure there are many more that I missed.
Unfortunately, Solo relies too much on fan service and knowing who these characters become to build an independent film. Solo: A Star Wars Story is fine. Alden Ehrenreich's performance is fine. The action is fine. The plot developments are fine. Everything is fine, fine, fine. But it either can't or doesn't want to be more than that.
This feels like the first truly inconsequential Star Wars film. Yeah, the prequels were bad, worse than Solo, even. They didn't need to exist, but they at least came from a particular vision and they at least were trying to feel like big event films. Not only is experiencing the young trials of Han Solo pretty unnecessary, the film is incredibly slapdash. It doesn't have any unified style or direction.
I wonder how much the highly publicized production trouble, with the removal of initial directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord and the piecing together from Ron Howard, had an effect on this. The seams of the jokey referential style of the former filmmakers are still there in places, but not consistently through. Howard, on the other hand, has the reputation of being a solid workman, and that probably helped make Solo a still coherent narrative given the turnover.
Also, Solo doesn't really feel like a Star Wars film because it has very little epic quality. It is tied to so many different film genres, jumping from Western to heist to social uprising to fated lovers, that is seems to forget this is a big space fantasy.
Too many times characters had just the right knowledge to get out of a tricky situation. This is most annoying during the big setpiece at the center of the film, where Han leads the Millennium Falcon through the famed Kessel Run -- every time the crew meet some impossible task, there is always a quick and easy solution made up of ridiculous jargon.
Two minor characters truly steal the show. First is the beloved Chewbacca, who actually gets an amazing character introduction [probably the only moment of fan service that worked]. His chemistry with Solo happens almost immediately [maybe even a little too quickly] and lives up to the relationship in better films.
The other is the next in a growing line of amazing droid characters, L3-37, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the co-pilot to young Lando. She might be a character completely designed to piss off the fan boys who spend their lives complaining about Mary Sues and too much racial diversity. L3-37's robot rights and feminist leanings provide some of the best laughs in the film.
There are human-robot sex jokes. It gets a little weird.
The opening Lady Proxima sequence was one of the few times where there was genuine design. The large, strange antagonist looks to be made with practical effects, like a throwback to many of the bizarre creatures of the original trilogy.
Donald Glover has been getting love for his performance as the predecessor to Billy Dee Williams' iconic Lando Calrissian. I've seen some takes that the prequel would have been better if he had been the main focus instead of Han. I'm not sure I would agree with this -- Lando is the kind of character that works better in limited screen time and in support of the main character quest. Glover's performance was, again, fine. He definitely adds some life to his scenes, though.
The third act crescendos in a series of crosses and double-crosses that doesn't really accomplish much. The nature of Solo obviously isn't going to give any satisfying conclusion. The biggest lingering thread involves a group of outcast rebels who I'm guessing is the starting faction that would become the Rebel Alliance. There is potential moving forward, but the film bungles their introduction, tacking it on so late into Solo. It is meant to be a surprising and powerful reveal, but falls completely flat.
Notice that I haven't talked much about Han Solo? That's probably a problem.