Solo: A Star Wars Story (aka Solo) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
I can only imagine it must come as some great displeasure to Star Wars fans that the Han Solo prequel film is not quite the swashbuckling sci-fi western it promised to be. Some of that spirit is present and there are scraps of a charming adventure strewn throughout. But the abundance of references and callbacks keep hindering the excitement, pulling us out of the fun to learn such useless facts as to how Han Solo received his name. I doubt anyone was chomping at the bit to learn that info.
It’s quite a shame considering Alden Ehrenreich has the makings of a heartthrob of a hero. He plays Han Solo without much of the grumpiness, but plenty of cockiness and smolder that mostly comes through the screen. It helps that his story is an interesting one as well. He doesn’t start off with this story as an outlaw, but a slave worker that aspires to more. He also makes many mistakes, making his cocky attitude all the more unique when he has to work for that swagger of a scoundrel. He starts out as a slave, kicks around as a Stormtrooper, and recklessly jumps into the outlaw lifestyle when he finds a crew and a ship that’ll take him.
A few familiar characters pop up. Chewbacca, Han’s furry co-pilot, first meets the rogue in a pit where they must fight to the death. Lando (Donald Glover), the like-minded suave deceiver, first encounters Han at a card game with starships at stake. A few new characters crowd the screen, including Han’s love of the beautiful Q’ira (Emilia Clarke) and Lando’s love of the droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). How does a relationship with a droid works? L3-37 insists “it just does” and leaves our imagination to fill in the blanks.
Solo is perhaps the most outsider of Star Wars movies as it doesn’t feature rebellious heroes fighting against the overwhelming Empire. Han is out to make some money and free Q’ira from the grip of crime lord Dryden Voss, played by Paul Bettany with red in his eyes and cat scratches on his face. He teams up with Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a season bounty hunter that teach Han all the tricks of the trade. Namely, always trick everyone. He also imparts important western logic, adhering to that familiar line from The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly; “If you gotta shoot, shoot; don’t talk.” And Han indeed shoots first, remastered Star Wars be damned!
The biggest hurdle for a prequel such as this is the lack of tension for how this story will play out and Solo stumbles over itself during its frisky sprint towards adventure. Hindering its originality is an insistence on placing origins on Han’s legacy we do not need. Who truly desired a scene where Han receives his iconic blaster? What’s the point of drawing attention to Chewy’s nickname after the two meet in a death pit? And why, above all else, did Han Solo’s very name require an explanation?
Thankfully, as the film progresses into its world of heists, pirates, and showdowns, there’s a certain groove the movie eases into. There are hints of Errol Flynn in a dashingly intimate moment between Han and Q’ira. There’s a gleeful chaos to a power plant infiltration where L3-37, in her justice-seeking programming, incites a riot of droids. The climax features so many showdowns, betrayals, surprises, and deceptions that it’s almost par for the course that the true villain of this picture comes entirely out of left field.
The film was subject to a Ron Howard reshoot after the studio wasn’t pleased with the more comical approach by comedy directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Sadly, it shows. Several scenes fall flat with humor and moments that would seem ripe for a gag are cut off just before they are dealt. This uneven direction coupled with bruising nudges of Star Wars callbacks makes Solo: A Star Wars Story a surprisingly flawed film with bursts of brilliance. There’s plenty of hints for the space western that could have made this Star Wars Story a great film, but that perfect film seems lost in a galaxy far, far away.