Movie Review: While fun, ‘Solo’ consistently stifles the rebel
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan; George Lucas (characters based on)
Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (mo-cap & voice)
Synopsis: During an adventure into a dark criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.
Han Solo and Ridin’ Solo — normally the mash-up in 2012’s Kinect Star Wars is the far, far away galaxy’s variant of Rebecca Black’s Friday, but there was a time it was a bona-fide mood booster. The “time” referred here would be between last June and this March, when the second Star Wars Story piqued attention with on-set bedlams and one transatlantic hiccup. Since keeping a little optimism has always been good practice, back to YouTube it was to pick up the blaster, put it on the side, and jump inside the Falcon, Wookiee in tow…
Nevertheless, Solo is here at last, with zero delays and (for now) no lawsuits. To stay presentable after trading paint with such great turbulences is admirable, though when the lovable scoundrel’s backstory ends only executives will have their spirits in Cloud City. There’s enough swashbuckling action to stay for the ride for the rest, but don’t be surprised when none of it moves you afterward.
It’s awkward then that Solo’s foundation is one of emotion, in particular the love between two youngsters, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who call a grimy mining planet that prizes forced labor home. In keeping with big-screen Star Wars tradition of loss making the first narrative move, the duo is separated; him to a tribe-less life and she to the arms of high-rolling gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). For the (unofficial) Father of Rogues to reunite with Mother of Dragons, he will need to partner career smugglers (Woody Harrelson and Thandie Newton), befriend a hairy beast (Joonas Suotamo), master sabacc (a high-stakes card game) and Kessel Run in record-breaking parsecs.
Unlike Rogue One in which, amid the familiarity, has a smidge of mystery — so how did the Rebels steal the plans? — Solo operates solely on what has been known. It makes the film less of a discovery and more of completing a checklist with items including “here’s the blaster,” “here’s a Wookiee,” “here’s Falcon” and “here’s memorable quote.” And under the penmanship of the Kasdans, father Lawrence and son Jonathan, they don’t get to surface at any place other than the one designated; no interaction with “B” is permitted until “A” has been marked. But in characterizing someone who finds his mojo by discarding rules and breaking limits, such organization is detrimental as it ensures audiences can never interact with Han beyond the iconic level. The hero’s growth is always cold to the touch, as a result.
Somewhat livelier, yet still a partial effort as a whole, is Ehrenreich’s performance. Channeling Harrison Ford and emulating the measures he used to inhabit Han aren’t simple tasks, and after some mental adjustments it’s clear that Ehrenreich nails the “impish” and “daring” parts. The lack of “goofy” and “charming” to combine with the former two, however, glues the actor to this image of “a rogue who looks like Han” when he should be in his shoes. Not that Ehrenreich doesn’t try — his willingness is tangible — but the unfortunate lapse downplays the character’s quest to rekindle with Qi’ra and can’t quite reflect how Han, from culture’s standpoint, deserves a monument.
And since it’s all about Han in Solo, other characters don’t make, or don’t get to, make much of an impression. Where they falter in substance they compensate in great, great looks; all playing this cape game that is nothing short of eye-catching. To anyone who’s about to write a listicle on this: Playboy Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) better be in first, if ranked, or at the end, if unranked. Speaking of Lando, despite with limited screen time and space he can’t help but be the epicenter whenever he’s present, and that’s a testament to how on-point Glover is in exuding the signed-by-Billy Dee Williams marque of suavity and slyness.
There are other victories, too — Ron Howard’s tendency to be choppy in the face of scale is welcomingly muzzled; every line from Lando’s droid temperamental lover/activist L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is a tickler, and Bradford Young’s fluid photography supplies constant delight even if light on vibrancy. Yet, none are the fruit that really benefits Solo, a film seemingly purposed to seek out the junior behind the famed smuggler rather than capping at superficial Star Wars-branded amusement. Not great, Solo is, but at least it doesn’t grate like that unholy (though admittedly addictive) song.
Come to think of it, it’s unnerving when the dancing game somehow presages the reception of Solo thus far — that in a setting tailored for Han, Lando is the one who has the spotlight. Hmmm, where are the SW theorists when you need them?
Overall Grade: C+
Hear our podcast review soon. We reviewed the first Star Wars Story, Rogue One, on Episode 200!