I honestly don’t know what to say about Solo: A Star Wars Story.
And not in the same way that I did when I came to write about The Last Jedi a few months ago. No, that was a weird mix of aggressively adoring the universe the film took place in, respecting the ambition of much of the movie as a whole, but also being let down by some of the choices for characters I loved. I had opinions. Too many, some might argue. They’d probably be right.
But Solo, the Han Solo prequel movie released as part of the Star Wars Story spin-offs (Rogue One having been the first in this canon), is just…nothing. There’s nothing to have an opinion on. To say that it’s flat would be an understatement; I’m pretty sure that Solo doesn’t even lay claim to one dimension, feeling more like a collection of boxes ticked in order to make the most amount of money with the least amount of effort.
Okay, let’s try and actually review this movie, which I only saw a couple of days ago and have nearly forgotten everything about already. Alden Ehrenreich stars as Han Solo, as we follow a young Han as he fights his way off his oppressive home planet and gets caught up with a bunch of ne’er-do-wells pulling one last heist for a high-camp villain. I mean, when I describe it like that, it actually sounds okay, but that’s really doing an over-service to this rambling, saggy storyline. It’s an exercise in trying to show us everything from Han’s past that made him so engaging in the original movies – the Kessel run, Lando Calrissian, his relationship with Chewbacca – without realizing that the thing that made all those aspects engaging was the character at the centre of them. I don’t care about how fast the Kessel run can be made, but I care when Han Solo’s the one doing it.
And this isn’t Han Solo. I don’t mean to be a snob here, but I will be anyway: Han Solo only really exists when he’s played by Harrison Ford, and nobody can come close to living up to that iconic performance. Ehrenreich is handsome enough and looks good in the trousers, but he hasn’t got the weight or the charisma to carry the movie. And this Han feels very much like one who exists in a post-Marvel landscape; by which I mean, constantly wise-cracks and general silliness abound over roguishness and smoulder. This is one of the most iconic cinematic characters of all time retooled for a world where Avengers: Infinity War is a groundbreaking movie, and it feels shameless and hollow as a result, far removed from the Han who made such an impression all those years ago.
(Also, and I didn’t want to have to bring this up but here we are: people got after Rey in The Force Awakens for being a Mary-Sue despite the fact that the film shows us all the ways in which she has learned and acquired the skills she uses: Han just swaggers about yelling to anyone who’ll listen about what an amazing pilot he is and the film just expects us to go along with it, even though they don’t really show him succeeding convincingly until deep into the movie, and even then don’t truly show us how he wound up with such incredible skills)
But then, no-one does. Neither the characters returning from previous movies (Lando Calrissian, as played by Donald Glover, and Chewbacca by Joonas Suotamo) nor the new cast ever really make a decent impression. Emilia Clarke, as love interest Kyra, reminds us all with a potency that she just isn’t good unless she’s yelling in Dothraki; Woody Harrelson slopes around a bit and looks like he doesn’t want to be there. The usually excellent Donald Glover can’t even bring much to this dull, dorky version of Lando. The only one who makes it out with any dignity is Paul Bettany, and that’s by playing a high-fashion villain with a coke nail and scars that light up when he’s cross, so perhaps “dignity” is the wrong word there.
Honestly, I think the biggest problem here, and the fact that so many solid actors turned in dire performances, is the script. It’s sometimes physically painful to sit through the clunky exposition, the character arcs that are less arcs than they are someone dropping a bunch of string on a page – and oh, those jokes, those endless fucking jokes, not one of which actually lands, even the actors seemingly embarrassed to deliver them. It’s a really notably bad script in almost every way it possibly could be, the kind that makes you go “Oh no” a quarter-hour in when you realize there’s more than a hundred minutes of this to go.
Solo was plagued by hellish problems in production, with the original directors dropping out and Ron Howard stepping in to cover for them. Now, the original directors were Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, best known for their work on The Lego Movie – an anarchic, wild, meta mega-hit that benefitted from their ability to push outside the box and find something fun and new to play with. There are remnants of that attitude spackled across this film, but they jar with what Ron Howard, an old-guard Hollywood stalwart, has brought to it instead: something predictable, box-office-bait that didn’t try anything truly different or engage with anything beyond the bare minimum.
And there it is: Solo feels like a hasty attempt to paper over anything remotely anarchic or different in order to ensure something that fits with Disney’s vision for what a Han Solo story should look like. I’m no fan of Rogue One, but at least it tried something new – the same goes for The Last Jedi, and even The Force Awakens at least made an effort to diversify it’s cast and characters. In trying to create what it thought it’s audience wanted, Solo creates this big pile of nothing – a big pile of nothing that won’t stop cracking jokes or making references to the original trilogy in the hopes that your goodwill is enough to ride it out over the bumps. And, in short, as someone who loves this franchise more than is probably healthy or normal: it isn’t.
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By Louise MacGregor
(header image courtesy of Variety)