I didn’t think I’d ever get to the point where I would not be eagerly anticipating a new Star Wars film, but I felt that way about Solo. Originally, I was excited for it, even though the idea of a Han Solo origin film didn’t sit right with me, because it was going to be directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the kings of turning terrible ideas into great films. Then they were fired from the film and replaced with Ron Howard, whose track record over the past few years has been pretty hit (Rush, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years) and miss (The Dilemma, Inferno). Even though there have lots of other films that have been in this situation, the length of time between Howard taking over and the release of the film is what really made me worried. With the actual release of the film, I have to say I don’t really know what to think. The film is good, don’t get me wrong, but there isn’t really anything special about it.
The film focuses on a young Han Solo, mainly around him getting involved in the criminal underworld of the Star Wars universe that led him to get on the wrong side of Jabba the Hutt in A New Hope. The central focus of the plot is on the theft of a shipment of high value fuel that Han gets involved in, meeting up with Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian along the way, along with gaining a mentor in Tobias Beckett and reuniting with an old friend, Q’ira, a member of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate. Now the tone of the film is more along the lines of a western, going back to the western roots of Han Solo as a character, with the plot elements regarding the theft feeling like they would fit in a western. One scene in particular, a train heist, fits right in with both ordinary and space westerns, reminding me a lot of the second episode of Firefly. For a film like this, going with this style was the right call, but the overall tone of the film felt a bit off to me. This should have had a more breezy, light tone (which this apparently being the tone Lord and Miller were going for), but the film takes itself too seriously. It also does serve to weaken Han Solo as a character a bit, making him more good hearted right from the start, when the whole point of Solo’s character development in the other films was the reveal of his true nature. This falls into the classic prequel trap of trying to explain too much about the past but doing so in a way that seems to ignore what made the other films work. Honestly, the elements of the film around the main plot are more interesting, in particular Enfys Nest is a fascinating addition to Star Wars which has the potential to be like a Star Wars version of Nausicaa if developed properly.
The cast though help to save the film. As Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich makes the right call in not doing an impression of Harrison Ford, forging his own version of the character. It’s still clear from his performance that he’s playing Han Solo, with him having the right charm and swagger for the character, but his body language and tone of voice puts the focus on playing the character rather than playing the actor, which would have made his version of Han seem like a pale imitation. Emilia Clarke as Q’ira is a bit of a mixed bag. She does bring a great deal of charm to the character, but the writing for her feels fairly bland and Clarke isn’t able to rise above the lackluster writing. Woody Harrelson as Beckett meanwhile is exactly what you’d expect from a grizzled old criminal, showing off the distrusting nature of the character well (even if the scenes written for him at the start contradict this nature) and giving off the right vibe of a grizzled mentor. Paul Bettany as Dryden Voss is fun as well, it’s great to see Bettany play a charming villain, Joonas Suotamo is great as Chewbacca (there isn’t more to say about him than it’s clear he is Chewbacca) whilst Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau feel wasted in their roles, this being on of the big mistakes in the film for me. The highlights of the film though are Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, who has the right vocal inflections and charm for Lando, everything he does oozing with charisma (it’s hard to say in words, he just feels like Lando when you see him), and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37, who has a lot of the best laughs in the film and the idea of a droid that is deeply sarcastic, dry, clearly has feelings for a person and is against the treatment of droids (which does bring up interesting ideas regarding how droids have been treated in other Star Wars films), a lot of the best moments in the film going to her.
The technical side of the film is a mixed bag as well. Starting on the positive side, as is expected of a Star Wars film, the CG is excellent throughout, particularly in the depiction of the Kessel Run and the motion capture used for L3-37. I also have to give special praise to the score, in particular the theme for Enfys Nest, which gave me a bit of a Ghost in the Shell vibe. On the negative side, the whole film felt way too dark. A darker colour palette makes sense for earlier in the film, especially when Han is in the Empire army, but the rest of the film is too dark and doesn’t fit the tone of the film at all. The editing is a mixed bag as well, feeling very choppy at times. I would say this would be due to having to mix Howard’s footage with Lord and Miller’s but, given reports that Howard re-shot most of the film, that wouldn’t seem to apply.
Overall, I wish I liked Solo: A Star Wars Story more than I did. It’s an okay film, especially given all the behind the scenes issues, but I can’t shake the feeling that Lord and Miller had a better grasp on what the film should be by focusing more on the comedy. This should have been a really lighthearted film, and when the film focuses on the heists it fits this tone, but a lot of the film is too serious for its own good and it just drags down the rest of the film, not helped by it being way too long. I can’t say whether the film would have been better had Lord and Miller finished it, but it probably wouldn’t have been as tonally mixed as this is.
My Rating: 3.5/5