I first saw Star Wars upon its original release during the summer of ’77, when I
was a mere lad of 16. There I was loving it loving it loving it — a spunky
princess! a dashing hero! an imposing villain! – and, after nearly an hour,
figured it couldn’t get any better. I was wrong.
At the 48-minute mark, in saunters Han Solo, and this wholesome entertainment
found the rough-hewn edge it needed to truly kick it into overdrive. As superbly
played by Harrison Ford ( 2017's
Runner 2049) , Solo was a rogue, a scoundrel, a mercenary, and a guy who
— before George Lucas got wimpy with the Special Editions — had no problem
shooting first. And until Lucas inexcusably regressed the character a tad in
Return of the Jedi, Solo was a beautifully conceived and executed figure, and
his initial appearance in Star Wars and subsequent maturation in The Empire
Strikes Back marks him as the best character to ever set foot in a storyline
that unfolded a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
For the vast majority of my life, Han Solo has been — along with Indiana Jones,
James Bond, and a few others — one of my defining cinematic heroes, which is why
it pains me to see the character’s iconic dimensions reduced so drastically and
dramatically in Solo: A Star Wars Story. To be sure, the movie largely delivers
on entertainment value, and while there are no specific moments that rank among
the best in the franchise (even the much-maligned prequels had some formidable
set-pieces), the picture is zippy enough to earn a modest recommendation. But
while those folks who love all things Star Wars regardless of quality will adore
it, those of us who grew up with the franchise since a young age and find it
still rooted in our DNA deserved something better than what director Ron Howard
and screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Jonathan Kasdan deliver.
Solo is an extremely competent piece of filmmaking: it is definitely a movie
that tells a story and has characters, some of whom you have met before, all of
whom have specific goals and hopes and dreams. The performances range from good
to quite good. The special effects are unmemorable but well executed.
It's … fine.
And maybe "fine" is good enough. Maybe there's enough nostalgia to sustain this
franchise for years to come, enough primary and secondary and tertiary
characters to generate legions of Star Wars Stories that will in turn generate
endless billions for Disney. We'd better hope there are since we're getting one
of these movies a year until we're dead—or Disney decides to start putting out
two Star Wars movies a year.
The biggest hurdle, of course, was finding an actor who could do both Han Solo
and Harrison Ford justice. Stepping into such an iconic character created by
such a popular actor is a daunting task for any young thespian, and Alden
Ehrenreich ( 2016's
) probably does as well as just about anyone else who might have been cast
(certainly, he’s a better choice than such auditionees as Miles Teller, Dave
Franco, Scott Eastwood and Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Ehrenreich, so terrific in the
Hail, Caeser!, isn’t bad
here, but he doesn't vanish into the character like Ewan McGregor did with
Obi-Wan Kenobi. It was easy to see McGregor morph into Alec Guinness; it’s
impossible to see Ehrenreich morph into Ford.
This isn’t entirely the actor’s fault, as the Kasdans have created a Solo who’s
altogether too soft and sweet. “I’m not one of the good guys!” bellows Solo at
one point, but that’s absolutely not true. Other characters, like Lando
Calrissian (Donald Glover 2017's
Spiderman: Homecoming ), who does manage to create a bridge to Billy Dee
Williams) and newbie Beckett (Woody Harrelson,
War For The Planet of the Apes), are more Solo-esque than Solo
himself, and while the idea is doubtless to toughen up the character in the next
installment (Solo 2: Yet Another Star Wars Story), there needs to be a
foundation in this film for such a development, and it’s woefully missing.
In addition to Beckett, other players new to the saga include the villainous
Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany 2018's
Avengers: Infinity War, taking a break from his Vision quest), Solo’s
childhood love Qi-ra (Emilia Clarke, tv's Game of Thrones), Beckett’s
sweetheart/sidekick Val (Thandie Newton from HBO's Westworld, mostly wasted), a
pilot named Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau, 2013's
The Wolf of Wall Street) and
Phoebe Waller-Bridge ( TV's Killing Eve) as L3-37, Lando’s wide-hipped droid.
Spouting social justice and feminist rants and confessing romantic feelings for
her handler, she’s everything R2-D2 and C-3PO and BB-8 brought to the table on a
comedic level and more. Droids capable of emotion? It’s out there in the shadows
in other chapters, but here it blasts into a whole other universe.
The story proper – basically, a caper plot involving the theft of valuable
coaxium fuel — offers little in the way of surprises and adds nothing to the
saga’s mythology. It’s generic enough that, stripped of the sci-fi elements,
Sandra Bullock and co. could have employed it for the upcoming Ocean’s film.
Where Solo: A Star Wars Story mainly succeeds is in its ability to offer
satisfying scenarios that loop back to stories we heard in the original films,
from the initial meeting between Han and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) to the game
that allowed Han to snatch the Millennium Falcon away from Lando. These
sequences are infinitely amusing even if they’re ultimately unnecessary. After
all, part of the mystique of Han Solo emanated from his lack of a backstory, and
filling in the gaps diminishes rather than enhances his legacy. In retrospect,
Sy Snootles: A Star Wars Story or Porkins: A Star Wars Story would have been
more appreciated, thus leaving the larger-than-life character of Han Solo to
remain unblemished in our memory banks from a long time ago.