If you are the kind of obsessive Star Wars fan who wants to know how Han Solo got his name, or how he teamed up with Chewbacca and got the Millennium Falcon, or even more obscure lore such as how he “made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs”, then Solo: A Star Wars Story is the perfect film for you.
Taking its cues from the superhero origin story, Solo goes to great lengths to do fan service over its two-hour plus running time. For the rest, this Ron Howard-directed Star Wars prequel is a by-the-numbers entry in the franchise and easily the weakest film in the rebooted series.
The opening moments locate the action on Han Solo’s home planet. Before he was an intergalactic outlaw who was never at a loss for guns or words, Han Solo was trying to escape the hellscape of his surroundings with his girlfriend Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke) for a better future. Han is able to make the getaway while Qi’Ra is apprehended at the last moment. Without the love of his life by his side, Han is momentarily adrift but quickly bands together with full-time thief and part-time mentor Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his crew and a wookie named Chewbacca. Han has a singular mission in his mind, to earn enough money to get a ship so he can return to save Qi’Ra.
The outlaws run into big bad Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who is a Darth Vader surrogate and has overseen the killings of thousands of people for money and power. The crew members are forced to pull a job for Vos, for which they recruit charismatic smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), a man with a penchant for capes and gambling and who can be convinced to do anything as long as there is a big pile of money on the table.
The banter between these characters is the saving grace. The production’s smartest decision is the casting. Even though the screenplay, by Lawrence Kasdan and Jonathan Kasdan, never truly etches out the characters or features dialogue that is weaker when compared to other films of this nature, reliable actors such as Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Paul Bettany and Emilia Clark remain eminently watchable. Fleabag star Phoebe Waller-Bridge has a hilarious cameo as the voice of L3, Lando Calrissian’s robot partner, who fights for equal rights.
Star Wars movies often get by on flashy visuals and exciting action scenes. Although Ron Howard does a good job of focusing on single characters during action scenes so one can tell what is going on, Arrival cinematographer Bradford Young makes the proceedings a dull and dreary affair with a dark and dim lighting technique that never matches the story that is happening on the screen.
Like Rogue One (2016), Solo is a standalone entry set in the time period between the original and the prequel trilogy. Consequently, even those with only a passing knowledge of the films will know how the characters end up, or the eventual fate of Han and Qi’Ra’s relationship.
Han Solo’s peculiar mishmash of Western tropes made him perfect for Harrison Ford in George Lucas’s films from the 1970s and ’80s, and his rugged, ultra-masculine persona. Alden Eldenreich never quite manages to differentiate his performance from the one that came before it, delivering an act that ends up resembling an impression of Ford’s. Much like the film of which he is a part, which never lets the characters enjoy a real moment and ends up as little more than a simulacrum of what a movie is supposed to be.