Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, Jon Kasdan
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany
Runtime: 135 min
Board the Millennium Falcon and journey to a galaxy far, far away in an all-new adventure with the most beloved scoundrel in the galaxy.
Through a series of daring escapades deep within a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) meets his mighty future copilot Chewbacca and encounters the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), in a journey that will set the course of one of the Star Wars saga's most unlikely heroes.
Like almost everyone, I am a huge Star Wars fan. I love the original trilogy, and Han Solo is definitely one of my favorite characters of the entire saga. Harrison Ford elevates this character to a whole other level, and it marked his career as one of his most iconic roles. I wasn't in need of an origin film about Solo, but I also didn't exactly craved for Rogue One, and it genuinely surprised me, by risking its success on bold narrative decisions that changed everyone's interpretation of the other installments.
However, every franchise-related movie has a common issue: a massive fandom, who are going to either love or hate the film, there is never a middle ground. Another problem is how people analyze this type of movies: you can't look at a prequel/sequel/reboot/remake/whatever in the same way that you look at a standalone, saga-unrelated flick. You need to acknowledge the other installments and their events. Finally, the expectations need to be realistic. Despite the original trilogy being a tremendous and classic success, it doesn't mean every other installment must be as mind-blowing.
Therefore, my expectations for Solo: A Star Wars Story were that it would be able to develop this famous character even further while telling a compelling and entertaining story. It does some things right, but it also does a lot of things wrong. It is the best definition of an "okay" film that I can get from this year. One that, even though I'm not giving it a positive review, I'm sure I'm going to watch it again someday. So, let's start with the pros ...
Entertainment-wise, I can't deny the action sequences are riveting and extremely captivating. As expected, they are incredibly well-made and Ron Howard, even though he had to deal with tons of production issues, is able to stitch everything together and direct the hell out of this movie. Basically, almost every story that we heard Harrison Ford's Han tell in the OT is depicted in this film, from the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs to how he got the Millenium Falcon from Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).
Technically, excellent cinematography, beautiful set designs, and great editing. The CGI is very well-applied, and it never becomes overwhelming, giving those Star Wars visuals effects that everyone loves and praises. The pacing is also adequate, even if sometimes it feels a bit too fast, jumping from an action set piece to another consecutively without any time to breath. Tonally, it is fine. It loses a bit of its balance when it tries to insert some comedy, but nothing significant.
The biggest standout is the cast. Emilia Clarke (Qi'ra) surprisingly shut me up and proved that she can also belong in a major movie franchise, like Star Wars. Don't ask me why, but I never felt that she was the right choice to portray a character from this saga. I love her in Game of Thrones, but something was off every time I imagined her in the Star Wars universe. She is one of the best parts of the film, delivering an emotional and impressive performance.
Donald Glover continues his streak of turning everything he his involved with an instant success. He incorporates Lando in such a remarkable way, making his character extraordinarily captivating and giving me precisely what I expected Lando to be. Woody Harrelson is also great as Beckett, an accomplice to Solo's adventures, as well as Thandie Newton as Val. Paul Bettany doesn't have much to do as Dryden Vos, but he still gives his best to portray this sort of "villain." Chewbacca is, of course, awesome as always.
Unfortunately, the only one who truly needed to shine and didn't was Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. Not that he doesn't deliver or ruins the character. He is just ... Fine. This is my biggest compliment and at the same time my biggest criticism of the whole movie: it doesn't ruin anything. It doesn't risk its success by trying to change anything related to Star Wars. It doesn't influence any other installments with some sort of narrative decision. But most of all, it doesn't try to develop Han in any way.
It is not Alden's fault that his performance feels an imitation. After all, they couldn't really change much about his display since this character is already created and appears in four films. The big issue is in his script. It is an attempt at imitating something without giving it any layer of creativity or originality. Naturally, comparisons have to be made, and while they nail some aspects of Ford's performances, they also fail in showing a few of Han's most distinct traits.
My main problem with his movie is that it doesn't feel like one. It is just a compilation of action sequences sewed together and a few other scenes to fill in the blanks, with no real plan or main plot to follow. It feels like they went over the OT installments, they registered every Han's story, filmed them and then created the rest of the story. The relationship between Han and Qi'ra is the best subplot of the film, and there is barely any time to develop that because there are tons of action set pieces to show.
As I wrote above, I was genuinely entertained by them. However, there are no real stakes or emotional weight to any of them. The first half of the movie is aimless, with no main thread to guide our focus and when finally they decide to tell us what's going to happen next, they use obvious foreshadowing, making the end of the film predictable even before the beginning of the third act. Dryden, who supposedly is the villain, is hardly rememberable because he is barely on screen.
I believe that the production issues and the constant change of directors damaged the way the screenplay is handled. I love Ron Howard's work, and I think he did the best to correct everything and try to deliver a good story, but some things were already due to failing. The predictability of the third act turns it a bit boring and even anti-climactic. So, I will end this review addressing the three main points of its beginning.
I don't love or hate this movie, I just think it is okay (don't kill me, please). Since the character of Han Solo was already established, the limits of what they could have done were not huge, but the lack of risk and consequently the lack of character development reduce this film's influence. Watching the OT now, you will understand better the relationship between Han and Lando, but even considering that, you really don't have any significant impact in any other installment or on Han's persona. Finally, as I expected, it didn't disappoint me, but it also didn't surprise me. It is just a movie, probably just made to make some money.
All in all, Solo: A Star Wars Story is just okay. As any franchise-related film with a huge fandom, it is always going to get a lot of love and hate. Ron Howard did the best he could, and technically I only have compliments to give him, from the terrific action sequences to the beautiful set designs and VFX. Emilia Clarke surprised the hell out of me, Donald Glover is amazing as Lando and the rest of the cast is great for the most part, but Alden Ehrenreich, maybe due to his script, feels like a cheap imitation of Harrison Ford. The biggest issue is the screenplay, which feels a collection of continuous adventures, glued together with no real stakes or a main plot to drive them. The character of Han doesn't get any major development diminishing this movie's influence, which is almost none. In the end, have fun with the action set pieces. After all, that's where the money was spent.