Fair warning: considerable spoilers follow – read after watching.
In a way, I’m glad I waited a week to write a review of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest anthology movie from Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm set in the Star Wars universe. As I walked out of the theatre last Wednesday night, following a sparsely attended midnight screening, I would have told you how much I enjoyed it, how it was a fairly straight-forward action movie, how I enjoyed the performance of leading man Alden Ehrenreich.
But over the course of a week, I’ve slowly started to think less and less of the film. As of right now, a full seven days since I saw it, I’m ready to tell you that I don’t think it’s a good film at all.
Set a decade before the events of 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Solo: A Star Wars Story (honestly, how many times am I going to have to write Star Wars before this review is finished) is ostensibly an origin story for Han Solo, one of the universes best characters, and one of film history’s most iconic figures.
Starting out on the shipyards of Corellia, where Han is an orphaned teen caught up in the local gang culture, we follow the rogue as he is separated from his sweetheart Qi’ra (Game Of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) and escapes his home, takes on his infamous moniker (spoiler: he got it because he was alone), and joins the Empire as a pilot because he just wants to fly, man. He ends up in a ground battle on the planet Mimban.
From there, he is united with lifelong friend Chewbacca and falls in with pirate Tobias Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson) and his crew (also featuring Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau) on an intergalactic version of The Great Train Robbery – the aim: steal a train carriage full of the valuable hyperspace fuel coaxium.
But the heist goes wrong, leading Han to improvise in front of super-criminal Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany): he and Beckett are joined by Qi’ra and playboy smuggler Lando (Donald Glover) to steal raw coaxium from the planet of Kessel. If you’re at all familiar with Han Solo, the name Kessel will ring a bell – we’re treated to a full display of the infamous Kessel Run (achieved in just over 12 parsecs), before Han double-crosses both Beckett and Vos and hands the coaxium over to an early version of the Rebellion.
Qi’ra is forced to kill Vos, thus saving Han, and reports to his superior, the presumed dead Darth Maul, last seen in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, set prior to this film, in which he was sliced in two by Obi Wan Kenobi.
Yeah, it’s a lot to take in. But it didn’t seem like so much in the theatre last week: we bounced from location to location, enjoying the sights – “hey, it’s the Kessel Run”, “woah, he just met Chewbacca”, “oh, that’s how he got his name” – and taking in a few big action scenes, albeit none on the level of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
That is the films first major problem: it’s kind of bland.
Solo: A Star Wars Story had its share of drama behind the scenes – original writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were replaced part-way through production by Ron Howard, a director without a distinct visual style who isn’t known for making large scale, effects-heavy franchise films.
The result is a film that just kind of happens. There are no scenes on the level of Rey and Kylo killing Snoke in his chambers or Holdo launching into hyperspace through a star destroyer from Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi; the closest we get is the Kessel Run, which ends up featuring a black hole and an asteroid-sized octopus, and even that one feels a bit anti-climactic since it is over fairly quickly.
The other major problem Solo: A Star Wars Story has is that it feels piecemeal.
There is a lot going on – from the street chase and escape from Corellia, to the Kessel Run, to the final showdown on the planet of Savareen – and it feels kind of muddled, like none of it necessarily connects to the rest. As the week has passed, that is what I am most struck by: it all just feels so disjointed.
The most exciting scene – the train heist on the planet Vandor, seen prominently in the trailers – takes place in the first act of the film when it clearly would have made for the most exciting conclusion to the whole movie. Instead, it doesn’t hit as hard because we’ve not spent any time with anyone; it just kind of happens. It all just happens.
That is the main crime of Solo: A Star Wars Story: none of it sticks, none of it resonates, and none of it is still with me a week later. Instead of an experience, the film is just a series of events that vaguely tie-in to the Star Wars universe and set up an inevitable sequel. And it’s all just bland.
(For those of you who’ve seen it, I can imagine a version of Solo: A Star Wars Story which dispenses with the opening scenes on Corellia and Mimban – they seems like Lucasfilm adding stuff purely to pre-empt fan calls that “we should have seen this or that” – and where Han and Chewie are already established smugglers, leading to his team-up with Beckett. The Kessel Run still happens half-way through the film and features the Falcon and Lando, as per the film, but somehow it goes wrong. The Darth Maul reveal happens here and he orders Vos to kill the crew, but Vos decides to give them another chance – the train heist on Vandor, where the double-crossing occurs, leading to the death of Vos, Beckett and the rest of his crew. I’d cut the Rebellion out entirely.)
It isn’t all doom and gloom. You may be glad to hear that Alden Ehrenreich is actually pretty good as Han Solo, putting his own mark on the character instead of doing a Harrison Ford impression, and his relationship with Chewie is one great element of the film. Donald Glover and Paul Bettany appear to be having fun, but they also appear to be holdovers from the Lord/Miller version of the film, stuck out of place in most scenes.
And I did enjoy the Kessel Run, it has to be said. I love a good giant monster.
Look, Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t a terrible film. It is a fairly serviceable action film. Heck, if it wasn’t a Star Wars film, none of this would be an issue. But it is a Star Wars film, one with a fairly hefty $250 million price tag.
It should’ve been better. It could’ve been. Alas, we’ll never know.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is directed by Ron Howard (with an assist from Phil Lord & Christopher Miller), from a script by Jonathan & Lawrence Kasdan, and stars Alden Ehrenreich, Woodly Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Jonas Suotamo, and Paul Bettany, and the voices of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Jon Favreau. It is in cinemas now.