This is a tough review to write, because Solo is not a very interesting movie. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, but unlike, say, Deadpool 2, it all just feels completely unnecessary.
Alden Ehrenreich plays Han Solo; I appreciate him not attempting a Harrison Ford impression, but I wish he’d tried harder to embody the essence of the character. Donald Glover, by comparison, is Lando Calrissian. Like most things he does, Glover took a risk and went all in, and the results speak for themselves. Ehrenreich plays it safe, and the results are unremarkable. I don’t really blame him though, because Solo plays it safer than any other Star Wars movie to date.
It’s easy to blame director Ron Howard for the general blandness of the proceedings, as he had the unenviable task of reshooting the majority of the film after comedy greats Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired, but that’s not entirely fair. Yes, the direction is largely uninspired, but the biggest problems with the movie lie in Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan’s flabby script. It has effective sequences (I enjoyed pretty much everything involving the infamous Kessel Run) but it also short changes most characters in the film, contains countless cringy references to Star Wars lore, and has about five jokes that work.
I’m going to attempt to avoid spoilers in this review, so it’s hard to talk about all the character arcs that fall flat. Suffice to say, some characters die, and their deaths are glossed over so quickly that they might as well never have existed. There are betrayals, but they are for vague reasons, and the underlying relationships haven’t been built up enough for us to care. Finally, Han Solo, who ends up a wonderfully jaded asshole by the time we get to Star Wars, has an arc that seems in direct contrast to where we know he ends up. If the intention of this movie is to show how Solo became Solo, it fails.
There are some elements that succeed, but just as many that don’t. Phoebe Waller-Bridge plays a weird, interesting robot, while Jon Favreau voices an alien that serves as a black hole of comedy. Lando is great – Han is not. There’s a fun cameo – there’s a baffling cameo. There are unexpected plot twists – and painfully expected moments of fan service.
I don’t know if Lord and Miller’s version would have been a great movie, but if their previous four films and TV show are any indication, I’m willing to bet it would have been a lot better. There are tiny bursts of inspiration in Solo that, instead of working as part of a whole, feel like fleeting reminders of what could have been. When Lando is interrupted recording a holo-diary called The Calrissian Chronicles, I laughed, but was disappointed that it didn’t add to his character in any way. He’s an egomaniac, but we already know this. Why not show us a different side of him while he’s alone? I have no doubt that Lord and Miller would have both integrated the joke deeper into the story, and called back to it at some point.
But this isn’t the Solo we got. The end result is a hodgepodge of nostalgia, an inessential piece of entertainment that feels like a second rate Extended Universe novel. It’s also a troubling reminder of the power of the studio system and the ultimate goal of profits over artistic success. I’m sure Star Wars can survive another few movies like this, but if this franchise hopes to continue and thrive, it needs to take risks. It needs people who don’t want to hear the odds; it needs more Solos and less Solos.