Star Wars movies are anything but solo. With the timelines jumping around like a porg on a hot plate, only the most devoted fans will be able to stay on target while the rest of us try to hold this rapidly expanding franchise together like people who’ve had their arms ripped off by loser Wookiees. But if you want to stay loyal, you must endure the spin-offs, so let’s see what Han Solo was doing before that time he totally shot first.
Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) attempt to escape slave labor on their home planet of Corellia, but only Han gets away, vowing to one day become a great pilot and return for Qi’ra with a ship of his own. Three years later, Han meets a “beast” named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and together they join a criminal gang led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who’s been hired to steal a large shipment of an extremely valuable fuel known as “coaxium”. But they fail. Now they must face Beckett’s employer, a man named Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who’s top Lieutenant turns out to be none other than Han’s old flame, Qi’ra.
Glossing over the unenviable task of replacing Harrison Ford, there’s certainly a lot of love for the character of Han Solo in this movie; everything from golden dice to shooting first. He’s front and center in almost every scene, and he even gets a few moments to truly shine. That said, it’s just not enough. While Alden Ehrenreich does his best to make the character his own, he mostly comes off as a glorified supporting character. He’s likable, just not likable enough as a lead. He spends too much of the movie pining over Qi’ra, a romance that’s neither properly fleshed out nor compelling enough to last 2hrs. 15mins, and the rest of the time bragging about piloting skills we never see because the movie skips over his pilot training during the “Three Years Later” portion. Han’s partnership with Chewie is oversimplified, instead focusing on his complicated relationships with Qi’ra, Beckett, and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), leaving Chewie as simply the last card in the deck. They might as well just say Han picked Chewie last in gym.
As for the story, it’s more or less a space heist. The coaxium is the “MacGuffin” the characters are pursuing. Everything else, from the romance to the friendships to the revealing of the young Millennium Falcon, is just filler. Not that it isn’t good filler at times. Donald Glover’s Lando is so similar to Billy Dee Williams that when I first heard his voice I thought he must have been dubbed. There’s some sexual innuendo that’s rather uncommon for Star Wars. And there’s a mind-blowing Phantom Menace cameo that definitely warrants a revisit. As for the bad filler, most of the characters, save for Han and Beckett, are inconsequential to the story. There’s a “knife fight” that’s irritatingly similar to a lightsaber duel. And they even squeeze in a retconned explanation of the “12 parsecs” mistake from A New Hope, turning Solo into the second spin-off in a row to waste valuable time explaining an error as if it’s not an error. (Star Wars apologetics is for the Internet, not the cinema.) But at least then we finally get to see Han’s piloting skills, which he boasts are “the best in the galaxy”, in a high-octane and highly-CG escape scene that reveals more about the technology than the person using it.
I’d say the worst thing about this movie is that there’s nothing inherently bad about it, but that it plays things so completely and utterly safe that you can’t ever be surprised or upset. Everything that you expect to happen happens very cleanly, fulfilling your expectations while simultaneously wasting your time. None of the space or action scenes are truly memorable, save for a mountain train heist where the train literally tilts around the mountain it’s circumnavigating. It’s the second spin-off in a row to rely heavily on fan service and tries very little to stand apart. Solo: A Star Wars Story is for hardcore fans only, and even then, should be viewed exactly as many times as its title suggests.
3 out of 5