Review: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’

The Star Wars mythology continues to expand, moving both forward beyond “Return of the Jedi” and backwards with standalone prequels like “Rogue One.” The backstories labelled as ‘A Star Wars Story’ act as cinematic Wikipedia pages of sorts, filling in the much needed who and how the original six-part epic never explained. As such, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” provides us with a middling at best explainer of intergalactic space cowboy turned hero Hans Solo. The film aims to show how Solo meets Chewbacca; how he acquires his iconic ship: the Millennium Falcon, and other trivia tidbits about the adventurer true fans want to know, like how did he make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, and his relationship with Lando Calrissian.

As interesting as those facts should be to discover, “Solo” is a rather dull, basic story with more emphasis on establishing key frames moments like Chewbacca and the Millennium Falcon instead of providing an adventure a hero like Hans deserves.

The story starts on Corellia, where Hans (Alden Ehrenreich), a young smuggler fails at lifting a shipment of coaxium, a treasured and valuable fuel source everyone is trying to get their hands (or paws, tentacles, feelers, etc.) on. His attempts to escape punishment for the mishap with his girlfriend Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke) ultimately partners him with Chewbacca and Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who seek to score a shipment of coaxium worth millions. What happens next is a series of poorly planned misadventures that feel ridiculously underwhelming.

This is what makes “Solo” so disappointing, unlike its predecessor, “Rogue One” the film does a poor job of utilizing its ancillary characters to motivate the principal and help move the story along. Beckett’s partner in crime Val (Thandie Newton) is sorely underutilized and falls prey to Star War’s unnecessary racial bias and misogyny. L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Lando Calrissian’s (Donald Glover) co-pilot and navigator droid is a mouthy feminist with broad hips and back pains. They attempt to redeem themselves with Qi’Ra’s rather feisty and complicated role in this heist story, but still, she is just an enigmatic and fickle placeholder. Considering talents like Paul Bettany as Red Dawn mafioso Dryden Vos, Harrelson’s Beckett, and Glover’s Calrissian you are still left with a hollow patchwork story that fails to excite or hold interest.

Who really knows what went wrong with “Solo.” Ron Howard inherited the film after most of the principal footage was already finished by fired directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Howard did extensive reshoots but considering the finished project, I’m inclined to think maybe Star Wars is just not his wheelhouse.

Compared to previous films that are now canon, “Solo” lacks the visual spectacle most Star Wars films deliver. Even up against the remastered “A New Hope,” this film pales at immersing Hans in a world that is engaging and inspired. Correlia is a claustrophobic industrial shipyard; the Kessel Run is a cloudy nebulous storm with a convenient Cthulhu-like leviathan floating about, and the rest of the planets are just desert scapes and rocky mines that make no sense story wise considering the precious coaxium mineral they produce. Its simply bland and just plain lazy to attempt so little from such a rich body of previous work.

As bored as I was watching “Solo” (I nodded off at the screening so paid and see it again), I must admit I enjoyed see Ehrenreich commit to this youthful and slick Solo. This is a Hans that’s not quite as cranky and jaded and it is refreshing to see him play with Solo’s clever and lesser-known traits like knowing how to speak Wookiee. Glover’s Calrissian is equally fun to watch as the cape-obsessed soldier of fortune. They have a true chemistry in this comedy of errors that pits their alpha maleness against one another that begs to be explored in future stories.

In the end, “Solo” makes a bold attempt to provide a fitting origin story for one of “Star Wars” most beloved characters, but unfortunately this effort is lost in campy throwback dialog and an uninteresting story that is hardly fun, thrilling, or entertaining.

Solo: A Star Wars Story, 2.5 stars. Directed by Ron Howard. Stars lden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany. In theaters May 25, 2018.

Edward is a freelance writer and film critic based in Atlanta, GA. He is a member of the African American Film Critics Association and the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. When he's not watching movies, you can find him cooking in the kitchen or tending his garden.

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