The second "Star Wars Story" in Disney and Lucasfilm's new Star Wars franchise, Solo has been traveling a rocky path since its announcement. From last-minute director changes to rumors of emergency acting coaches being brought in, things seemed to have been stacked against the movie from the get go -- though, maybe that's poetic for a titular character who famously hates to be told the odds.
Unfortunately, Solo isn't the scrappy come-from-behind victory story Han fans have been anxiously hoping for. It's not quite as bad as the rumors and the changes made us fear, but that's not a high hurdle to jump.
Designed to be an intimate look at the youth of the fan-favorite character during his time before the start of the original Star Wars trilogy, the movie focuses on Han (Alden Ehrenreich) during his late-teens-to-early-20s as a street rat turned cosmic ne'er-do-well, with all the bells and whistles. We get an origin story for he and Chewbacca's iconic partnership, his first time on the Millennium Falcon, his first meeting with Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) -- the works.
Did you ever want to know why Han's last name is "Solo?" That's here. The origin of those chained metallic dice on the "dash" of the Falcon? That's here, too. The Kessel Run? You betcha. Han saying he's got a good feeling instead of a bad one? Sure thing. It's a smorgasbord of fanservice moments that practically look directly into the camera and wink, but each time it happens, the gesture gets less and less endearing. In fact, about halfway through the relentless self-referencing and over-explanation of just about every aspect of Han's character starts to feel less like an attempt to tell a real story and more like an honest effort to make the entire Star Wars universe seem like an engine powered by cosmic coincidences.
Add to that the strangely scattered structure -- a first act that sets up stakes that are immediately resolved and forgotten by act two, a third act that spirals into part of a fourth -- and even more big "reveals" about characters other than Han, and you've got yourself a two hour-plus mess.
The twangy Western gunslinger vibe conveyed by the trailers is basically completely absent. There are some elements of a heist story tossed in and about five minutes of a genuine mud-and-trenches war movie, but otherwise the story is a highlight reel of the same storytelling styles and genre conventions Star Wars has been simmering in for the last 40-some-odd years. The fight choreography is fine but lacks any real flair, the creature designs are gorgeous but heavily underused, and the new side characters feel hollow and presumptuously unexplained.
The fact is, Solo: A Star Wars Story isn't really concerned in making a lot of sense to people who aren't already bought-and-sold for the Star Wars mythos as they walk in the door. It seems to proceed under the assumption that it doesn't really need to put forth any extra effort to flesh out the world because anyone paying attention will be to busy nodding sagely at the references it jingles in front of them. Lead bad guy Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) doesn't have any real motivation beyond an unexplained criminal bureaucracy and the "crime syndicates" touted in the movie's opening crawl are never actually explored. Instead, the story progresses under the hollow hope that all the work has already been done for it, like a kid trying to bluff their way through a classroom discussion for a reading they didn't do. Worse yet, that general lack of effort makes the whole exercise seem even more futile when you pause to think about Solo's place in the Star Wars timeline. We already know half of these characters leave the spotlight entirely down the line, we already know where Han ends up -- we need to be given new, fresh reasons to care, but there are none to be found.
That said, things aren't all bad. The concerns and rumors about Ehrenreich's acting abilities seem to have been blown out of proportion. He does a totally fine job of serving up a swagger and charm that feels like a believable precursor to '70s Harrison Ford, and his chemistry with Glover's Lando is a genuine joy to watch. Glover, though his screen time feels about a third of what he actually deserves, steals every scene he's in. The aforementioned creature designs really are a total marvel, despite their lack of use -- some of the crowd scenes are populated with the strongest practical effects Star Wars has cooked up to date. So, all told, not a total misfire.