Solo: A Star Wars Story Movie Review
I’d never been less excited to re-watch a Star Wars movie than when I sat down to revisit Solo: A Star Wars Story, the ill-fated Han Solo prequel that was met so unenthusiastically by critics, audiences and most importantly box office analysts alike that it caused Disney and Lucasfilm to completely rethink their franchise approach.
And yet, amazingly, Solo plays better on repeat, and at home, unburdened by expectations.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s a more enjoyable watch than The Last Jedi.
The Last Jedi, the divisive Rian Johnson film that has been praised as the “best Star Wars movie ever” and ridiculed for being the opposite, is undeniably well made (and better made than Solo), but also wildly inconsistent, boasting some extremely strong sequences yet marred by some awful ones as well—and poor decisions. Remember the cringe-inducing casino sequence? The mishandling of Luke Skywalker, or at very least him drinking green milk? Princess Leia flying through space?
Solo, meanwhile, is sort of bland, lacking the grandiose of most Star Wars movies yet unwilling to make up for it with the boldness or grittiness that it so desperately is looking for. And yet it is consistent in its narrow vision—somewhat surprising given that it had two different directors—and delivers a generally entertaining small-scale heist story.
Sure, the movie mismanages certain things—Thandie Newton is killed off way too early, the handling of the revolution-crazy droid is pretty bad, and certain plot points don’t make a ton of sense—but it too has some highly enjoyable sequences, including the Kessel Run, the train heist and, frankly, the climax, which in my original review (see below) was described as featuring “big twists and turns [that] are not only uninspired but somewhat baffling,” plays much better on repeat. Donald Glover is a terrific Lando.
Solo’s biggest misfortune is that Alden Ehrenreich is just not a very good Han Solo. He isn’t a terrible lead in his own right, but he lacks the charisma, charm and pure acting talent that was necessary to overcome the film’s shortcomings.
Solo still isn’t a very good movie, but with lowered expectations it is a pleasantly entertaining jaunt that, despite shaky filmmaking in parts, is less offensively stupid than The Last Jedi.
My original theatrical review
Solo: A Star Wars Story is exactly what you’d expect from a movie plagued by behind-the-scenes drama that includes a mid-filming director swap and rumors of an acting coach brought in for its star: a middling but serviceable entry that mixes burst of laser energy with stretches flatter than the sands of Tatooine.
Alden Ehrenreich is tasked with the unenviable role of trying to play one of the most charismatic and already defined characters in the Star Wars universe, and somehow expected to come close to the awkward charm of Harrison Ford. He largely fails in this endeavor, though to his credit he’s not nearly as bad as pre-release anti-buzz indicated—and frankly, it’s not a role too many people could pull off. Still, only in small fits will you see the mannerisms you’d expect from Han Solo, and that’s a problem.
On the flip side, Donald “I can do anything you can do better” Glover delivers a pitch perfect performance as Lando Calrissian, demonstrating that, yes, timeless characters can be played by other actors.
Woody Harrelson is also in the movie and does a decent job playing Woody Harrelson, while Emilia Clarke smiles her way through a horribly written role that seems yanked from another movie entirely—and does little to convince my theory that outside of “Game of Thrones,” she simply isn’t very good.
Of course, you aren’t reading this review to hear about the characters and actors as much as the movie itself. Unlike Rogue One, which also suffered from similar pre-release issues but came out the end pretty damn entertaining anyway, Solo looks and feels like a movie that can’t decide what it wants to be. It is a heist movie, undeniably, but it wavers between seriousness and fun and never properly blends the two.
The good thing is that Solo does get better as it goes along, and features a few pretty decent action scenes including one featuring a daring train heist set on an elevated track and another in which Han must navigate through a space cloud of sorts. More noticeably, there are also some solid stretches where the cast, including Ehrenreich, seem to be having real fun—also noticeably, there are stretches where Solo comes off as humorless, even though you can tell that wasn’t the filmmakers’ intention.
And ultimately, that’s the problem. Han Solo is a carefree guy who gets himself into (and out of) trouble, yet the movie doesn’t play as carefree as it thinks it does. The screenplay falls flat in places and the actors, aside from Glover, don’t elevate the material. The end result is a mildly entertaining film that nonetheless fails to exude much of a fun factor.
The film’s final 20 minutes are also problematic. The climax is largely unclimactic, and the big twists and turns are not only uninspired but somewhat baffling. Many of the characters’ actions don’t entirely make sense, and even what Han does seems a betrayal of the character. A surprise cameo is indeed a surprise, but doesn’t really work.
On its own, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fairly harmless and somewhat entertaining heist/action/sci-fi film. But as part of the Star Wars universe, it is noticeably sloppy, inconsistent and not particularly engaging.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.