NATIONWIDE -- Sorry, "Star Wars" fans, but the other boot has dropped, and Lucasfilm has hit its first inarguable cinematic stumble under the Disney umbrella with “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”
It’s not that the film is entirely bad. In fact, there are quite a few elements in the film that are brilliantly realized, in particular the work of members of the ensemble putting their own spin on longtime fan-favorite Star Wars characters.
Rather, it’s that the film, like Han Solo’s trademark grin, is lopsided. While there are parts that work well, there are other elements that drag the film down, sapping it of its narrative momentum and robbing it of a chance to join the other entries in the Star Wars canon as truly bold and breathtaking space adventures.
What’s it about?
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” examines the life of Star Wars fandom’s favorite reluctant hero, Han Solo, prior to his adventures alongside the Skywalkers and the Rebel Alliance.
The film shows audiences a young orphan living on the streets of Corellia, in the shadows of massive factories and dry docks constructing Imperial Star Destroyers, forced into a life of petty theft along with dozens of other urchins, including the beautiful Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, HBO’s “Game of Thrones”).
Years later, Han’s in a bad spot when he runs into Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a charismatic rogue for hire who, along with his crew, take on high-risk, high-reward jobs for the highest bidder. Beckett’s latest score promises the kind of wealth that can make young Han’s dreams come true, so he forces his way onto the team and quickly shows his worth as a brave, if reckless, fighter and skilled pilot.
It’s not long before Han’s in way over his head with this job, but he’s not alone. Along the way he crosses paths with a certain disreputable but unfailingly stylish card player named Lando (Donald Glover) and a Wookiee named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) who soon proves to be a very valuable ally and friend.
Before this caper is done, Solo will be set on a path to carving his own legend in that galaxy far, far away. However, it won’t be without learning hard lessons that will leave him less bright-eyed and fresh-faced and leave those dreams that shined so bright in the darkness of Corellia tarnished forever.
The Ron Howard effect
It’s been well documented how director Ron Howard was brought in to get “Solo” back on track after the film’s original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who are still credited as executive producers), clashed with Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy over their approach to the material.
Howard ended up re-shooting much of the film, and it shows in the final product. Most glaringly, like many of Howard’s recent films, “Solo” is almost entirely desaturated of color, which just looks odd in a Star Wars film.
Particularly following in the footsteps of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” each of which popped off the screen with vibrant color even when the action unfolded in drab and darker spaces, “Solo” looks unnecessarily muted and restrained in color. If the choice was inspired by an attempt at a grittier look, it’s only marginally successful, and has the unintended effect of depriving a film that already plods forward in fits and starts of even more vibrance and energy.
Casting a bright spot
While scenes and backdrops in “Solo” may be lacking in color, the cast of characters found in the script by veteran “Star Wars” scribe Lawrence Kasdan and son Jonathan Kasdan certainly is not. Thankfully, the ensemble brought together to bring those roles to life give their all and deliver a number of memorable turns.
Without question, the most enjoyable of these is Donald Glover’s take on Lando Calrissian, the character made unforgettable decades ago by Billy Dee Williams. Glover adopts a slight speech affectation, an arched eyebrow and a great deal of smooth swagger to channel Williams, and the results are fun to watch.
As for the actor in the title role, while Alden Ehrenreich may not look much like a young Harrison Ford, he brings a great deal of likeable energy and personality to his take on Han Solo. He wears Solo’s trademark rakish lopsided grin through much of the film, and properly delivers the requisite mix of sincerity and bravado audiences will expect.
Bottom line: He sells the action and brings the charm, so it’s a good start for an actor who may end up playing this role again in a future film.
Supporting players in “Solo” also worthy of attention include Clarke, who is both winsome and inscrutable as Qi’ra, Suotamo in his third time out as Chewbacca following “The Force Awakens" and "The Last Jedi,” and English actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Lando’s co-pilot and very unique droid companion, L3-37.
Between the very enjoyable work of the ensemble and some truly thrilling action set pieces sprinkled throughout the film, there’s just enough that’s good about “Solo: A Star Wars Story” to help it overcome its shortcomings. “Star Wars” fans in particular who are hungry for a “Star Wars” film built around arguably the franchise's most beloved character may be more willing to just sit back and enjoy the ride, forgiving stylistic missteps and predictable plot turns.
However, it is without a doubt the most uneven chapter delivered in the new era of “Star Wars” films. With all its flaws, it’s tough to imagine it will soar to the heights of box office success reached by its predecessors.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
- Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Paul Bettany. Directed by Ron Howard.
- Running time: 135 minutes.
- Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.