Published May 24, 2018While it's hardly unusual in recent years for Star Wars to inject a healthy dose of nostalgia into their films, Solo: A Star Wars Story is the first that seems content to coast almost entirely on fond memories of the previous movies. It's an origin tale that deals in wink-wink in-jokes and nudge-nudge references in the service of a middling story that doesn't really amount to much in the grand scheme of things.
It's not all bad though — there are a handful of thrilling action sequences, a few enjoyable performances and, of course, some wondrous spectacles that can only be glimpsed a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
When we first meet a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), he is naturally on the run. Escaping the clutches of the corrupt overlords on his home planet of Corellia with his love Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) by his side, the two are eventually separated. Han abruptly decides to join the Imperial Navy in order to flee, hoping to quickly ascend the ranks to pilot.
Flash-forward three rough years later though, and Han is still fighting on the dangerous front lines. That is, until he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a thief intent on stealing a load of coaxium — a valuable starship fuel that will fetch a lot of money on the open market due to its potential for use in explosives.
Of course, Han talks his way onto a heist team that also includes Beckett's wife Val (Thandie Newton), the pilot Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau) and Han's newest companion, a Wookiee named Chewbacca who forged a bond with Han after the two managed to wriggle out of a tough spot together in one of the film's better scenes. After the drab blues of Corellia and the smoky grays of the battlefield, the film really bursts to life with this heist scene, as the team attempts to lift one of the train cars from the rest of the train as it snakes its way precariously around a snowy mountain.
When the heist goes awry and it's revealed that Beckett was working for a shadowy organization run by the nefariously named and horrifically scarred Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the team is forced to find another way to get their hands on a whole lot of coaxium fast or face the wrath of Vos. Han is also surprised to find that his former love Qi'ra is now working with Vos for reasons that remain ambiguous. In need of a ship, the group seeks out Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), a legendary smuggler who has since retired to a life of leisure (read: gambling). When Han manages to coerce Lando into helping them out, they all pile into Lando's ship, the venerable Millennium Falcon, to try and pull off the difficult mission.
With the pressure of the film resting largely on his shoulders, Ehrenreich has the unenviable task of trying to channel the unique combination of charm and cockiness that Harrison Ford originated. For the most part, he acquits himself well enough without veering into an outright impression, though he noticeably lacks the same ineffable everyman quality Ford so effortlessly conveyed without affectation.
By the time Lando shows up to transform the movie into essentially a battle of charisma, you can't shake the sense that Glover would easily steal the movie if only they would let him. But he's hardly afforded enough screen time to even have a chance to upstage the title character and we're left to wait for his own inevitable spin-off.
For all of the pre-release chatter that the duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street) were fired during a troubled production due to taking the film in a direction that was too comedic, the film certainly doesn't suffer from such a problem now. As it is, too many of the jokes here are predicated on Star Wars fans knowing in advance the way things will shake out for these characters. For instance, Han declares upon learning Chewbacca's name that he'll have to eventually come up with a shorter nickname. You see, it's hilarious because we already know what that nickname will be!
Ron Howard certainly knows his way around an action scene at this point in his journeyman career, but there is little personality and few risks to be found in the rote screenplay credited to veteran Star Wars scribe Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan. The villain is a generically icy figure with vague plans and hollow threats, the twists and turns are fairly predictable and the entire story is one that — unlike superior fellow Star Wars stand-alone Rogue One — has few meaningful connections to other Star Wars stories beyond the hollow reverence for what has come before. The Last Jedi may have earned its share of ire from fans for deviating too far from the familiar Star Wars formula, but Solo might unfortunately end up being remembered as the moment when the series finally disappeared up its own ass. (Disney)