What do you get when you have a studio that wants to make the most money it can off of a property it just bought but doesn’t have the gusto to take that franchise into new and interesting places, potentially bringing in other demographics that they’re not serving? You get “Solo: A Box Office Story.”
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a competent film all around. All the performances are fine, with a love-it-or-hate-it portrayal of young Lando Calrissian by Donald Glover, a surprisingly serviceable take on young Han Solo by Alden Ehrenreich, an interesting Woody Harrelson performance, an OK story, a decent premise, and an otherwise forgettable supporting cast.
To the tune of $250 million.
Now, that might sound like a lot – it is, in fact, it’s more than what “The Last Jedi” supposedly costed to make – but this is “Star Wars,” and it seems like everyone forgot that there was a prequel series that nearly destroyed the entire franchise.
And yet, it didn’t. In fact, “Star Wars” was bigger than it had ever been, selling more toys and merchandise than it had any right to, even though the prequel trilogy was atrocious. In fact, in many ways, Episodes I, II and III are looked back upon with indulgence, spawning many popular memes that will be here until the end of time, poking fun at in good humor the fact that George Lucas directed those films from the comfort of his chair while his actors ran aimless in front of blue screens.
And while “The Last Jedi” and “Solo” lack fingerprints as indistinguishable as George Lucas’s, I think that they, too will be looked upon with indulgence, spawning their own cult followings of sorts.
But here’s the thing. “The Last Jedi” and “Solo” are decent movies. I’m in the camp that “The Last Jedi” is perhaps the most well-made “Star Wars” film since “The Empire Strikes Back” – not like there’s much standing in its way; there’s only Episode VI, the prequels, Episode VII, and “Rogue One,” as well as a crappy “Clone Wars” movie that was demolished at the box office. If you want to talk about box office failures, look at that one. $35 million off of a “Star Wars” movie, and by that standard alone is it a failure – the movie purportedly only cost $8.5 million to make; and “Solo” sings a similar tune, with it already surpassing its purported $250 million budget by almost $100 million at the time of me writing this, but like “Clone Wars,” “Solo” has no hopes of crossing $1 billion like its predecessors. For a “Star Wars” movie, it’s just doing ok.
And to be honest, that’s all it really had the hope of being.
“Solo” was a disaster story to begin with, with its lead supposedly needing acting lessons, and it’s original directors got fired and were replaced by Ron Howard; and for a “Star Wars” story, doing a movie on Han Solo crossed the line of too safe to the point where there was no hope of getting the public riled up for it. It was clear that this film was only made because everyone knows who Han Solo was, but the studio failed to understand that the only reason people like Han Solo is because of Harrison Ford’s portrayal, and without Ford, there really wasn’t much point in bringing him back. Han Solo in many ways is Harrison Ford in space. To make matters worse, Han Solo the character died three years ago in Episode VII – by all means the people who cared about him had moved on, and Solo’s character just frankly isn’t interesting enough to peak the interest of the general public. If they wanted to do that, they should have made a movie on Emperor Palpatine, or Darth Revan from the now non-canonical “Knight of the Old Republic” series. Somebody that can do cool things never before seen in the franchise.
With that being said, “Solo” is as good as it could have been. Alden Ehrenreich gives us a believable Han Solo, and despite the fact that he is very similar to the Han Solo most people know from the beginning of “A New Hope,” he has an arc akin to growing up and getting over his naiveté, one that he has to learn the hard way. Donald Glover’s Lando works, though his companion, L3, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is grating, though does add positively to the story via a Droid uprising (L3 is basically a social justice droid). Woody Harrelson plays a character named Beckett, who serves as Ehrenreich’s mentor throughout the film, though he is (fittingly) deeply flawed. Emilia Clarke plays Qi’Ra, the love interest to Han Solo that has just as charisma as her portrayal of Sarah Connor in Terminator: The Soft Reboot (suffice it to say, she was very robotic). Paul Bettany plays a mustache-twirling villain with scars on his face and is great; comparable to Cate Blanchett’s outing as Hela in “Thor: Ragnarok.” And of course, there’s Chewbacca.
“Solo” certainly isn’t boring, even if it’s very stupid. One of its biggest weaknesses is its lack of world building, mostly a result of its sweaky-clean 2 hour run time. There a scene early on where Solo and crew are robbing a train, which is almost laughable because, well as RedLetterMedia put it, why are we using trains to transport things in “Star Wars?” It’s a pretty minor nitpick, but I got the sense that maybe there was more to that planet than was actually shown in the film, which is a shame because part of the joy of “Star Wars” is that you get the ability to explore other planets and learn about them. “Solo” likes to jump cut to planet to planet without a second thought.
But I will give the film this, it certainly felt more like an adaptation of an Expanded Universe novel than any of the other new films, which I think they were going for. “Solo” tells a smaller story of Solo’s heist in which he made the Kessel Run, and it works. There’s likeable characters, the film tries to actually be about more than one thing, with fun scenes like a droid uprising and some teases to “A New Hope,” planting seeds in Solo’s character that saw fruition in the original three “Star Wars” movies. It had a lot of fanservice, and felt like it was in the “Star Wars” universe. “Solo” isn’t anything remarkable outside of that, but it never tries to be. It’s just a slightly above average popcorn flick. Had it came out this December and didn’t have to compete with “Marvel’s The Avengers: Infinity War,” nor had to deal with still-relatively fresh fan reactions to “The Last Jedi,” it would probably be received more warmly than it has.
Solo: A Star Wars Story gets a 6.5/10