One would expect that a film should be critiqued on its own merits, but sometimes outward factors force the film to be observed in a new light. In the case of Solo: A Star Wars Story, its troubled production history is impossible to ignore. Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were reportedly fired by Kathleen Kennedy over their shooting style—their improv-heavy methodology not exactly sliding with the well-oiled machine of Lucasfilm. Rumours were also circulating that an acting coach was hired for Alden Ehrenreich—a painfully ironic mirror to the actor’s role in Hail, Caesar! as a young movie star struggling to give a good performance. Its reputation as an unrivaled disaster occluded the final product itself. Would that it were so simple.
Walking into the Grand Lumiere for a repeat gala screening—and feeling more glamorous than I ever will—what I was thinking (other than “DO NOT FALL OVER”) was: “Can they really salvage a good film out of this?” Replacing Lord and Miller with Ron Howard seemed like the safe option—and it really was. Ron Howard’s career as a director is dominated by films that are generally well-liked but are rather unremarkable. He’s prolific too, and so his films maintain a middling quality that means they leave the cultural conversation as quickly as they entered (does anyone actually remember In the Heart of the Sea?). My expectations with Ron Howard at the helm were met, but I was still disappointed. Star Wars films shouldn’t just be solid, they should be exhilarating, but emotionally resonant—and that is nowhere to be seen with Solo. What is revealed by this replacement is that the puppet masters over at Lucasfilm prefer a director who won’t step out of line over a director with a fresh, innovative perspective. Solo: A Star Wars Story is so concerned with playing it safe and appealing to the masses that the end result is wholly underwhelming. To put it bluntly, Solo is downright bland.
It’s no easy job filling in the shoes of Harrison Ford, but Alden Ehrenreich is a wonderfully charming Han Solo. Ehrenreich brings all the charisma he displayed in his scene-stealing turn in Hail, Caesar! without falling into the trap of doing a Harrison Ford impression. The Han Solo we see here is an optimistic thrill-seeker, roughened up by a difficult childhood and accustomed to living on the other side of the law. Ehrenreich’s performance adds shades to the iconic scoundrel we thought we knew, but unfortunately, Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan’s cookie-cutter script fails to incorporate the character into a fun story that’s worthy of Han’s legendary status.
Han Solo is such a cool, elusive character because we don’t know everything about him; his reputation precedes him. Inevitably, the film reveals how Han built up his impressive resume: how he became the fastest pilot in the galaxy, how he completed the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. But like all legends, these events sound more exciting when passed around as mythic tales, when they are greatly exaggerated and fashioned into something more beguiling than they were originally. It’s why watching Han Solo pilot the Millennium Falcon through the Kessel Run was a bigger letdown compared to how I’d always imagined it. Fans old and new have created the image of Han Solo in their heads based on the vague details that have been established, so when you engineer an entire film whose main purpose is to fill in the blanks, you lose that sense of wonder and fascination he represented. Less is more.
There is no exciting, original storytelling here—only a film based around cramming in as many references to the original Star Wars films as possible. If anything, the film proves that the onslaught of prequels determined to enlighten the viewer on every character’s legacy is unnecessary. Solo is stripped of the challenging, provocative elements that made The Last Jedi such a refreshing change of course. What remains is fan service fodder, a pre-packaged product straight from the factory line that is made to induce momentary satisfaction, and nothing more.