What to say about a film that never really needed to be? In 1977 when we first met a character some 52 minutes into a film, sitting in the corner booth of a cantina and introducing himself as Captain of the Millenium Falcon, we got enough. With that smile, that body language, and even the braggadocio air of a man discussing parsecs and Kessel runs, we had what we needed.
Han was always the most Western (as in genre) of the characters. The cynical gunslinger who dismissed sorcerer’s ways and had a world weariness to him. We knew he and Chewbacca were close, but didn’t need to know how they met. We eventually learned he got the ship from a suave guy named Lando Calrissian, the nerdier of us having heard of a game of chance called “sabaac” that was somehow involved.
There are moments of action and drama, romance and roguish charm, but as a whole it doesn’t add up to more than we had before. Solo, it seems, is the first superficial Star Wars film, and that’s a shame.
At its best the film plays like one of the novels that came out to fill fandom, providing a bit more detail for those wanting to parse the minutia. It’s official fanfiction of a sort, allowing elements from the disparate properties of the franchise to intersect. What may be a surprise to many are the several prequel nods thrown in for good measure, referencing several character from Lucas’ Phantom Menace that will mildly please some and confound many more.
There’s still plenty to enjoy – the new Falcon design is a pleasing one, a kind of “uncircumcised” version of the famous ship that we see from the beginning. The Han/Chewie dynamic is warm and well realized. The newest performer, Joonas Suotamo, is doing well to mimic Peter Mahew’s gait while still showing off some new moves, and that will be much of the draw for the audience.
The new droid L3-37 voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge is also quite good, though compares unfavourably to the terrific turn Alan Tudyk did in Rogue One. It injects some contemporary identity politics that will grate as unnecessary by some and cause palpitations for the small minded (male) minority offended by such things, but it’s an effective, empathetic character and a welcome addition.
Jon Favreau voices a new creature Rio Durant that seems far more superfluous, a kind of cheaper version of a certain CGI racoon that we’ve grown to love from another branch of Disney’s empire. Thandie Newton makes an impact, as does a scene chewing Paul Bettany who embodies the perfect kind of brit baddie that we’ve grown to expect in these works. Woody Harrelson’s becket is decent enough, his moral compass ever wavering, while Emilia Clarke does her damndest to break out of the Game of Thrones mold and come across well on the big screen.
Of course, there’s the biggest hitch of all, Alden Ehrenreich trying to inhabit the very stylish boots of one Harrison Ford. Charitably, it’s a decent approach, never pure mimicry, yet echoing early ticks that make the character who it is. You just don’t quite fall for the trick, but it’s clearly not from lack of trying. The same, it must be said, can be levelled at Donald Glover’s Lando. Yes, he’s got many of Billy D’s mannerisms down pat (along with a fabulous collection of capes) but that gorgeous smile and oleaginous charm can only go so far.
Ships fly, things explode, missions are undertaken and betrayals happen. It’s all pretty rote, of course, so the film is primarily tasked first and foremost feeling like a vital part of the cinematic canon. Unfortunately, despite everything thrown at the wall in order to try and stick, it doesn’t quite succeed.
We’ll never know what the original directors may have made of this film, but given the fact that every time the film turned “jokey” it felt even more flat, and frankly could have used a lot more in the way of sardonicism, I’m betting that Ron Howard deserves any credit to be gleaned from the work. There are moments of kinetic action that do manage to rise to expected levels, but stakes are undercut and never quite feel high enough, as if this entire enterprise is mere footnote to much more important things going on.
Which brings us back to the very issue with the film, that they chose to make a story filling in the backstory of a character that had more than enough of one implied already. The film entertains, for the most part, it feels Star Wars-y enough, but in the end serves as little more than a jumping off point for other, likely more interesting narratives. The end result is the weakest film they’ve made under this brand (television and animated films notwithstanding), a work whose very nature leans towards the superfluous.
So with Solo we get a backstory that manages moments of greatness while the rest of the film feels, well, “forced”. That bad feeling I had about this seems to have been on target.