To say that Solo has had a troubled production may be one of the most spectacular understatements in recent history. In brief, directors Chris Lord and Phil Miller struggled for months to find a young actor capable of stepping into Harrison Ford’s iconic role (eventually landing on a near-unknown named Alden Ehrenreich, whose performance was reportedly so uneven that an acting coach was brought on to smooth things out fairly late into shooting), only to be fired about 80% of the way through principal photography, and eventually replaced with Hollywood mainstay Ron Howard.
Howard then proceeded to rework almost the entire script and reshoot a vast majority of the film from scratch. Meanwhile, audiences were being barraged with this never-ending sequence of bad press and an astonishing lack of details about the actual movie. Up until a few months before release, nobody had seen a single promotional photograph, full cast picture, or frame from something that could resemble a film that the most powerful studio in the world intended to release in under a year. For comparison, the first teaser trailer for The Force Awakens debuted in November of 2014, and the film premiered in December of 2015, well over a year later. The first Solo teaser dropped in February of 2018, and the film was finally released May 25th, just shy of four months later.
Exacerbating these already pretty substantial issues were two vital questions: how would anybody be able to even do so much as live up to Ford’s turn as the galaxy’s favorite smuggler, and why on earth do we need a Han Solo standalone movie?
Combining all of the above problems made Solo look like a losing proposition no matter how you sliced it, and I began to temper my expectations accordingly. I knew it would be foolish to hope for a shred of originality in the storytelling, and that at least 95% of the film would be nostalgia or fan-service. I knew that no matter what, everything that the original Star Wars films had established as the many and varied adventures of a cocky, charming rogue would all be condensed into a single string of connected events. We would see Han get his gun, meet Chewy, claim the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian, toss out some classic witticisms, and shoot somebody first.
As it turns out, I was 100% right. What I hadn’t expected is that somehow, against all odds, Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t a complete trainwreck. Considering the film was essentially shot twice by two different directors (with no delay in release, which is as good of proof as any that Disney may actually possess some legitimate magical powers), the actors were supposed to be struggling, and the project had yet to justify its own existence on any level, I was braced for Justice League levels of hilarity.
Instead, what finally slid into theaters nationwide is a bizarrely functional film that seems almost manufactured in its solidity. The best way I can think of to describe it is as a joke told by an A.I. All the pieces are there; the words are in the perfect order and the punchline may even be hilarious, but the inflection is just off enough to make the whole thing feel synthetic. Solo is all of the charm and humor of Han and Lando, as told by Amazon Alexa.
If there was any doubt that the narrative would follow a young Han as he meets his Wookie compatriot, discovers a life of crime, completes the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, and obtains the Millennium Falcon from Lando, let me set your mind at ease: that’s precisely what happens. There is a romantic subplot thrown in there because of course there is as well as some not-so-subtle references to both the prequels and the sequels, but for the most part, things proceed exactly as anybody would expect them to in a movie about Han Solo’s origins.
I could spend the next 1500 words or so listing out my many grievances with basing an entire movie on what was essentially flavor-text from a forty year old film, or my continued frustration with the Star Wars franchise’s insistence on only telling stories that we’ve either heard before, or are intimately related to well-known characters, but I’ll just settle for the preceding sixty-three. Instead, I’ll simply say that if you’re a fan of Disney/Lucasfilm’s nostalgia-centric approach to the series, you’ll find a lot to like about Solo, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
In regards to the two big questions (how would Ehrenreich stack up against Ford and could this film prove that it had any reason to exist in the first place), the answers are “well enough” and “no,” respectively. The young actor does a perfectly sufficient Harrison Ford impression and leans so hard into the trademark grin and shooting pose that I began to worry he would just get stuck there, squatting and smiling like some bizarre space-scarecrow. He’s charming when he needs to be, arrogant when the scene calls for it, and altogether acceptable in the role. The same can be said for Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando Calrissian. He’s smooth, sly, and seems to be enjoying chewing up the scenery.
The problem is that at no point does it seem that they are actually these characters. Instead, they feel like actors playing the actors who once played these characters. The result is a sense that, perhaps even more so than Rogue One, this is essentially a $250 million fan film. With the exception of the visual presentation, which is the most significant departure from the norm the series has yet taken, nothing about the script, performances, or plot suggest that anyone involved with the production had aspirations to explore something new in the Star Wars universe. Instead, they just kind of wanted to play around in it for a while with their favorite childhood characters, fan-fiction style.
Even so, Solo is effective in a utilitarian kind of way. Plot points happen at the appropriate moments, character arcs are completed to satisfaction, backs are stabbed at the correct time, and action sequences are exciting and energetic. If you stripped the screenplay of any reference to Star Wars, you’d have a serviceable, if generic, action thriller. In this sense, Solo may actually be superior to Rogue One, which was a dull, morose affair starring completely lifeless characters as they zombie-walked through an overlong, poorly paced, shoddily constructed story just to get fans to the beginning of a better movie.
So ultimately, this is a film that lacks any sense of vitality. Even the most diehard Star Wars fan could sleep peacefully at night knowing that they had missed absolutely nothing of importance by skipping out on this particular adventure. Even so, it’s something of a miracle that this film was ever completed in the first place. Regardless of the quality of the end product, the fact that Solo doesn’t resemble a raging dumpster-fire that had been frankensteined together out of the unique visions of three separate people and two different periods of principal photography is either a testament to the power of determination, or to the fact that if you throw enough money at anything it will eventually become watchable.
Then again, I suspect that were this anything other than a Star Wars movie about everybody’s favorite nerf herder, nobody would have anything much to say at all, and the film would quickly fade from our collective memory. There’s nothing remarkable about Solo: A Star Wars Story, except for the fact that it exists at all. I’m not entirely sure if that’s enough to explain why we needed it to begin with, but I suppose it’s a little late to be asking that now anyway.