Review: 'Solo: A Star Wars Story'

Review by Eric Lee

Last week Solo: A Star Wars Story was released the to mixed reviews and low box office revenue. A lot of bad buzz is attached to the movie due to poor marketing and numerous reports of troubled production. But if you look at the movie devoid of the behind-the-scenes drama, how is it?


The answer for me is: it's okay-ish.

Ehrenreich as Han Solo

First off, Alden Ehrenreich's portrayal of Han Solo was pretty decent. He has the cock-eyed look and arrogant assuredness that is associated with the character. He is not as effortlessly charismatic as Harrison Ford in the role, but Ehrenreich is still a fun actor to watch on-screen.
Alden Ehrenreich as Han
In the previous movies, Han is portrayed as a lovable, cocky rogue with a heart of gold. But what makes him relatable to the audience is how often his cockiness gets him into jams that he does not know how to get out. We get that sense here in Solo as well. 

The best scene is when Han is confronted with a crime boss and he pretends that a rock he is holding is a thermal detonator primed to explode. His gambit hilariously fails as the unimpressed crime boss quickly calls him out on faking it. It is funny and makes Han look hapless, without being completely incompetent. More importantly, it sets up the drama in later scenes when Han does succeed.

The Story of 'Solo'

The story for the movie is its greatest weakness. Overall, it is an uneven script. For every plot twist that is genuinely cool and interesting, there is one that is head-scratching or confusing. For every fun, intriguing character there is a pointless character, such as Thandie Newton's Val. Story points are introduced and then either barely explained or forgotten all together.

One cannot shake the feeling that these disparate plot lines are due to Ron Howard's late inclusion into the movie as its director. Oscar-winner Howard is certainly not a bad director. However, who knows what pre-existing footage, executive edicts, and crew he inherited. All of these complications certainly leads to sloppy scripting. Fortunately, Howard is strong enough to make the film mostly coherent.


Not to say it is a bad movie. There is plenty of good in it too. Howard creates a seedy, gritty nature that suits the tone for Solo well. The movie is all about the criminal underworld element that the Empire did not stamp out. It is always great to see a different aspect of the Star Wars universe that is not about the Empire versus Rebels conflict. The movie builds a great culture of how criminals run. Shady dealings, cheating, and lots of betrayals. That is the real danger in Solo.  Who can you trust?


The climactic and most thrilling sequence in the movie is the Kessel run. Some Star Wars purists will argue that the oft-referenced heist should never been seen. Fortunately, the filmmakers really put in the effort to make the craziest, funnest action sequence in the movie. It has the classic "Out of  the frying pan and into the fire" feel. Han and the gang get out of one problem and directly into another. The sequence really shows how resourceful Han is and how his non-traditional thinking is his greatest asset.

The Rest of the Scoundrels

Straight-up, Donald Glover as Lando is a treasure. That guy exudes so much personality and charisma. He is captivating to watch on-screen and easily the best character in the whole movie (sorry, Han). Glover also has his Billy Dee Williams impression down to a science. It literally sounds like Lando. I would love to watch a Lando spin-off movie after Glover's showing here.
Donald Glover as Lando
The other standout character is Chewbacca. With no disrespect to Joonas Sutamo, but Chewie's role is standout not due to his acting, but because the script giving special attention to the Chewie and Han relationship. Han understands Chewie in a way that others do not, and  it is not just due to his ability to speak Shyriiwook.

As for the rest of the principal cast, they were all serviceable, if unremarkable. Woody Harrelson's Beckett received the most screen time and is a good foil for Han's naive, youthful exuberance. But we still do not know much about his personality beyond grizzled career criminal. 


Same for Emilia Clarke's Qi'ra. There is not enough backstory for her to get a good sense of her personality. This is not a reflection of the actors' performances, but the inconsistent script that does not hint enough about their characterization or backstory to really hook people.


Phoebe Waller-Bridge's performance as L3-37, the sarcastic social justice droid is slightly amusing. However, L3 just feels like a derivative of the other sarcastic droid K2-SO from Rogue One, so she feels more tiresome than funny. Who keeps programming these droids to be so sassy? Can we have a Star Wars spin-off on that character?


Poor Paul Bettany makes do with what little is given to him as the main antagonist Dryden Vos.  I don't think he appears in the movie more than 9 minutes. But when he does, it is fun seeing Vos as a surprisingly hospitable, polite guy who talks in a matter-a-fact way... even when he's executing people. 

(L-R): Emila Clarke's Qi'ra, Paul Bettnay's Dyden Vos
However, his screen presence is not very big. This is due to partially how boring Vos' visual design is. He has some scars on his face and dresses in a fairly contemporary dress shirt and slacks combo. Vos' unfortunately does not have a visually memorable design like Darth Vader or Kylo Ren. Hence, he is ultimately a forgettable character.

Conclusion

Solo attempts many different things and accomplishes most of them fairly competently. There are many missteps in the film, but it is no where as bad as some fans proclaim it online. If you come in with tempered expectations, then you will have an enjoyable movie experience.


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