There is something very mechanical about Solo: A Star Wars Story. The film does not feel like it is telling a story – it feels like it is rendering a theme park ride-like experience where you have constantly swerved around and drowned in a cacophony of noises. If you are going in expecting hollow and non-immersive storytelling, then Solo would be right up your alley. For those looking for new avenues and fresh elements in the Star Wars, universe this would be a tough one to sit through.
This is, of course, the origin story of Han Solo – this time played by Alden Ehrenreich minus the screen presence that Harrison Ford commanded in the original films. We are quickly introduced to Solo’s adventures with criminal gangs that separates him from Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), a girl he is fond of. A few years later, Solo bumps into her again and sets off on another adventure to steal some explosive material at the behest of Solo’s mentor (Woody Harrelson). It does not take much to guess that Solo finds Chewie at some point and discovers the Millennium Falcon to fight the bad guys.
For an origin story, Solo is a severely malnourished film. The film’s behind-the-scenes drama has been documented well enough to explain the messy filmmaking that is presented on the screen. It does often seem like they shot multiple versions of a scene and picked a woefully mismatched string of takes together for the final cut. Two other elements stick out like sore thumbs – the scale and the seriousness. This should have been a small and intimate comedy anchored purely by character-driven moments rather than spectacle, which is why Phil Lord and Chris Miller were hired in the first place to direct this.
Under Ron Howard’s direction, everything is synthetic and stale – the focus is on the explosion-ey moments and the character moments are woefully put together, giving the film a very generic and unenergetic demeanor. Even though the set pieces are huge, nothing really feels at stake and no character truly stands out in the barrage of CGI. Star Wars has always been about characters as much as the visual pizzazz, and Solo is the first film in the entire franchise which seems to lack soul. Like selling a product after conducting focus groups, the film emanates the stench of safe studio mandates over trusting the vision of unconventional and ballsy filmmakers. Star Wars is literally the biggest movie property in the history of cinema and it is frustrating how little risk was taken in making this one.
If you are expecting Donald Glover to save the day as young Lando, you are bound to be a little let down – he is fine but his character is quite underwritten and is often uninteresting. There is a little dynamic thrown in between Lando and his Droid robot (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) but that is frustratingly shoehorned in to make the very little impact during the dramatic moments. Then there is the ice cold romance between Solo and Qi’ra, thanks mainly to Clarke’s utter lack of magnetism in a movie where her relationship with the protagonist propels the plot forward. There is, of course, the villain of the week in Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos who is as threatening as a piece of white chalk. Bettany was brought in at the last minute during reshoots and the lack of prep time and focus reflects in all his scenes, in all its glory.
It is unclear how the divided reactions to The Last Jedi would affect Solo, but it needed to be a very good film to get people excited about Episode IX. This is unfortunately quite a tedious film that does not give you a reason for its existence other than milking the Star Wars cash cow. It is all up to JJ Abrams again to fix everything that was broken in the last three installments.