Solo: A Star Wars Story’s production was so troubled, it is a miracle that the film even got made. Announced in 2015 to lukewarm reception from fans who believed that any attempt at explaining the smuggler’s backstory would do injustice to the character’s enigma, Phil Lord and Chris Miller were announced as directors but were fired after filming nearly two-thirds of the movie, citing “creative differences” with Lucasfilm. Ron Howard was quickly brought on and, in under eleven months, re-shot almost 70 percent of the film and miraculously finished it in time for its May release date.
Yet perhaps this unconventional path to the big screen is fitting for a character like Han Solo; a rebel before Jyn Erso could utter the word in Rogue One, he was never known to follow the rules and had a knack for getting himself into tight situations before escaping or finding success in the end. Sadly, despite Solo’s underdog status, it is never quite able to beat the odds stacked against it. While its stakes are considerably lower and its adventurous tone is a welcome departure from the somber ambience of the numbered saga films, it lacks the spontaneity and excitement that a film based off of this character should have.
One of the more glaring problems with Solo is its is lack of a compelling or tangible villain. While Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos is the film’s marketed antagonist, he remains idle for most of the movie, barking orders and having expendable servants do his bidding. Whether Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his lover Q’ara (Emilia Clarke) are desperately trying to leave the planet Corelia in the beginning of the film, or Han and his crew make the Kessel Run to deliver Coaxium batteries, time is the villain of the film. The characters are always running from one star system to the other and the restlessness and fear of not delivering their prized cargo in an auspicious manner is more pervasive than any sense of danger. As a result, the film excels in fast-paced moments and suffers greatly when it tries to give the characters moments of breath. Overall, Solo’s plot can be traced to a few catch-and-release moments and its heist nature is simply not as well executed as more recent films such as Avengers: Infinity War.
Yet the film is still not without surprises. Donald Glover is delightful as Lando Calrissian before his ascension to Cloud City mongul. While Glover’s acting is more restrained than his “This is America” and Atlanta performances, his charisma and ability to oscillate between charm and gravitas perfectly evokes Billy Dee Williams portrayal from long ago. Q’ara likewise is appropriately mysterious while always charming on screen; it is hard to tell whether her pleasantries merely mask darker motives. Another stand-out is the Phoebe Waller-Bridge voiced L3-37, Lando’s co-pilot whose snarkiness and aggression counteracts Lando’s cool perfectly.
Alden Ehrenreich is by far the film’s greatest asset, though. He plays Han perfectly by doing exactly what fans were worried about: acting nothing like Harrison Ford’s calloused and grizzled incarnation of the character. Even if you have seen Han Solo fly the Millenium Falcon countless times, Ehrenreich brings such joy and elation when his hands first touch the controls that it is hard to not be swept up in his bliss. For once, Han Solo is not fuming with pessimism but overflowing with joy. Yet as audience members, we have the benefit of hindsight; while other characters’ narcissism, anger and bitterness may bounce off young Han like blaster bolts to a lightsaber blade, we know that the attitudes he rejects now are the ones that will come to define him when he is older. Indeed, for a film titled Solo, the titular character rarely spends a frame of the film apart from someone, whether it is his mentor Beckett (Woody Harrelson) or pirate Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman). This is a sobering and interesting note: while Han may want to assert his independence, he has to discover who he is in relation to a community. He eventually becomes the people he surrounds himself with, and the company he keeps does shape him down the line.
In A New Hope, one of the first introductions viewers get to Han’s character is when he slyly kills the bounty hunter Greedo. Despite the reality of death only a few feet away from his face, Han remains composed throughout. It is a brief exchange and a cool introduction to the character, and immediately after Han leaves the bar and utters “Sorry for the mess.” Solo: A Star Wars Story embodies this very scene. While it is exciting in moments and carried by strong cast performances, it is almost afraid of its own otherness and fails to add anything new to the Star Wars tapestry. Despite the narrative freedom Solo had at its disposal, it is more timid rather than brazenly trying to take risks. Like Greedo’s dead body in Mos Eisley, Solo can be forgiven, but there is a lot of clean-up required.
Zachary Lee is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.