Solo: A Star Wars Story ★★½

I may change my mind on the like. I’m only barely hanging on to that thumb-up.

SOLO is such an interesting film release.  Aside from being a cash-grab, it demands more of its audience, in a way, than most films.  And of all the film-types I want to liken it to, its most like a biopic.  As if Han Solo were a real life person, this film enters with many of the traps of the biopic genre. I enter the screening with preconceived notions of Han because I’ve got iconic images in my head and an in-depth understanding of much of his story.  I went into SOLO with the types of expectations I have for the upcoming Queen movie.

One clumsy thing about SOLO is that it starts with a Han that seems only a few years younger (Ehrenreich is about four years younger than Ford was in STAR WARS IV) than Harrison Ford was when we met him in A NEW HOPE. So the younger actor trick doesn’t work here like it did with the young casting of Obi-Wan MacGregor.  They feel too different.  Thus, Ehrenreich’s performance and the writing of the character are under constant scrutiny.  And frankly, Ehrenreich, despite solid screen presence, doesn’t feel like what I know Solo to be, and neither he nor the script make Han Solo into a new thing worth watching.  Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto successfully reinvented Kirk and Spock into new entities in a way that doesn’t happen here.  Ehrenreich feels like a faux Han, part impersonation, part overacting pretty-boy model—and the script doesn’t give Han much fresh material to cover.  Just a tired old ‘I love you. I’m coming back for you’ motive.

Thankfully, though, SOLO avoids the common biography trap of being too episodic. SOLO wisely covers one general story arc.  I only wish it was a bit more clever than its renegades and double-crosses.  Again—fairly lazy material although Bettany and Harrelson are quite good.

Also surprising about SOLO was that it barely felt as if it belonged to the STAR WARS world.   That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but it pulls SOLO out of its context and relies heavier on its own merit as a Sci-fi (which it barely accomplishes) actioner spectacle.  There are no Jedis, light sabres, clone wars, republic or rebellion politics, Death Star menaces.  Furthermore, the easily identifiable ships are at a minimium.  So SOLO must be good on its own merit to matter. Unfortunately there is a plainness to almost everything from the speeder chase at the start to the quirky droid dialog.

I’d be interested to see what Miller and Lord would have done had they stayed on as directors.  Ron Howard came in and does what he does—perform like a money-market investment.  That is, he does his thing, he protects the assets, mitigates risk, and creates a fairly easy-to-predict product.

SOLO just doesn’t have much bite.

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