Solo: A Star Wars Story ★★★

Among Thieves.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is as pointless and structurally oversaturated with grinning winks as its spin-off predecessor, “Rogue One.” With both, you wonder for a majority of the time as to whether and why this is a necessary addition to the cinematic catalog of this galactic brand. Did we really need this? Does this add anything of concrete interest? Yet as the end credits rolled, and as my friends and I departed the auditorium, we found ourselves surprisingly pleased by the existence of this practically needless picture.

Maybe my feelings for this film are somewhat of a skewed state seeing that my expectations were as LOW as imaginable. Nothing short of garbage was the outlook I held as we walked to our seats last night. Personally, I find “Solo” to be far more successful than “Rogue One” in nearly every department. It’s certainly miles superior to any of the prequels as well. If these “Star Wars Story” films are meant to be seemingly disposable Saturday morning serials that provide an entertaining distraction from the main course, Ron Howard’s entry to the franchise is a fairly above average side quest that progressively gets better the more preposterous it becomes.

There’s plenty of elements in the film that range from mediocre to flat-out bad. The opening ten or so minutes just drag under the weight of their expository nature and general blandness, leading to a less than solid start and a persisting pace that feels a little too lackadaisical. The characters that comprise the band of rogues led by the cynical Beckett (Woody Harrelson) are just wasted bodies used for brief plot padding and nothing else. Speaking of characters, the ones that do have a larger involvement tend to be generally uninteresting. Donald Glover’s Lando never rises to anyone of serious emotional significance and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3-37 provides a sense of humor that’s significantly out of place while also managing to raise themes of liberation that feel utterly underappreciated. Paul Bettany as the sinister Dryden Vos is severely underutilized throughout and sadly so considering that he plays very well in his respective scenes.

All of the aforementioned negatives are only amplified since they lie amongst the bevy of references that comprise the overall structure of “Solo.” The entire flick is just one big string of “Get that?” and “Oh, that’s that!” It’s reference upon reference upon reference of everything and anything related to Star Wars. A handful of the reference inclusions strike successfully, but many just land as predictably as one would certainly expect. You grow numb after a point to all of it.

Even with these negatives as present and eye rolling as they are, “Solo” contains enough to skirt away by the skin of its teeth. Alden Ehrenreich holds his own in the face of the role’s legacy while successfully sparking the classic feel of the loving partnership held between Han and Chewbacca. Howard’s direction is generally solid, especially when it comes to the tactile interplay between camerawork, geography, and character choreography (a tracking close-up of Han firing his blaster as he enters the Falcon is one of my favorites executed in the whole film). He positions the camera at the just the right angles and distances to the performers in order to emphasize a firm and tangible kinetic energy. The score by John Powell also manages to achieve some nice flourishes, especially the piece that plays upon the entry of the mysterious Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman).

As a whole, the greatest aspects of the film are definitely in the form of the look and overall production design. Bradford Young is an immensely talented cinematographer who continues to prove the power of his eye and imagination with “Solo.” The look accentuates the textured feel of Howard’s direction and breathes life into the many wonderful, visually arresting worlds that the story takes the core set of its characters to. Whether it’s the toxic yellow mines and thunderous skies of Kessel, the viscous battlefields Mamba, or the frosted vistas of Vandor-1, the production designers and effects team have done an absolutely stunning job and Young has given it all the look it deserves. The beauty of these various environments makes the joy of this space Western even greater and allows for the actual sense of traveling from point-to-point to be rather engaging since you’re anxiously awaiting what exotic scenery would come next.

Adding to the success of these distant lands are the creatures that inhabit them. Honestly, the creature design in this film is some of the best and most inventive since the original trilogy. My goodness, these beings look so great. Much of the success with their design is definitely thanks to the fact that their appearances are insane at times. Lady Proxima, floating jar singer, wolfman-goatdude, crocodile sabacc gambler that bites its fingernails off. The list just goes on and on, getting enjoyably wackier and more intricate as the plot progresses.

In general, another aspect of entertainment with “Solo” that allows it to be as tolerable as it is happens to be just how ridiculous and borderline dumb it becomes at points. The film rides the line of moronic just enough that it remains interesting, albeit ungodly silly, for most of its runtime. Once again, it’s digestible Saturday morning fluff. But don’t get me wrong, there’s some seriously stupid, practically inexplicable moments here. But I’ll take absurdity and goofiness over grating boredom (prequels) and unearned self-seriousness (Rogue One) any day of the year.

My opinion of “Solo” could change by the time of my second viewing, just as my experience was with “Rogue One.” The first time that I saw “Rogue One” I rated it a six out of ten. Second time around I dropped it to a four. I’d even go as low as a three upon further reflection. Same could be even said with the prequels based on my history with them. The prequel trilogy may be so bad that it’s fun, but it’s continuously difficult to revisit them and not see them as anything other than arduous slogs of bafflingly poor decision-making and filmmaking. “Solo” is definitely flawed and nowhere near the quality of the better saga entries. At the end of the day though, I can actually see myself revisiting this film and not completely dreading the fact of doing so, at least for now I suppose.

“I really wish I could’ve learned how to play that valachord.”

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