Solo: A Star Wars Story ★★★

Part of my 2019 Theme Month Extravaganza
FEBRUARY:
Space Junk and Beyond (BONUS)

Here it is, the first Star Wars movie I didn't bother to catch in a theater. It didn't look terrible, just completely unnecessary, and that impression wasn't wrong. This is every bit the cash-in fluff it was sold and generally dismissed as, cramming nearly every shard of Han Solo backstory mentioned in Episodes IV through VIII into a fairly generic space adventure with some heist-y flavoring. If you've been dying to know the origin of his name, or where he met Chewbacca, or exactly how he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando, and if this isn't already addressed in one of those expanded universe novels, you can finally put your mind at ease. The downside is that witnessing all that stuff comes at the expense of the character's mythos. So many fabled exploits, those which built Solo's reputation as a smuggler extraordinaire, are now revealed as merely a handful of SFX sequences that happened within a short span of his life. Aside from a few subtler bits of fan service, such as young Han taking the initiative in a standoff, this movie's biggest weakness is its corny franchise callbacks. (In a prequel, are they callforwards?)

Now, if you can ignore such crass indignities, the real humans who were involved made Solo an entertaining enough romp. As the established Star Wars heroes, Alden Ehrenreich is not as charismatic as I assumed he would be after Hail, Caesar! and Joonas Suotamo's Chewie looks like he could use a few dozen Bantha burgers, but Donald Glover does a good Baby Billy Dee and gets a fabulous array of capes to boot. Emilia Clarke makes Han's old flame more dynamic and compelling than the thinly conceived character probably deserves, while the solid if not outstanding support work by Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton and Paul Bettany grounds the CG-heavy action far better than the overtly drab color grading does. Infamously, Ron Howard was brought in to replace original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller 3/4 of the way through production because they were trying to put too much humor (i.e., singular personality) into this product. Accordingly, the result is anonymous yet professional, paced well and easy to follow. It's cool that Howard snuck in cameos for his bro Clint and Warwick Davis, star of his minor Lucasfilm classic Willow and the original Wicket W. Warrick.

It's kinda sad that they did the concept of A Star Wars Story so dirty. Rogue One proved that a fanfic-type expansion on minutiae could be a decent way to extend a franchise, provided it has enough identity to stand on its own. It was a dispiritingly predictable move to follow that in-canon diversion with a halfhearted character prequel, a widget cynically devised in some Disney boardroom and mostly regarded as detritus by a fanbase that's still trying to defend The Phantom Menace (there's an extra special cameo in here just for those folks). It'd be a shame if Solo's "flop" at the box office (poor Mouse, only $392 million worldwide to date) has killed the potential for other, more purposeful side explorations of this lore-rich galaxy. All that considered, I'll be in no rush to watch this again, but I had a decent time with it and I'm certainly not mad it exists.

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