Solo: A Star Wars Story: Forgettable Fun, by Tyler Smith
Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story is a lot like a nice meal at Wendy’s. It’s good while you’re eating it, but you’ll never cite it as a truly great experience. In fact, you might not remember it at all once you’re done with it. Of course, this sentiment could be seen as purely negative, but it’s worth considering that many movies can’t even be bothered to be entertaining in the moment, to say nothing of having a longer-lasting impact on the audience. Solo may be forgettable, but it is undeniably enjoyable; it may be a trifle, but it’s at least an entertaining one.
The story introduces us to a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) as he escapes an orphan slave colony and falls in with a team of mercenaries, led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Along the way, he meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suatamo), Lando (Donald Glover), and former flame Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). He soon finds himself boarding the Millennium Falcon to attempt the dangerous Kessel Run to try and pay back a sadistic mobster (Paul Bettany).
Of course, the story is fairly arbitrary. Much of it is just a way to incorporate literally everything that we already know about Han Solo’s history into one film. At times it feels as if the producers were worried that fans would riot if even one vital piece of information was left to the viewer’s imagination. And so we check off each reference as it comes, with only the most perfunctory of stories to thread them all together.
That’s not to say that these elements aren’t enjoyable, however. In a film like this, everything comes down to fun characters and exciting action, both of which Solo has in spades. There are several sequences that are breathlessly choreographed and shot, leaving no potential action beat unhit. I’m a big fan of movies that explore every opportunity for suspense and thrills, rather than hit a couple of marks and move on. In one sequence after another, the stakes are raised to such a fever pitch that it’s hard not to get swept up in the proceedings.
I’m sure many people are wondering first and foremost how the actors fare with the material. More specifically, how Alden Ehrenreich tackles such an iconic character. My exposure to Ehrenreich is unfortunately very limited – solely to his breakout performance in Hail, Caesar! – so I was eager to see what choices he would make. And while I’m sure some would have preferred him to try his best to approximate Harrison Ford, he wisely sidesteps this, knowing that to do an impression would only underline the differences in their performances, to the dismay of diehard fans. Instead, Ehrenreich chooses to approach the character as fresh and new, putting his specific stamp on it. There are times when Han Solo is written a bit bland and nondescript, relying too much on the audience’s existing knowledge of the character, but mostly he is conceived and performed with the right blend of bravado and boldness.
As Lando Calrissian, Donald Glover does well enough. However, unlike Ehrenreich, he is definitely trying to evoke Billy Dee Williams in his performance. At times, it’s a lot of fun, especially when the character’s smooth veneer gives way to the shaky con man underneath. There are other times, however, when it feels as though Glover is trying too hard and we can see the strings and artificiality of his choices. It’s a performance crafted from the outside in, when it should probably have been the opposite.
The rest of the ensemble is enjoyable, with Paul Bettany and Woody Harrelson particularly eager to ham it up. Emilia Clarke provides whatever heart the film has, but sadly isn’t really given that much to do. These new characters are nice additions to the Star Wars universe, but don’t really make enough of an impact to be memorable long term.
But such is the case with this whole film. As I look back on my review, I notice the frequent use of words like “enjoyable”, “entertaining”, and “fun”. So how can a movie that is so generally pleasant fade so easily from memory? And is that a crime? Hard to say, but it’s certainly a new phenomenon in the Star Wars franchise, where even the bad films are memorable.
Perhaps the reason that I can be so discouraged about seeing a movie that, in the end, was perfectly fine popcorn entertainment is because it’s the first instance that a Star Wars movie hasn’t really stood out, nor felt like it really wanted to. In many ways, the film suffers from a lack of ambition. For all of George Lucas’ narrative failures, it always felt like he was shooting for the stars. And, for good or ill, the result was always something that stayed with you.
For the last couple of years, I have worried about the reintroduction of Star Wars into the mainstream culture. The idea of a new movie every year was troubling to me. It made the franchise, which used to operate on some other plane of existence in the cinematic landscape, more common. But once Star Wars was purchased by Disney, the movies started rolling out
Thankfully, all of these films have been good, but I worried that there would come a time when the regularity of these releases would start to impact the films themselves. And I feel that, with Solo, we’ve finally reached that point. I’m not quite sure what the future holds for the Star Wars films, but the non-event of their release has finally seeped into the DNA of the filmmaking itself, making Solo the first film of the Star Wars universe to feel perfectly content, unambitious and unchallenging. It is just one more big blockbuster film to come out this year, wedged in between Deadpool 2 and the upcoming Jurassic World film. This perhaps is the worst thing that the film could have been. It could have been good or it could have been bad, but the one thing that these films should never be is ordinary. These films were once considered revolutionary, but, as Han Solo himself once said, “I ain’t in this for your revolution… I’m in it for the money.”