Backstory can be a funny thing, not unlike booze at a compulsory party: If you don’t get enough, you’ll leave disappointed; get too much and you’ll regret that you came at all. Ron Howard’s Solo definitely falls into the latter category, filling in the blanks of an iconic character in such a way that nothing is left to the imagination, and even less remains in the annals of nostalgia. While Solo is fun enough in its way, it strips the character of its inherent appeal, distilling all the mysterious charm of Harrison Ford’s star-making performance into predictable pabulum and stretching that one note for more than two hours.
Are you the kind of Star Wars fan who absolutely has to know what the Kessel run was and why making it in less than 12 parsecs was a big deal? Ron Howard has your answer. This is a movie dedicated to addressing questions that most of us never asked, like where Han got his blaster or how he rooked Lando out of the Millennium Falcon. Are these questions interesting? Sure, as far as that goes. Do they warrant 2 hours and 15 minutes of exposition? Probably not. Yes, it’s fun to see how Han first met Chewbacca — but to what end?
Questionable necessity aside, Solo is a relatively fun and engaging film, even if it feels superfluous in the broader context of the Star Wars canon. Filling in for ousted directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Howard proves a competent, if somewhat uninspired directorial voice for a film that feels distinctly outside his stylistic wheelhouse. Solo falls short of the grandiose visual spectacle that characterizes the Star Wars franchise as a whole, and the script penned by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan lacks the comedic sensibilities that were such a welcome surprise in The Last Jedi. Whether or not the blame for these shortcomings should be laid strictly at Howard’s feet is something we’ll most likely never know, but he is ultimately responsible for turning in a film that falls distinctly short of its predecessors.
It’s more likely that star Alden Ehrenreich will bear the brunt of fans’ ire — but such gripes would be misplaced, as Ehrenreich is more than passable as the young Solo, even if he fails to quite fill Harrison Ford’s shoes. The supporting cast is tremendous, with Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany and Emilia Clarke elevating the potboiler heist narrative they’ve been handed. Unsurprisingly, the real crowdpleaser here is Donald Glover, fleshing out Lando Calrissian in ways that Billy Dee Williams never got the screen time to even consider. Glover’s Lando is equal parts sleaze and charm, and the actor’s magnetic screen presence gives Solo a much-needed boost in the charisma department.
If Solo has fallen drastically shy of both box office projections and fan expectations, it’s still not as bad as it could have been. Disney has fine-tuned its box office behemoth to such an extent that it’s doubtful the studio will turn out a truly pan-worthy tentpole anytime in the foreseeable future. Still, after his ignominious fate in The Force Awakens, Han Solo deserved a better resurrection than this.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.
Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Grail Moviehouse, Biltmore Regal Grande, Epic of Hendersonville, Strand of Waynesville, Co-Ed Brevard.