Review: Restless 'SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY' provides fan service and not much else
Courtesy of Lucasfilm
Prequels can be a tricky bottle to juggle, because on one hand there needs to be concrete evidence to justify exploring the mysteries to characters that we've known our whole lives. And on the other, prequels need to serve a purpose that doesn’t exploit what’s come before.
Frankly, and this is just my opinion, prequels can be a cheat and a bit of a stretch. Because they rewrite a story that's already been told, and they do it to fit a narrative that’s been hastily put together. I'm a firm believer that if a writer wanted to tell a characters story - they would and not milk it later. In some cases (“X-Men: First Class”) it works, and, in others (“Hannibal Rising” or “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” to name a few) you can see the investors standing with their paws out, not wanting to see their golden gooses die. If you want to see a prequel done right, take a peek at JK Rowling’s headquarters with the “Fantastic Beast” films - new characters, new story, but same universe.
And now, after “Rogue One” last December, “Star Wars” has again hopped on the bandwagon.
When looking back on Harrison Ford's iconic performance of Han Solo, we gush and appreciate how well its aged for a modern day audience. He possessed a charm and swagger that says 'Hey, I'm someone you can trust.' So for as good an actor that Alden Ehrenreich is, I can safely assert that I don't want to be in his shoes. Who would?
That's not to say he doesn't have the looks, charisma, or presence that Ford had, it's just a tough cookie to swallow that someone else is being called Han, and because Disney can't leave any of those “mysteries” unturned - (every nook, cranny and bushel in this galaxy far, far away must be upheaved for profit!) - we get his full fledged origin in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” A well intentioned riff of the ole' smuggler, that falls into that latter category from above, and seems to only exist so Disney executives can claim a hefty chunk of change for their bank accounts and pocket books. It's one of those movies where you walk out, and try to defend its existence. You have to say to yourself: 'Did I need a Solo backstory?' and the answer, at least for me, was that I didn't.
Part of the fun with Solo was his secrecy. How did he meet Chewie? How did he win the Millennium Falcon? And where did he meet Lando Calrissian? (Donald Glover in the films best performance.) Ron Howard's film (who stepped in after original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were ousted for creative differences – I want to see their movie) is geeky fan service and not much else. And if that's what you're looking for, then you'll be satisfied, but if you want the poetic justice which “The Last Jedi” brought to the table in December, look no further.
To keep things flowing, the opening of the film (minus the accustomed opening crawl) pits Han in a scenario we've seen before, which is talking his out way out of a tight situation. He's trying to hijack a speeder so he can escape with his dame Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke serving as fodder) and, hopefully, live in peace. Eventually, him and Qi'ra are separated and Han must figure out the best path forward (and since it's a prequel, we know exactly where things are heading.) Long story short, he becomes the pilot we all know, enlists to fight with the Empire, shacks up with a crew of robbers (headed by Woody Harrelson) and, of course, meets Chewbacca (now played by Joonas Suotamo) for the first time.
What binds the plot together, we're told, is a brand of hyper-fuel that's king around the planet of Corella (which is basically a giant MacGuffin called Coaxium) – and everyone in the galaxy wants it. Including a mobster played by Paul Bettany (who oversees the operations of a gang called “Crimson Dawn”) that enlists in Solo's crew to track down buckets of the stuff. “Do this one job, and you're free” he's told, and it's then where “Solo” becomes an espionage heist throwback, that has some inspired moments (the initial meeting between Han and Lando is the best thing Howard offers) but its mostly just obligatory fan service (oh look, there's an obscure reference only true Star Wars fans know!)
In a way you feel a part of a secret club, however, some of these references are far and wide that I started to wonder if producer Kathleen Kennedy input all of these to distract viewers from the weak story, and dispensable characters. Not to mention, the movie itself looks...bleak. It's shot in dark colors, without any vibrancy of the previous installments. For that reason, “Solo” never felt like a real invitation.
There is enough to like that might warrant a viewing, I did think Ehrenreich (who showed real pose in the little seen Coen brothers flick “Hail Caesar!”) matched the persona needed to bring this role to life, even if he gets overshadowed by a slew of side characters late in the second act. Like a droid named L3 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) that offers brief spurts of life into an otherwise restless two hour and fifteen minute adventure. Likewise for Glover as Lando whose smile alone brightens the room – where's his origin story?
You could walk out feeling as though “Solo” did something for you (and truly, I hope it does as I never want a consumer to waste their money on a bad movie) but when the dust settles and we look at the bigger picture - the film slowly starts to creep into focus, and the bitter truth comes to fruition, which is: we all would've been just fine, had this movie never existed to begin with.