Anyone who has followed the troubled production of Solo: A Star Wars Story is justifiably nervous about the second Star Wars spin-off film. Anyone who felt extremely disillusioned by the atonal mess that was Star Wars: The Last Jedi might feel that Disney has gone completely off the reservation with the franchise. Those are both understandable sentiments. The spoiler-free nuts and bolts on Solo is that the film feels much more like a Star Wars film than The Last Jedi did, is full of fan service, does justice to fan-favorite characters, has some surprises up its sleeve, and while it takes awhile to get going, is ultimately a fun outing.
Solo follows the adventures of the galaxy’s most infamous smuggler and rogue from his home world of Corellia (finally shown in a Star Wars film) through the events that begin to shape him into the man Luke and Obi-Wan meet in the Mos Eisley Cantina in A New Hope. Alden Ehrenreich has the thankless task of following in Harrison Ford’s unfillable boots, and Ehrenreich does a surprisingly good job with Solo. He’s not a Ford double, nor is he trying to do an impression, but he gets the spirit of the character down. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say iconic Solo moments like meeting Chewbacca, the first time he sees the Millennium Falcon, Sabacc, the legendary Kessel Run (perhaps the film’s highlight), and meeting his frienemy Lando Calrissian are all done justice.
Donald Glover owns this film as a young Lando. Balancing some impressive Billie Dee Williams channeling with a vibe all his own, Glover is the best thing about Solo. There’s been talk of giving Lando his own spin-off, and if they get Glover onboard, I say go for it. The film’s cast is impressive: Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Jon Favreau, Woody Harrelson (excellent as Han’s gateway into the Star Wars underbelly), Paul Bettany, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge whose droid-liberating L3-37 needed more screen time.
The cast really is great and they do a fantastic job with what they’re given. It’s what they’re given that ends up being surprisingly the most uneven thing about Solo and that’s the script. Lawrence Kasdan and his son co-wrote the script, and it was Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s unwillingness to adhere to it that got them fired as the movie was nearly finished shooting. Disney brought in Ron Howard, who re-shot nearly the whole film by the Kasdan script, and after seeing it….I kind of want to see Lord and Miller’s cut. It’s not a bad script, but it is wildly uneven with its pacing and subplots. The heart of the film is Han and Chewie. Kasdan’s script starts with a whimper and the first act of the film is rather disappointing. Once Glover shows up as Lando, things take off, and aside from subplots from the first act bogging the final one down a bit, it’s a good-not great-script. Kasdan, who wrote both Empire and The Force Awakens, bragged that this was his best Star Wars screenplay and, in that, he is sorely mistaken.
Given how fast Ron Howard reshot this film, it’s kind of astounding how few directing complaints I have. The film is very murky at times. A lot of that can be attributed to the settings, but I wonder how much of it can be chalked up to lowering the lighting to hide abbreviated sets. John Powell turns in a good, not great, score (the highlight being John Williams’ contribution of the main theme and the utilization of Williams’ classic anthems). The creature work is hit and miss. There are some good designs, but a few that feel as out-of-place in the Star Wars universe as the lot on Canto Bight did in The Last Jedi.
Leaving the film, I honestly do hope Disney goes ahead with more Solo films. I didn’t expect that to be my attitude, and I worry that Disney’s financial expectations for a film it shot twice are unreasonable for the release date landscape in which the movie is placed. It would take a miracle for this NOT to be the lowest grossing film in the franchise since Disney took over (perhaps the lowest grossing period). They signed Ehrenreich for three films, and Solo is clearly a first chapter that sets up the next film. I really want to see that film, and I hope a smoother production with this cast can yield something even more special than this fun, if somewhat forgettable, chapter in the franchise. Either way, this is a much better place to take a break from Star Wars until 2019’s Episode IX than the end of The Last Jedi.