solo: A Star Wars story

- Review by Hiram Harrington 

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Chases, heists, and one too many one liners.

Solo: A Star Wars Story, as you might guess, follows the story of a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and how he became the smart-talking smuggler we first met in A New Hope. Beginning with a high-energy chase sequence worthy of the Fast and Furious, Solo rarely moves beyond these thrills over the film. It moves from one shootout, burglary, and narrow avoidance of death to the next, with moments of reflection few and far between. It’s a low-risk, low-reward blockbuster.

We follow Han and his ragtag bunch of misfits (some familiar and some new) as he trains with the Empire to become a pilot and becomes a high-stakes thief, all for the sake of returning to the woman he loves back on his home planet (Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra). His actions are easily anticipated, as the story simply links the past version of himself to the version we are familiar with. Han is shown to hotwire ships, evade the law, and humorously deceive his enemies - something we know he can do already. It seems juvenile from an established director liked Ron Howard to allow the film to stray so far into such repetitive storytelling without giving us anything new from the character.

Known primarily for his role as Hobie Doyle in the Coen Brother’s 2016 comedy Hail, Caesar!, Alden Ehrenreich takes on the iconic role of Han Solo. Ehrenreich holds his own amongst a stellar team of co-stars, but doesn’t seem to have the same natural roguish charm as the legendary Harrison Ford. He often seems like a different character entirely, one that would appear more at home in Baby Driver than in a fight with Stormtroopers. Ehrenreich, through the highs and lows of the story, does not seem to change or grow from his experiences - if Han was never anything but the man we know, then why make a film about it at all?

It’s strengths lie in the design, and the supporting cast. As with all of the last few Disney Star Wars films, the scenery, cinematography, and locations are beautiful - the mining planets with their glistening pools and dimly-lit caves, the impeccably polished sets of the Yacht, echoing the decadence of Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby.

In a part originally intended for The Wire’s Michael K. Willams, Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos unnerves in each scene he presides over, offering brief reprieves from the distinctly action-adventure tone. His unsettling relationship with Han’s love interest, Qi’ra, draws an awful comparison to men in authoritative figures manipulating women. Qi’ra is disappointingly under-explored however, reduced to a plot device to drive Han’s arc until the film’s climax. Her arc had the most potential to be interesting - a street criminal-turned syndicate leader’s confidant - yet it is the one Solo most overlooks. She reminds Han frequently that he “doesn’t know what (she’s) had to do” to survive, but that’s the thing - we’re left wanting to know.

Woody Harrelson stars as Tobias Beckett, who mentors Han in the ways of the world throughout Solo. It’s an angry, disillusioned one-note performance from Harrelson, but the note is still strong. Donald Glover’s highly anticipated turn as Lando Calrissian also falls short of the mark, as his character contributes very little beyond being the introduction to the Milennium Falcon. With the depth Glover has displayed on projects such as Atlanta and Community, it’s disappointing to see his abilities go to waste on a role that feels forced into the narrative.

The film is an enjoyable way to spend two hours, but asks little from the viewer beyond watching and connecting some very obvious dots. The visuals are stunning, the musical composition evocative - but the unoriginal narrative holds Solo back. It contribute little to the story of one of Star Wars most beloved characters. It’s rare to have the Han Solo overshadowed on screen, but one can’t help but feel more interested in the untold stories around him. Despite the technical excellence, Solo falters in delivering a truly engaging story to audiences. It’s fun, and will undoubtedly kill at the box office, but it leaves one feeling wondering about the genuinely challenging film about a flawed hero it could have been.