2 1/2 (out of 4)
After the joylessness and drudgery of Disney's first Star Wars anthology film Rogue One, Solo, despite its enormous shortcomings, is the best kind of spin-off you could hope for, especially for an idea as ill-advised as making a Han Solo prequel film. This is a movie that should never have existed, but Solo jubilantly revels in its own limitations, expands the Star Wars universe where it can and most importantly delivers on the promise of these flicks in the first place – the pleasing escapism of a space fantasy.
It could have been comic gold to watch Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s original borderline parody of the very idea of this move, which got them excised from production mid-shoot. Ron Howard’s final film is too serious for its own good, but it’s such a far cry from the tonal catastrophes of The Last Jedi and Rogue One that the orderly simplicity is traditionally satisfying and refreshingly uncomplicated. Even Howard's murkier sense of levity leaves Solo feeling like a Star Wars film proper.
The script keeps the fan service on a leash for the most part and has plenty of time to showcase new elements of the galaxy and opportunities for experimental production design. Vertical yachts, space marauders, black hole maelstroms are newer ideas and comfortably exist in this universe. Of course you know what else is awaiting you in this movie – Han meets Chewie, gambles with Lando, gets that blaster, shoots first, blah blah Kessel Run yada yada. It doesn’t really matter when you write a movie around snippets of dialogue that took up a maximum five minutes in the original two Star Wars films.
The plotting is fairly cliché and the discourse dances between dry and decent. The swashbuckling, backstabbings, femme fatale love interests, western stylization and heist movie structure, however, amalgamate into its own familiar blend of space adventure trappings that the Star Wars brand is synonymous with. Rogue One in particular could have used a little more Ocean’s Eleven and a little less Saving Private Ryan in laying out the groundwork for these anthology films – just like J. J. Abrams will attempt to salvage Star Wars in Episode IX after the clusterfuck that was The Last Jedi, Solo is appropriate course correction for this portion of Disney's fledging franchise. The box office numbers may not reflect that fact, but that's all Kathleen Kennedy's fault.
Even with two visions in direction and costly reshoots, this is no mash-up of Justice League or Fantastic Four-sized proportions. Everything plays out smoothly because the safe screenwriting makes the homage and references (whatever you want to call it) part of the story. The last five minutes reek of studio hackery like the last "Star Wars Story," as an unwarranted cameo by Darth Maul is shoehorned in just to tease the possibility of future installments in the Solo series, and perhaps an Obi-Wan film down the line. With no Jabba the Hut, Boba Fett or Greedo this time around, Solo doesn't blow its load and has space for Alden Ehrenreich's performance to improve over multiple films.
Not to say Ehrenreich is a weak link like many predicted. From beginning to end the acting evolves from scrappy mimicry to the young actor inhabiting his own epitome of a classic character with arrogant swagger to spare. Bewilderingly, Ehrenreich carries the film singlehandly at a certain point – the mild charm exuded by this otherwise mostly predictable film can be traced back to his surprisingly proficient performance.
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