By Chic DiCiccio
There was plenty of stink emanating from the production of “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” It’s going to be inevitable when a movie studio steps in to fire the directors after the cameras have already started rolling. But the most troubling rumor of them all? The guy that was chosen to play one of the most iconic, revered roles in movie history had to have on-set acting lessons. Woof.
Well, it turns out that Alden Ehrenreich is a perfect version of a young Han Solo. The rest of this origin story that nobody knew we needed? Um, not so much. “Solo” is a checklist kind of movie, and director number two, Ron Howard, hits all the highlights. Han meets Chewbacca, wears the vest, gets the cool gun, buddies up with Lando, flies the Millennium Falcon, yada yada yada, and none of that spoils the movie.
Of course, that stuff is in “Solo.” It would be unreasonable to think otherwise. The fun should be just how we get there and, sadly, Howard’s boring take on it just doesn’t fly. He manages to make the Kessel Run, Han’s claim to fame, a lengthy, drawn out bore. Who knew that parsecs took so damn long?
It turns out that there are plenty of characters other than Chewie and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) in Han’s past. There’s a girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), with whom Han ran street con games and his mentor, Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a career thief that helped build up Han’s future trust issues. All of them are on the wrong side of the ledger with Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), a bloodthirsty gangster with deep pockets.
These are all cool characters, but the plot lurches forward in an extremely episodic fashion. An exceptionally filmed and fun train robbery more than wears out its welcome and the surprising dramatic events that happen during it are instantly forgotten. That’s all because “Solo” needs to get on to the next nostalgic event and it can’t possibly be bogged down in non-franchise building detritus.
“Solo” does get a major lift when Lando and his robot sidekick, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), show up. Glover plays Lando like he wants to be the coolest guy in the room but isn’t quite sure the best way to do it yet. At times, he’s awkward or flustered, which is a brilliant way to show that Lando wasn’t always silky smooth, and it took time to perfect his craft.
Waller-Bridge essentially steals the entire movie as L3. She moves to the top of the list of “Star Wars” droids, easily knocking that droid that breaks down on Luke’s farm from the number one spot (just kidding — R2-D2 4-ever).
All the fanboy stress and angina over Ehrenreich was a non-starter. He’s great as Han and somehow found a way to imitate Harrison Ford while not imitating him. Since he’s not yet soured by age and experience, Ehrenreich’s Han loads up on youthful exuberance and optimism while still delivering plenty of slick insults.
“Solo” doesn’t ruin the character, but it also doesn’t do him any justice. It’s formulaic without any inkling of creative spark. It makes one wonder if original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were going in a direction that frightened the Disney Overlords and it cost them their jobs. Instead, they have a polished, non-threatening or challenging movie from a director who clearly knows how to play the Hollywood studio game.
There’s no doubt that “Solo” is going to earn a ton of cash. No matter how forced it seems, there is nothing bad about seeing Han meet Chewie. It’s just that once that initial rush of fun wears off, there’s really not much else to see and this one-time shot could, and should, have been so much more.