Starring: Adlen Eherenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke
Directed by: Ron Howard (“Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind”)
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan (“The Empire Strikes Back,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) and Jonathan Kasdan (“In the Land of Women”)
As Disney and Lucasfilm turn the Star Wars IP into a “new movie every year” cash cow, the companies seem to be stuck in a regressive loop, constantly revisiting characters and concepts that strike an immediate note of familiarity. Maybe that’s why we keep getting the Death Star or Death Star stand-ins. “The Last Jedi” excluded, Star Wars has played it safe since its resurrection from the much-maligned prequel era, which has weirdly included crafting two more prequels: 2016’s “Rogue One” and now “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” The new film is an origin story of sorts for the charming, rascally smuggler made iconic by Harrison Ford, which, despite some fun moments and an interesting dose of fan service, proves to be entirely unnecessary.
Opening in the dingy underground of the planet Corellia, our hero Han (Alden Eherenreich) lives an “Oliver Twist”-ian lifestyle, owned by the Fagin-ish worm Lady Proxima, who Han betrays after he’s sent to steal some valuable hyperfuel known as coaxium. With his love interest Qi’ra (Emila Clarke), Han looks to escape his home planet and buy a ship for the two of them with the stolen coaxium. But when Qi’ra is captured at the spaceport, Han is forced to join the Imperial Army to escape, where he’s given the last name “Solo” in a rather meh-worthy joke. In a war zone three years later, Solo meets Beckett (Woody Harrelson) a smuggler who’s looking to boost some coaxium for gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). With his newly-liberated Wookiee sidekick Chewbacca in tow, Han joins Beckett’s crew and begins his life as an outlaw.
Even as a famously troubled production—original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired and replaced with Ron Howard—“Solo” has a few things going for it, namely a grimy, lived-in palette with some inspired cinematography and Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian. Glover brings his natural charisma and charm to the role made famous by Billy Dee Williams. Eherenreich, though, not so much. While his Han Solo isn’t as bad as you’ve feared, it also isn’t really that good, and it’s definitely missing the spark Ford brought to the character. There are some decent moments, like the first meeting of Chewbacca and Han, butted up against ideas that feel half-formed, like an early movie heist perpetrated with a crew clearly inspired by “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but who get sent off without so much as a moment to mourn when things go south. And you want fan service? You’ve got fan service, mostly in the form of a late movie cameo that might leave you scratching your head if you haven’t watched any of the canonical Star Wars cartoon series. Who, come to think of it, reminds me of this movie: two things, a prequel and an origin story, sewn together to make a whole thing that’s familiar, but not anywhere near new.