It’s hardly difficult to review a Star Wars film — some of the highest-grossing and recognizably iconic works of the modern silver screen — and yet, there is astonishingly little to say about Solo: A Star Wars Story. Like its box office performance, both the story and the stars of the space opera’s last installment were, well, fine.
Most of the buzz surrounding Solo before its release was overwhelmingly negative. Rumors derided not only the quality of the film, but also the credibility of the filmmakers — a debilitating blow for a work that then struggled to distance itself from the bad press.
From the unceremonious replacement of Phil Lord and Chris Miller with one of Hollywood’s most reliable choices, Ron Howard, to rumors abounding that Lionsgate had shelled out for an acting coach for the young and relatively untested Alden Ehrenrich — the strapping Hail Caesar! kid who spends most of the film doing a sly impression of Harrison Ford — the buzz threatened the audience’s belief in not only the film’s potential success but the producers’ reliability.
To trust in a reboot of a character as legendary as Han Solo is to trust implicitly that the filmmakers know what they’re doing. For Solo, impressions of the opposite were hard to escape.
But why did it stick? Other members of the franchise have overcome poor press before and gone on to become the highest grossing films of the year. One could argue that the series’ biggest gaffe was Attack of the Clones, and even that became the third-highest grossing film of 2002. Perhaps Hollywood might consider that there was a 10-year interim between 2015’s The Force Awakens and its most recent predecessor. By contrast, the last 30 months have packed in four Star Wars films, with a fifth to premiere next December. The novelty and wonder of a new Star Wars film is becoming humdrum — an annual expectation.
Nevertheless, adding to the mediocrity of the film is the number of predicted boxes it attempts to check. The star-studded cast is updated with only the hottest and latest heavy-hitters — Westworld’s Thandie Newton, Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke, Avengers’ Paul Bettany, Donald Glover — and the always-reliable Woody Harrelson.
Additionally, the film spends far too much time showing viewers the vistas and quintessential life-making moments that Star Wars buffs and fan-fiction authors alike have imagined a young Solo to have traversed. Partially a nod to the core base, partially a demonstration of “Look! We know this character! Look, it’s him!,” these scenes have a strange taste of hokum: Here’s Han Solo meeting Chewbacca! Here’s Han Solo meeting the Millennium Falcon!
Many have laid the film’s lackluster box office performance (by comparison to its counterparts) at young Ehrenrich’s feet, which may or may not be justified. Perhaps it would be harsh to characterize his performance as underwhelming, but he fails to reinvent the character as his own or steal the screen with any rugged charm — but as far as the space opera’s youth portrayals go, he does still rank above Hayden Christensen’s Vader. Not a high bar.
In total, credit where credit is due: This was a Han Solo film. Whether audiences were hungry at all for a Solo film remains to be said; whether the script, director or actor chosen were all ideal remains to be said. But for a summer flick on a three-day weekend, Solo was a perfectly acceptable pastime.