Hollywood filmmakers have overlearned Elmore Leonard’s sensible maxim, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Taken to its logical extreme by today’s blockbuster bards, this yields stories that devolve into a frenzy of chases and shootouts set to the music of nonstop wisecracks.
So low goes Solo: A Star Wars Story, a soulless intergalactic freeway pile-up, at least for its first hour. As with The Last Jedi, things perk up considerably in the last 45 minutes or so, but only enough to raise the overall impression left by the movie to “Meh.”
Maybe “Meh” counts as a win given the Alderaan-level disaster that hit the set last year, when the film’s original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who wrote and directed The Lego Movie and directed 21 Jump Street), were fired and replaced by Ron Howard (who enjoys sole credit on the finished version). Moreover, word leaked out that an acting coach had to be brought to the set to guide the new Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich. Acting teacher? For the leading man? Star Wars fans could be forgiven for thinking, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Ehrenreich (who stole the show as a cowboy actor pressed into service in a dinner-jacket comedy in Hail, Caesar!) turns out to be fine, though. Harrison Ford more or less created the template for the modern movie hero — loose, irreverent, jokey, arrogant — and Ehrenreich has a lot of the same easygoing, caddish charm. It’s Howard who needs lessons: Never previously known as an action director, he lurches chaotically from one set piece to another without establishing why we should care about any of it. First we’re on Han Solo’s home planet of Corellia, where the villain is a centipede version of Jabba the Hutt called Lady Proxima and Han gets separated from his girl, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Since we barely know the lady when she gets separated from Han, who cares about his quest to fight his way back to her? The same goes double for two other characters who come and go in the blink of an eye and are barely thought of again. Moreover, a chase scene and a gargantuan train robbery that are meant to be thrilling have so little context around them that they’re meaningless. These sequences amount to watching the CGI pros do their calisthenics. Who are those guys, the ones on the flying Jet Skis with fierce Road Warrior–grade costumes? Marauders, it turns out. Oh. They came and went so quickly I barely had time to be scared of them.
A chase scene and a gargantuan train robbery that are meant to be thrilling have so little context around them that they’re meaningless. These sequences amount to watching the CGI pros do their calisthenics.
The cynical, devious, thieving sidekick — Han Solo’s Han Solo — is Tobias Beckett, who joins him in a scheme to steal some enriched-uranium-style fuel. Beckett is played by Woody Harrelson, whom I love, but come on. This is his fourth major movie role since last summer, and he was a central player in two other recent blockbuster franchises. There is too much of him around these days. As for Paul Bettany, who plays the lizard-faced gangster menacing Han and Beckett, he’s right next door at the multiplex in Avengers: Infinity War. Could we have some fresh actors, please?
What gives the movie a big boost is the delayed appearance of that riverboat gambler–cum–space pimp Lando Calrissian, this time played by Donald Glover, who is a far more vital and amusing actor than Billy Dee Williams was in The Empire Strikes Back. Lando’s droid sidekick L3 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a bossy thing with a female British voice, gives the movie its funniest moments by being a kind of Death Star of sarcasm. “You’re my organic overlord,” she tells Lando, not in a nice voice.
Dreaming up how Han first encounters the Millennium Falcon and Chewbacca and what exactly the Kessel Run is gives screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan lots of opportunities for fun, but they bungle some of them. When we are told how Han got his surname, the sound of eyes rolling in the theater was almost audible. And the Han–Chewie partnership develops in about five seconds. Also, why does Han speak Wookiee (in other words, he can imitate the sound of gargling while being suffocated) when we never heard him do that before? What is the point of showing Han and Chewie taking a shower together? By the way, why do Han, Lando, and Beckett manage to survive a shootout while standing in the open as dozens of attackers fire at them from a few yards away? If the answer is, “Because they’re the heroes,” I’m afraid the screenwriters didn’t do their homework. Far too many times, I got the sense that everyone in the movie was pulling a Laura Dern and going, “Pew! Pew!” Things fall into place too easily. Intensity is in short supply. I dub this movie Soso.