Exactly 35-years-ago, on this very day, the 17-year-old me, having just spent the night in front of a movie theater, had finally made it inside and was watching in awe as Return of the Jedi unspooled. The only thing that unspooled in me during Solo was indifference.
I was no Star Wars fanboy in ’83. I’m still not. My buddy was, though, and the whole idea sounded fun, like a bit of an adventure, a memory-in-the-making, and the experience ended up being all of that. And so was the movie. Jedi has its flaws (*cough* Ewoks *cough*cough*), but it is still the third-best of the ten Star Wars movies. It rips, it snorts, it roars, primarily because creator George Lucas (who co-scripted with Lawrence Kasdan) knew exactly where he was going.
Kasdan is back for Solo (scripting with his 39-year-old son, Jonathan) and should have had an even better idea of where things should go. This is a prequel, after all, and one based on one of the most iconic characters in movie history. Unfortunately, while never dull, Solo never pops to life. It has absolutely no emotional core, no momentum, no tension, and it sure doesn’t help that the cinematography is fuzzier than a Wookie.
As much as I dislike the overbearing woke-politics of Last Jedi, there is no denying that sucker comes to full life in the final 45-minutes. Watching Solo, on more than one occasion, as things sporadically perked up, I told myself, Hey, I’m starting to like this movie! That was as far as things ever got, though. The gears just kept grinding, teasing.
Alden Ehrenreich has been given the unenviable task of stepping into the shoes of Harrison Ford, and please forgive my manners as I make an issue of the fact that Ehrenreich is noticeably too short, way too short to step in the shoes of anyone who is not a member of the Lollipop Guild.
Capturing Ford’s second-to-none movie star charisma, especially in those early years, is already an impossible task. Ford effortlessly mixed William Holden’s cynicism and Errol Flynn’s roguishness into the kind of superstardom we may never see again. Ehrenreich has his charms and does his best, and in this era of movie star extinction, you are required to forgive him for not being Harrison Ford, but the fact that he looks about a foot shorter than the lanky pirate he is supposed to grow into is an unfortunate and constant distraction.
Donald Glover, who does a noteworthy job channeling the oily charm of Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian, also looks like he was accidentally washed in hot water.
Solo‘s biggest problem, though, is director Ron Howard, who has never been a very good action director. Solo feels very much like Howard’s Robert Langdon trilogy (The Da Vinci Code, etc.). Sure, that gigantic budget (Solo reportedly cost $225 million) is all up on the screen, but it is all so empty, busy, cartoony, and stillborn.
In fact, Solo is worse because it looks like it was photographed by a cinematographer who forgot to clean his lens. While a dusty, over-saturated, too-dark, and washed-out look might work for some scenes, every one of the 135 minutes is filmed that way, and when you couple that with the poorly choreographed and confusingly edited action sequences, the more you think about Solo the next day, the more you dislike it.
The story is basically a heist flick. After escaping his terrible childhood planet, Solo, who aspires to be a pilot, vows to learn how to fly, get together the money necessary to purchase a fast ship, and return for his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke).
The easiest way to learn to fly is by signing up with the Empire, which is already roaring through the galaxy like Hitler roared through Europe. After realizing he is never going to be anything more to the Empire than cannon fodder, Solo hooks up with a gang of bandits led by Tobias Beckett (the always welcome Woody Harrelson) and his wife Val (a superb Thandie Newton).
Looming above it all is arch-gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who plays one of those mercurial arch-gangsters who keeps everyone off-balance.
The train heist is pretty spectacular, and I will admit to a chill up the spine when Chewy assumes the role of co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon. The rest of it, though, including the fanservice moments (how Solo got his name, our hero’s first look at the Falcon) never rise above The Da Vinci Code in execution. The Character of Solo is also all over the place.
Without giving anything away, Solo’s encounter with the burgeoning rebellion totally contradicts the character we meet a few years later in Star Wars. What’s more, Ehrenreich and Clarke have no chemistry, and, therefore, you never feel any desire to see them come out of the other end of this together. It certainly doesn’t help that they don’t seem to care, which is what I meant by the story having no emotional core, and this is by far the movie’s biggest flaw. Moreover, one of the final twists involving Qi’ra comes out of nowhere, unless, of course, you are only about fanboy masturbation.
And I still don’t know if a parsec measures time or distance, and the Kasdan clan seems equally confused.
Solo did not ruin my childhood, did not mar a 35-year-old memory of camping out overnight on concrete when the world and I were still young. Solo is simply too bland, too generic, and, thankfully (I guess), too forgettable.