‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Movie Review: Ambitious Sequel Fails To Live Up To Its Potential
While I think Solo is a good movie overall, my feelings about it are complicated. More specifically, the film is a mixed bag, delivering thrilling action sequences, seriously funny scenes (all thanks to Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who plays the passionate droid L3-37), and some bittersweet moments; unfortunately, it also contains a number of scenes that fall flat. Solo is far too ambitious in the scope of the story it tries to tell, and therefore the end product is too fast-paced and compressed, not giving some scenes the proper time or breathing room that they need to succeed. The film was certainly enjoyable, but I was painfully aware that it did not live up to its great potential. This was no fault of replacement director Ron Howard, who pulled off a miracle by re-shooting nearly the entire film (60-90% depending on who you ask) in a relatively short amount of time, without preparation, while maintaining high morale among cast and crew, and still delivering a solid project on time. Howard deserves recognition for this impressive feat.
The original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, apparently were not on the same page as the Disney and Lucasfilm executives, and were let go after roughly 80% of the film had already been shot. According to some, Lord and Miller were going off-script and straying away from what they promised to deliver. Others claim that the studio executives refused every bold suggestion and idea, keeping Lord and Miller from making the movie they thought they were hired to make. While I clearly have no more insight into the situation than anyone else, the unfortunate result was that audiences didn’t get what they deserved.
I wish I could see Lord and Miller’s version of Solo. Everything they touch is fresh, funny, and exciting (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street, Brooklyn 99), and I would rather have seen their bold and unique vision (whether a success or failure) than the tame, yet pleasant, revision that we ended up with. At the same time, I would also like see Solo as a true Ron Howard film, one where he was involved in pre-production and had more creative influence. Instead, he was stuck working within the loose shell of what was previously shot, forced to course-correct to what the executives wanted Lord and Miller to create in the first place.
I can’t imagine Solo was an easy film to edit. The old footage from Lord and Miller’s reign had to act as connecting tissue to Howard’s new footage, which constitutes most of the film, and the final product loses something in the eventual piecing together of the film from both sources. The scattered, unplanned nature of the project is manifested in the editing. The pace of the film is so fast that it made my head spin, cutting to new shots more rapidly than I could process the images I was seeing. Solo feels like the result of stuffing all of Bradford Young’s beautiful shots into a blender. In contrast, The Force Awakens plays like a finely tuned machine, purposeful and seamless in both camera movements and editing, everything meticulously planned.
With all of that said, Solo is a wonderfully cast film, and Woody Harrelson is a true standout. He is clearly ecstatic to be a part of the Star Wars Universe and puts everything into his performance, lighting up every scene in which he appears. His character, Tobias Beckett, is the most complex of the film, and certainly the most crucial in Han’s development as a young smuggler. Emilia Clarke did a wonderful job as Qi’Ra, the love interest of Han, though I found her a bit underutilized. Solo shrouds her in mystery, effectively setting up for a potential spin-off, which would be a nice change of pace as an original spin-off rather than the sort-of prequels we’ve been getting.
Alden Ehrenreich, as Han Solo himself, did the best that could be expected of anyone presented with the challenge of filling Harrison Ford’s shoes. There were a number of times where the resemblance in mannerisms was so great that I truly believed him to be a young Solo. There were other times where I saw Ehrenreich’s own interpretation of the character leak through, which provided for an interesting comparison between the two portrayals. I have to say, I’m grateful that Ehrenreich was chosen to play Han, as I can’t think of anyone who would have done a better job with the role
Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando is a fan favorite, with many saying he’s a highlight of the film. On paper, it sounds like a match made in heaven, but in practice, I found Glover’s performance a bit underwhelming. He sure looked like Lando, and at times held the same swagger as Lando, but the delivery was lacking. Considering that I believe Glover to be one of the most talented people alive (certainly the most well rounded in terms of what he can do and does), my disappointment might result from comparison against his other art. Glover’s music video This Is America and his TV show Atlanta are both astounding works of art that rank among the best in their respective mediums. I am consistently awed by how he casually nails every new challenge he attempts, and while his portrayal of Lando was far from a failure, it didn’t meet my admittedly high expectations.
While Solo had more problems than the previous Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One, I somehow enjoyed Solo more. Rogue One went through all the motions, but in the end was just a bit lifeless. Despite the numerous issues with Solo, there is heart to the film that makes it easier to look past its flaws and simply enjoy the experience. Hopefully Disney and Lucasfilm have learned from this ordeal and avoid similar problems in the future by either making sure they hire the right people from the beginning or by giving talented directors the creative freedom they deserve.