By: Christian Harding (Three Beers) –
Plenty has been said over the years about what the Walt Disney corporation has done and continues to do with the Star Wars franchise ever since their acquisition of the property not too long ago. So much so that this reviewer feels hard-pressed to find anything especially new to bring to the conversation, other than a meager plea that the films themselves be good, enjoyable additions to the series’ ever-expanding film canon. And while watching the main storyline of the ongoing Rey/Kylo/Finn/etc trilogy unfold has been a satisfying, if familiar experience thus far, the side stories and spin-offs are a different beast entirely. While the original intent of these films was for them to be completely separate from anything that’s come before and just single standalone features with no association to past films, so far they’ve been disappointingly reliant on fan service and reference-heavy plotlines that don’t do enough to separate themselves from the already well established tropes and trappings of this universe.
At this point, nobody was expecting Solo: A Star Wars Story to be any different, especially given that its very existence serves as more shameless nostalgia-baiting from the mouse house. So, does it manage to rise above our expectations and shed a brand new, refreshing and bold light into the Disney-Star Wars experiment? Well… no, not exactly. But it’s still an enjoyable film in its own right. Yes, despite the very well documented and publicized production drama (which we’ll get to in a little bit), the fact that this film still comes across as a remotely passable addition to the series is something of a mini-miracle. Because when judged on its own merits and without any previous series association to the series or foreknowledge of the production drama, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a perfectly enjoyable ride, which is all everyone should really be hoping for at this point. This is thanks in large part to an ensemble cast of likable, entertaining character actors in most of the major roles. And the relatively limited, small scale of the story is also an appreciable change of pace compared to all the other Disney Star Wars offerings which have come before.
This is so meta I’m surprised the entire universe doesn’t collapse into itself.
Right off the top, let’s just get this out of the way: Alden Ehrenreich’s performance as Han Solo is not very good in this. Were he relegated to a mere supporting role this wouldn’t be as big of an issue, but given that he’s the leading man of a major summer tent-pole release where he’s in every single scene and his acting is… erm, let’s say “sub-par”, is certainly a hindrance. And no, it’s not because he isn’t Harrison Ford and nobody but Ford could possibly do this role justice and yadda yadda insert cringe-worthy fanboy complaints here. In fact, one of the more commendable aspects to Ehrenreich’s take on the character (as well as Donald Glover’s Lando) is how he manages to make the role his own and doesn’t resort to doing a stiff, lifeless impersonation of the beloved character we all know and love. Rather, Ehrenreich’s lack of charisma or acting chops is insufficient purely on his own terms and when judged by its own merits. Fortunately, Ehrenreich is surrounded by a supporting cast of much more interesting and likable players, and if there is to be more appearances by this particular version of Han Solo in future spin-off films, then maybe his acting will be improved by then. But as for this first impression, it certainly leaves a lot of room for improvement.
Pretty much any and all discussions surrounding Solo: A Star Wars Story would be remiss if they didn’t mention the very public and well-documented production drama behind this. As we all know by now, the popular duo of Phil Lord & Chris Miller were originally set to helm this project, and had even reportedly finished 90% of their filming before they were unceremoniously booted off the project and replaced by a much safer choice in Ron Howard. While, as mentioned before, the finished film largely works on its own, there is a sense of choppiness and lose pacing that comes across every so often. It’s not necessarily a deal breaker, but those less forgiving viewers will certainly find a lot to pick apart with this one.
“Oh no, is Chewie going to make it out alive?” says the one person that’s never seen a Star Wars film before.
Warts and all, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a perfectly enjoyable summer diversion, thus putting it right in line with the likes of the recent sequels to The Avengers and Deadpool in the weeks before it. And given the combination of the very public production drama and this reviewer’s well stated prior concerns (I refer you back to the “sure to be terrible” line from my The Last Jedi review on this very site), you’ll find nobody more surprised by that fact than your humble reviewer here. This certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and no doubt the bitter redditor community will find plenty to bemoan in here (though this does mark the first of the Disney Star Wars productions that doesn’t have a female protagonist, so don’t be surprised if they take to this one better than any of the others). But to anyone just looking for a passably enjoyable couple of hours inside of an air conditioned cinema with reliably overpriced concessions snacks, then Solo might be just a space adventure worth embarking on.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: for each reference to a past film in the series.
Do another Shot: whenever a small piece of Han’s persona is established or explained.
Shotgun a Beer: for that random, out-of-left-field surprise cameo.
Start a New Six Pack: if there’s a major plot turn or betrayal that you *didn’t* see coming ahead of time.