When the best thing about a Han Solo movie is Lando and his robot sidekick, that’s a problem, right? More specifically, that’s the problem at the center of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Somehow, Disney took one of the most charismatic characters in the universe and turned him into a plucky yet dull hero with an uninspired origin story, in which he’s outshone by all things Lando Calrissian. (And yes, that includes space capes!)
Completed by director Ron Howard, Solo: A Star Wars Story follows Han through his first heist, and loops in his introductions to Lando (Donald Glover), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and the Millennium Falcon. Also thrown in are a handful of new characters, like the smirking smuggler Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), wrathful crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), and Han’s first love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). To spare you spoilers, I’ll keep plot details to a minimum: Han and Beckett team with Qi’ra and Lando to pull off a big score to appease the vicious Vos.
Along the way, screenwriters Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan lace in allusions to classic Star Wars catchphrases, but with uninspired twists. Like instead of saying, “I have a bad feeling about this,” young Han says, “I have a good feeling about this!” If that delights you, you’ll love what Solo counts as clever. Ever wonder how Han got the last name Solo? Or where Chewie got his signature bandolier? Well, prepare to be disappointed! What could potentially be big moments in this movie are gallingly haphazard, treated as careless checkmarks on a hastily scratched to-do list instead of a saga decades in the making.
Still, fans will cheer over finally seeing Han’s legendary Kessel Run in a truly thrilling sequence electric with threat and a mighty maelstrom. But getting to that point is a tedious journey that lacks excitement, humor, and verve. Part of the problem is the cinematography of Bradford Young. Best known for Arrival, A Most Violent Year, and Selma, Young favors a muted, low-contrast color palette that makes Solo so woefully murky that you might think the projection’s being underlit, or you meandered into a DCEU movie. Young has decided this Star Wars movie will be deeply steeped in a suffocating grey, grey, grey. That is until Lando arrives.
Glover’s entrance into this movie is when Solo comes alive. With a confident smile, a vibrant wardrobe, and a roguish allure, Glover delivers a stellar spin on the character Billy Dee Williams originated, nailing that particular suave patter. Glover’s smooth-talking drips with sex appeal; and his physicality proves he was born for ’70s strutting and space capes. Making his sequences all the more delightful is his sparking chemistry with his pugnacious first-mate L3-37 (Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge).
L3 is a lanky and outspoken droid who would sneer at the subservient nattering of C3-PO. She is an activist for droid rights, and one of the spunkiest female characters the Star Wars movies have dared to roll out since Leia. Whether the pair are bickering as they co-pilot the Millennium Falcon, Lando is scolding a cohort for disrespecting his custom-made capes, or L3 is revealing the technical possibility of human/droid romance, there’s an exhilarating unpredictability to these scenes that kicks open a new door into the Star Wars universe. (And one I desperately hope we’ll leap through in a solo Lando movie!) Sadly, the Han stuff isn’t nearly as fun or rewarding.
Ehrenreich is not the Han you are looking for. Naturally, he can’t begin the movie as the rakish Han that Harrison Ford brought forth in A New Hope. Solo should be Han’s journey to that point. While Ehrenreich picks up a Han-like cockiness as things progress, he still feels woefully miscast. There’s nothing roguish about Ehrenreich. Even when he’s gambling, bluffing, and blasting, he feels downright wholesome. That doesn’t fit with Han or the Oliver Twist-like origin this movie establishes. Ehrenreich is handsome, but there’s no sense of danger in his eyes, and so none of the bad boy sex appeal that’s so central to Han’s charisma. The lukewarm chemistry between Ehrenreich and Clarke doesn’t help matters, no matter how many times the script commands they make out.
I wish I could tell you Solo is a riotous adventure and a total blast. But its first-hour is such a slog that I instinctively reached for my phone. I was so bored that I had the impulse to distract myself as if I was at home watching some TV rerun. (No, I didn’t pull out my phone. And it was turned off because I’m not a monster who disrespects the theater-going experience in this way.) Things do pick up deep into act two. Finally, the film cruises into consistently snappy banter and tense face-offs. But frankly, I expect wall-to-wall fun—be it excitement or laughs—in a movie centered on Han Solo. So I can’t help but wonder what Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who brought such non-stop fun to The LEGO Movie and 21 Jump Street, would have brought to Solo had they been allowed to finish it their way.
It’s unfair to speculate Lord and Miller’s Solo would have been a better movie than what Howard has delivered. Still, what we’ve gotten is deeply disappointing, and a wasted opportunity. Given such an iconic, untamed yet endearing character as Han, Howard and the Kasdans gave us a Solo that feels safe, not risky in the way befitting Star Wars’ cavalier yet reluctant hero. It’s fine. It’s sometimes fun. There are certainly some thrills along the way, but don’t we expect more from something that dares to call itself Solo?