Solo: A Star Wars Story is at its best when
it isn't a Star Wars story

By Leigh Monson 
   Solo: A Star Wars Story is a strange homunculus of a film, shambling its way into theaters after a troubled production history that saw the firing of original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, only to see workmanlike director Ron Howard come in to reshoot almost the entire film.
  But even with the weight of its behind-the-scenes drama on its shoulders, Solo bears a burden of justifying its existence as the origin story of a character who doesn't really need to have his backstory filled in. Oddly enough, though, the former issue of fragmented stylistic messiness isn't so much what drags Solo down as the need to build a sub-franchise around young Han Solo, so while the film is a functional sci-fi flick, it doesn't really justify itself as a necessary part of the Star Wars canon.
  At its core, Solo is a heist film set in space, wherein Han Solo and Chewbacca are recruited to a series of McGuffins that promise to make them rich. And these scenes, despite a disappointingly dour and washed-out color palette, are pretty fun, littered with explosions and chase-scene antics that provide the sort of visceral thrill that most audiences would hope for from a blockbuster of this scale.
  Furthermore, the introduction of new characters is welcome in almost every instance, such as Woody Harrelson as a complex and conflicted paternal figure and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37, a droid with a pathological need to free other droids from bondage (though L3's fate is a narrative turn that is incredibly and unintentionally disturbing if allowed more than a moment to sink in). The biggest scene stealer might actually be Paul Bettany as the film's main antagonist, who chews the scenery with such gleeful abandon that the joy is contagious.
  However, paradoxically, it's when Solo shuffles its titular character to the front of the action that it suffers most. The film's first act is an entire film's worth of backstory for Han that goes by at an uncomfortably brisk pace, and the bloated front end leaves the remainder of the film feeling exhausting by the time the credits roll.
  Alden Ehrenreich brings nothing to the character of Han Solo beyond a fair approximation of Harrison Ford's smirk, and the choice to ground his motivations in a need to live up to an obligatory love interest (Emilia Clarke) gives the character as much pathos as a child playing with an action figure. Almost as disappointing is Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, who does a pretty decent Billy Dee Williams impression but serves little narrative purpose beyond uniting Han with the iconic Millenium Falcon.
  There's a sense of fan-serving obligation hanging over the entirety of Solo: A Star Wars Story, one that is likely going to make those obsessed with lore and continuity happy even as the film itself suffers from a lack of narrative purpose. Han's story doesn't appear to actually be about anything other than filling in a gap in the timeline and hoping to set up a series of sequels that lead up to the original Star Wars trilogy. And the film works in moments when you forget that it's a movie about Han Solo, when the robots and lasers and spectacle take you out of the story and into the visceral thrills of a gang of outlaws stealing some valuable junk. But once you're pulled back into the forced iconography and the stiff, ambitionless world of franchise-building that doesn't live up to the best of the Star Wars name.

3/5 stars

Leigh Monson is technically a licensed attorney but somehow thinks being a film critic is a lot more fun. Leigh loves both award darlings and hilariously bad films, does not believe in superhero movie fatigue, and calls it like he sees it.