Why I didn't like Solo: A Star Wars story - Spoiler free
Production problems, a director change and, an iconic character portrayed by Harrison Ford. If you only read this, you might already think that director Ron Howard was up against it. Sadly, if you expect to see a Star Wars movie you might be disappointed.
This review contains no spoilers.
Don't get me wrong, it is clear that Disney and Howard absolutely made an effort not to disappoint fans. And as a fan, I appreciate that. But, this movie just isn't Star Wars and it certainly isn't Solo.
A Star Wars story
Without going into detail or spoiling anyone: this is an origin story. Who is Han, where did he come from and what exactly happened that he came into possession of the Millennium Falcon. But it is also more than that: it sets up the later conflict between the Empire and the Rebellion.
The problem here is, it feels like an explanation after the fact. This is why Han does X in A New Hope, why does he do Y in Force Awakens. It just doesn't feel like this story was an origin story. It lacks a certain depth that Rogue One did have. You will keep asking yourself: "But why are they showing me this?", "Why was this significant in Han's life?". A feeling that will persist after the end credits roll.
That being said, I have to give the writers and director(s) credit for one final thing. One scene they got so right, I almost was willing to forgive all this. I can't talk about it without spoiling it, but let's just say Star Wars fans will want to cheer.
As much as I wanted to like this movie and wanted to like the actors, there is one glaring problem. Alden Ehrenreich just isn't Han. He's a good actor, he just isn't Han. Spider-Man can hide behind his mask, so can Batman. A decent husky voice and you'll believe it, whether it's George Clooney or Christian Bale. And in Ehrenreich's performance, I just can't find him. Now to be fair: Harrison Ford pretty much made sure with his performance in Star Wars that nobody else could replace him. He is the definition of a tough act to follow. And that is THE problem that Solo: A Star Wars story has run headlong into.
As for the other actors, they do a fine job owning their character. Donald Glover pulls off the eccentric young Lando like a charm and sets up the later performance by Billy Dee Williams in the original trilogy just in the way you'd want to.
Woody Harrelson and Emilia Clark do a decent job with what they've been given. And that is where we run into the story again. Clarke suffers a bit from an underdeveloped character as does Harrelson. You want to care for them but, well, you don't because they feel set up like glorified red shirts even though they aren't.
What I did like
Any chance to go and see something Star Wars is fun. And there are a bunch of fun Star Wars moments in Solo: A Star Wars story. And let's be honest, anytime the Falcon goes into hyperspace is a kick. We get a nice shot of a Star Destroyer and some TIE Fighters as well. All ingredients needed to make the special effects junkie in you happy.
The movie also introduces us to Sabacc, the game that delivered the Millennium Falcon into the hands of Han. It's sort of like poker in the way it is played and the setting around the games is just so much fun for a fan because you know what is going to happen.
Another thing we knew before the movie started: It is starting to become a Star Wars trope that the droid has to be the comedic sidekick. Solo is no different. L3, portrayed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is kicking ass and taking names. She's no K-2SO or C-3PO but that is due to a lack of screen time and not for lack of ass kicking.
Solo also gives you another window in a universe that most fans simply can't get enough of. If that's you, you'll have a good time regardless of the flaws in the movie. Oh, and there is that one moment I talked about earlier.
You can clearly see that the cast and crew made an effort to make this movie a success. And let's be honest, we expect an incredibly high level of quality when it comes to these movies. It turns out that in every great franchise you sometimes have a movie that just isn't up there. This is that movie for Star Wars.
So should you go then? It depends. Are you a superfan? Then be prepared to accept that this movie isn't as engaging as the others. Solo: A Star Wars story isn't necessarily bad, it's just not as engaging. Nothing comes close to Jar Jar-territory bad but neither does it soar to the heights of say the first Death Star blowing up. So you end up with a rather mediocre movie that you'll want to love more than it deserves.
And this movie is still A LOT better than Star Trek: The Final Frontier. So... it has that going for it.