Solo: A Star Wars Story

A movie that is as safe as it is generic, and as entertaining as it is forgettable

“Another Star Wars movie”. That adage is established by Solo: A Star Wars Story. Marketed as a spin-off but far too easily recognisable as a cash-in, Solo will be known as the movie that finally made a Star Wars release a non-event. In prime example of film-making by committee, Solo panders to fans with a healthy dose of fan-servicing while sticking to a well-tested (and well-worn) formula for blockbuster cinema. The result is a movie that is safe, generic, entertaining and forgettable. However, not all is bad. Solo has its moments of fun, topped off by a marvellous Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian.

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” sometime between Star Wars Episodes III and IV, a young Han Solo goes from adventure to adventure on his way to becoming a smuggler. Through his escapades, he meets and befriends Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian and others who shape his life. Han Solo, harbouring a dream to be the best pilot in the galaxy, also gets to finally pilot a ship. One that will eventually become a part of his identity: the Millennium Falcon.

The reason that premise is vague is not to avoid spoilers, but because there is little in the plot of the movie that is of significance. Neither to the characters, nor to the Star Wars saga. Which makes Solo the least important Star Wars movie to date. In contrast, Rogue One told an important back story. Here, Han Solo and Chewie do meet and do the famed Kessel Run. But the unravelling of these and other myths are played out in an underwhelming way. This isn’t deconstructive or reconstructive story-telling. This is de-mystifying and reductive. Each moment that directly links to the franchise is lingered on, to ensure that you don’t miss its significance.

Setting the larger picture aside, even as a stand-alone movie Solo plays like a bunch of insipid set-pieces strung together. Some characters exist for no reason or impact (Thandie Newton’s Val Beckett), while others are played with a remarkable lack of depth (Emilia Clarke and Paul Bettany). Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo shifts between imitating Harrison Ford and doing his own version. He succeeds overall, however lacks the sincerity that Ewan McGregor brought to his younger Obi Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy. That sincerity instead is found in Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando. Glover brings a natural charm to enrich his Lando’s charismatic persona. Consequently, Lando provides for the best scenes in the movie, especially those alongside his robot-rights activist droid companion L3-37, voiced gleefully by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Now that is a spin-off worth hoping for: Lando & L3.

Releasing barely five months after Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi, Solo feels unneeded. In fact, if it had not been carrying the weight of the “Star Wars” brand (and hence the need to tie-in to it), this movie could have taken some liberties and made for a noteworthy space-western. Adhering to the genre and tone of the past films evokes expectations and comparisons, doing it a disservice. Handing over director duty to Ron Howard was counter-intuitive to Lucasfilm’s intention to build Star Wars into a more expansive franchise (ala MCU). Howard’s by-the-numbers work makes Solo mediocre and modest. How unlike Han Solo.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Shariq Madani

Shariq is a social, talkative, fun-loving guy who enjoys books, food and a long drive. But his real joy is in the comfortable darkness of a cinema, watching a good movie, and later spending hours discussing it.