‘Solo’ is one bumpy rideFilm review by Katie Walsh
Much like its protagonist, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” has had a crazy journey. The origin story of a young Han Solo was initially directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, before Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy stepped in to replace the duo with the reliable Ron Howard, who finished shepherding the film to the screen. The result? Well it’s a “Star Wars” story, but that’s about it. “Solo” is a minor effort in the canon, a well-intentioned but undeniably troubled effort to dive into the mysterious past of everyone’s favorite space outlaw.
Alden Ehrenreich takes on the unenviable task of stepping into Harrison Ford’s shoes as Han Solo, but no floppy hairpiece or amount of rakish squinting can ever truly come close to capturing Ford’s inimitable vibe — a cynical, nearly languid cool. Ehrenreich is a bit too earnest and smiley and broad as Solo, but over the course of the film, we see his inherent faith in others slowly drained away.
The good news is Donald Glover, as the impeccably suave smuggler, gambler, lover and cape enthusiast Lando Calrissian, downright channels Billy Dee Williams, though he grabs ahold of the role and wrestles it into submission, making it his own. A Lando spinoff will be greenlit by the end of the weekend, undoubtedly.
We follow young Han as he escapes a dismal childhood of crime on Corellia, and as he promises to return for his sweetheart Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). He joins the Imperial army and is soon looking for a way out, so he scams his way, along with new sidekick Chewie (Joonas Suotamo), onto a crew of thieves led by Beckett and Val (Woody Harrelson and Thandie Newton).
The script, by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, is centered around two major heists of the highly-valued, highly unstable fuel source coaxium. The universe is run by the Empire and a slew of cruel crime bosses fighting for access to this precious resource, enslaving others and draining planets dry. Rebellion? It’s barely a whisper. But in “Solo,” “rebellion” becomes a full-throated cry, shouted most entertainingly by the cranky droid L3 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who just about steals Han Solo’s movie right out from under him.
But there’s one jarring aspect of “Solo” that doesn’t match its generally spritely tone: the cinematography. Shot by the talented Bradford Young, who displayed a detailed sense of tactility and practical lighting in “Selma,” “Arrival” and “A Most Violent Year,” he brings this approach to “Solo,” and the dim, dusty look just doesn’t fit. Scenes are saturated in blue or yellow, particles filtering through the air, lit by blown-out windows offering backlight to the actors to the point where it can be hard to see. It’s moody, atmospheric and textured, and the completely wrong choice for the film, especially pitched against leading man Ehrenreich’s performance, which is only a couple of notches down from his “Hail, Caesar” singing cowboy.
Whether it’s the performances, the style or the narrative, which is light as air and frantically paced, there’s just something that doesn’t gel with “Solo.” It doesn’t feel like a cohesive piece, so while it’s at times charming, and does get off the ground in the last act, the getting there is extremely bumpy. Seems like that’s a theme for everyone involved.
Walsh writes for Tribune News Service.
“SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY”
21/2 stars out of 4
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton
Director: Ron Howard
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Opening: Friday in area theaters