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Review: 'Solo: A Star Wars Story' is a generic cash-grab we didn't need

Alden Ehrenreich

Alden Ehrenreich Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

It never bodes well for a movie when the studio fires its director mid-shoot. The goal is to right the ship. But more often than not, the final product ends up being mediocre at best.

Such is the case of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which saw directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) replaced by Ron Howard after a good chunk of filming. To somebody’s credit—though it’s hard to say whose—Solo avoids being a total train wreck. That said, it does play out as a generic action flick. Given this is a pretty transparent cash grab by Disney, I wonder if it really matters.

Solo takes place somewhere between the events of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One. We meet a youngish Han (Alden Ehrenreich) on the planet Corellia, where he and a bunch of other street rats do the bidding of the evil Lady Proxima (Linda Hunt) in an effort to survive.

Han seeks a better life among the stars, so when he sees a dicey opportunity to get himself and girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) off-world, he takes it. What follows is a fairly straightforward run through Han Solo’s greatest hits. There’s a surprise or two, but as for the broader Star Wars mythology, we don’t get much value. While new information is presented, it’s nothing that really fleshes out the character in any meaningful way.

By illuminating his backstory like this, the movie loses a lot of the intrigue that made Han Solo such a cool character. It’s like revealing the secret behind a magic trick. The mystery is gone.

What’s more interesting, forever wondering how Han made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs or just showing us in the context of a bland prequel?

That’s a huge problem, because Solo is a movie where the story is almost entirely predicated on nods and call-forwards. References to the original trilogy are really just beaten into the viewer, and performed with such hammy glee that it’s almost like the actors are winking at the screen.

New stuff is executed so poorly that it’s comical. In an early scene we discover the meaning of Han’s last name, and its staleness lays the foundation for what’s to come. You’ll know it when you hear it.

A big part of the blame here rests on the shoulders of father-and-son screenwriting duo Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan. The senior Kasdan is responsible for some great work, including The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. But the writing here and in The Force Awakens, which Lawrence co-wrote, feels soulless and lacking. It’s hard to say if that’s truly his fault or if Disney is pushing a derivative narrative.

Either way, the result is the same. Solo is a movie we did not need. Luckily, it’s easy to forget.

Solo: A Stars Wars Story
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke
Rated: PG-13
Theater: Opens May 24, area theaters