Click here for the flashback interview with Alden Ehrenreich for BEAUTIFUL CREATURES.
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY annotates and amplifies the mythos surrounding that devilish anti-hero of the franchise, Han Solo. Set well before the events of EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE, it introduces us to Han before he learned to fly, but after he mastered the art of driving with reckless abandon and daredevil élan. In the person of Alden Ehernreich, he is the same scamp that Harrison Ford established, and therein lies the problem. Not that Ehrenreich isn’t irresistible, he is. Not that he doesn’t have the same sparkle as Ford, he does. No the problem is that in a film that is all about character, there is no character development. As Solo’s shady mentor, Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), cynically intones, people are predictable, and, alas, so is the film dedicated to Solo’s origin story.
Solo bursts forth here fully formed: cocky, arrogant, and soft-hearted from his start in an Oliver Twist-ish gang of petty thieves ruled over by an aquatic caterpillar (voiced imperiously by Linda Hunt), to his galaxy-wide escapades aimed at reuniting with his first love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), a fellow petty thief. They dream of escaping the aquatic caterpillar for a live anywhere else, where Han can be the best pilot in the galaxy, and she can, well, that’s not really established, but, then again, many things in this film aren’
What is established is the series of firsts that are the raison d’être for the exercise. The first time Han meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) in a mudfest that does not start well. The first time he meets Lando Calrissian (Danny Glover), the charming high-stakes gambler with a weak spot for custom-made capes and his android navigator, L-3 (voiced with plummy condescension by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). The first time he takes the pilot’s seat in Calrissian’s Millennium Falcon. You get the picture. And, of course introducing the dice that played such a pivotal part in THE LAST JEDI. They pop up almost immediately in the context of the first of many action sequences that involve Solo in close calls, barbed quips, and vast swaths of deeply satisfying swagger, the which Eherenreich pulls off with a nifty nonchalance.
The plot involves a super fuel that, as the opening roll informs us, is the most valuable item in this lawless time. As a McGuffin, it’s great, what with its propensity for blowing up when not refined, and being fairly volatile when it is. Everyone want it for all sorts of reasons, including Solo, who wants to use it to buy a fast ship, find his lost love, and get on with his happy ending.
Of course, that’s not going to go exactly the way he plans.
The Empire and its Storm Troopers occupy the periphery of the story, with the Crimson Dawn taking center stage in the person of a divinely malevolent Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), a man given to becoming markedly stripedy when irked. He cruises the galaxy in a blade-shaped fortress topped with a decadent night club and his private office rife with precious objects and lethal weaponry. When he and his desire for the super fuel crosses paths with Solo, it’s just the start of double- and triple-crosses that should all be more of a surprise, and a continuation of the steady stream of action that spans icy brides and double-sided trains to sandy cliffs and a dash of the Dune saga. There’s also the regulation assortment of alien species that evince multiples of things that we humans limit to two, and a few that we don’t have at all. It’s all executed with skill, though without the verve that would succeed in coaxing the adrenal glands to pump. Even a gravity well in yet another deep-space hazard speaks more to an aesthetic appreciation for its glow than for its intimations of doom.
SOLO has its faults, but none big enough to prevent it being enjoyed as a buoyant popcorn flick with a charismatic lead. Kudos for its attempt to infuse a scooch of social consciousness into the proceedings, with L-3 righteously jonesing for equality with what she terms her organic overlords. The makers seem to be banking on a sequel. There are one or two ends that are not so much loose as worthy of following-up, and, most importantly, we haven’t seen Han in the iconic outfit in which he made his debut so many decades ago.