Star Wars is arguably the most divisive movie franchise in existence.
Longtime fans demand a certain level of quality and an adherence to character legacies and storylines that began with the franchise’s first movie, A New Hope, in 1977, so it’s virtually impossible to please everybody. Fast-forward almost 40 years and we have Solo — the second offshoot from the main trilogies — an up-close look at roguish vagabond Han Solo (originally played by Harrison Ford) as he grows into the sarcastic curmudgeon we all know and sort of love.
The younger Solo is played by Alden Ehrenreich, who’s appeared in smaller cinematic roles since 2005, but otherwise is a no-name on the big screen. That’s either good or bad, depending on how you look at it. On one hand, it allows us to see him as a young Solo since we have no other frame of reference for him, but on the other, his relative lack of experience translates into bigger problems.
Back in ’77, Star Wars creator George Lucas filled his cast with no-names and it worked spectacularly, but that was then. It’s a different time now.
Stop dawdling. How was the movie?
Watching Solo is a toughie for a longtime fan (as I confess to be). Around each and every bend, there are Lucasian touches, glimpses of what the Star Wars franchise is all about: bizarre species, exotic planets, rebellions fighting against huge empires, the little guy defeating the big guy. Before we’re given too long to bask in that nostalgic feeling, the audience is then dragged into an almost urgency-less story.
Of course, any critic dissecting this movie can’t possibly ignore the tumult in which it was created. Cinematic master Ron Howard was called in to finish the job, and in recent interviews, has claimed about 70 per cent of the finished product is his work. Thirty per cent, the remainder, is a lot. And unfortunately, it results in a messy story and a jumbled ending.
WATCH BELOW: Alden Ehrenreich talks ‘Solo’
Without spoiling the plot, here are the broad strokes: we meet a young Solo as he’s running his first scams on his home planet of Corellia. He claims to be an outstanding pilot and says he’s going to be the best one in the galaxy, but we don’t really get a glimpse of his mastery except for a single brief chase through the city. He and his love interest, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) are quickly swept up in an evil plot, and despite an entire universe out there, the pair manage to continually find one another.
Along the way, Solo meets a variety of characters, some who stick around and others who don’t, but all of them seem to be working towards a common goal: freedom. From oppression. From legacy. From duty. The through-line of the movie questions the idea of freedom, and what constitutes it.
How about Ehrenreich’s performance?
Poor Ehrenreich is tasked with a massive challenge for any actor, and that’s to embody a legendary character who’s been around for decades. It’s not an enviable position, and what’s more, he’s still dodging rumours that an acting coach was hired during filming to bring him up to snuff. It takes some mental gymnastics to accept that this is the young Solo, as the pair looks nothing alike. Kudos to Ehrenreich for trying, and in some shots he commendably emulates Ford’s raised eyebrows, pursed lips and snide remarks.
A touch low on charisma and at times even slightly boring to watch, Ehrenreich does his best, and by the end of the movie he’s moved into “acceptable” territory, though the only true Solo there will ever be is Ford.
What about the supporting cast?
Being a part of a Star Wars movie is a big deal for a lot of actors, and with all of these offshoots and sequels, opportunities are rife. But each supporting cast member — especially Paul Bettany (as villain Dryden Vos) and Donald Glover (as a young Lando Calrissian) — seem to be having the time of their lives. Revisiting Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) is always a blast, and newcomer to the franchise Woody Harrelson (Beckett) usually entertains. Clarke, as the female romantic lead, does little more than stare and provide impetus for Solo’s actions. There are a lot of question marks about Qi’ra, even by the film’s end.
One side effect of having many supporting characters is that several of them get short shrift. It feels like we only get a few minutes with some characters, and it’s tough to establish a connection when you hear five lines in total from someone. At 2.5 hours, Solo is already long enough without delving into every backstory, though sometimes you wish they would.
Is this a movie for Star Wars fans?
Yes and no. While Solo‘s storyline hits the big moments, like the origin of his name and how he ever managed to get a hold of the Millennium Falcon from Calrissian, much of the story feels manipulated and contrived to work with the franchise’s bigger picture. (There’s a late-movie mention of Tatooine, for example.) Some Star Wars fans may hoot and holler as these huge events take place, while others may tsk-tsk the way things go down.
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So what’s the bottom line?
Watching Star Wars movies is a purely subjective experience; for the diehards, it’s religious, for the casual fan, it’s a fun way to spend a few hours. There’s no denying the goosebumps that pop up when watching the scrolling text at the beginning of the film, or hearing the iconic score rise as the lights dim. As far as that magic goes, Solo still has it. What’s more concerning as a fan is the slow chipping away at the franchise, the frequency with which the movies are rolling out, and the fear that eventually what we fell in love with in the first place will be replaced completely by a soulless marketing machine.
‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ opens in theatres across Canada on May 25.