Director: Ron Howard, but to get into that story any further might begin the review prematurely.
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover
Have I Seen it Before: Saw it in the theater. I had long since decided to be excited about it, despite the kerfuffle behind the scenes. It seems like a simpler time, just over six months ago.
Did I Like It: It was fine.
A Han Solo-based prequel seems like an astoundingly bad idea on paper. Do we really need to see how Han (Ehrenreich) and Chewie (Joonas Suotamo, having fully replaced the aging Peter Mayhew since The Last Jedi (2017)) met? Do we need to see the long-fabled gambling match where Lando Calrissian (Glover) loses his prized Millennium Falcon? Do we really need to see the conclusion of a story where, inevitably, Han will learn the virtue of shooting first? Is there need for more elaboration on just what the Kessel Run is? Did we not learn anything from the rationale for the prequel trilogy?
Given it’s pointedly bad idea bona fides, the logical conclusion was to reach out to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. With The Lego Movie (2014), 21 Jump Street (2012), and hell, 22 Jump Street (2014), they have an unbroken track record of turning wildly stupid pitches into insanely watchable movies. There was reason enough to get excited.
And then Lucasfilm fired them. Apparently they were making the film too watchable, and that didn’t quite fit in with the earnings projections already made to Disney shareholders. They hired Ron Howard. He’s a great director in his own right. He brought Michael Keaton into the movies with Night Shift (1982), and is therefore worthy of our respect. Here, unfortunately, he is a hired gun, and it shows.
As the boy who would be Solo, Ehrenreich never quite feels up to the task, turning in the kind of work that can’t help but bring to mind the trajectory of Brandon Routh, forced to do a tepid impression of Christopher Reeve in Superman Returns (2006). Ehrenreich is charming enough, and we can only hope that there is some nice TV show he can call home in a few years. As Calrissian, Glover equates himself far better, still offering a performance with only flourishes of an impression of Billy Dee Williams, more akin to the work of Chris Pine as Captain Kirk in the recent Star Trek movies.
The film ends up a wildly over-budgeted adaptation of a tie-in novel that might have been written in the mid-90s*. There is even a bewildering cameo jammed into the third act by none other than the crown prince of prequels, Darth Maul (Ray Park), that by all accounts has nothing to do with the actual film at hand, and came off a list of possible reveals that could happen at the end. Even so, the movie is largely fine, and a better way to spend a little over two hours than digging ditches, but it isn’t the film it could have been, and that’s a shame.
Maybe, a la what happened with Richard Donner’s cut of Superman II, we might one day see the best version of this movie. A guy can hope, right?
* The Star Wars line did produce a young Solo trilogy in the 90s, written by the late A.C. Crispin. They trade in a lot of the same story beats as this movie, but remain firmly entrenched in the now defunct Legends canon.