With Solo: A Star Wars Story, Lucasfilm took its biggest risk since the Disney purchase: taking on a beloved character. In the film, Alden Ehrenreich plays Han Solo, one of the most iconic roles of Harrison Ford’s career. And, while a valiant effort on the Hail Caesar actor’s part, he falls a little short.
Let’s get one thing straight: nobody has the onscreen charm Harrison Ford has exuded throughout his career. Besides the obvious handsomeness, Ford’s je-ne-sais-quoi relies more on his mischievous grin and the deadpan delivery. It’s an often imitated but never duplicated combination. Comparing anyone to Ford is almost criminally unfair.
But then again, that’s exactly what Lucasfilm is making us all do. By casting Ehrenreich (or anyone, really), the weight was on the new actor to carry on the legacy. It’s impossible not to think back to Ford’s original rendition of the space scoundrel. Ehrenreich particularly nails certain facial expressions, certain drops of voice, the occasional Harrison Ford smirk. It makes the legendary actor’s absence all the more palpable.
Ehrenreich, in all, does a good job and makes the best out of an impossible task. But he also gets the movie stolen from under his nose.
The miracle of Donald Glover
It seems Donald Glover can do no wrong right now. His FX series Atlanta is one of the most critically acclaimed shows on television. His video of “This Is America,” under his rapper pseudonym Childish Gambino, is a cultural phenomenon. And his rendition of space smuggler Lando Calrissian is the definite highlight of Solo.
By Glover’s account, Billy Dee Williams’ sole advice regarding playing Lando was “I don’t know, just be charming, man.” It was clearly the best direction he could have gotten: Glover exudes charm in Solo. It’s clear this was a labor of love from someone who grew up on Star Wars and Lando in particular.
While a definite throwback to Williams’ portrayal, Glover makes the cool smuggler very much his own. He provides something of a millennial twist. Glover and the band of misfits led by Woody Harrelson’s Becket, are the heart of the story. We don’t necessarily see the full arc of how Han went from a sweet kid to the “scoundrel.” But Harrelson, Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau provide all the space misfits the movie needs. It certainly helps that Favreau’s alien character sounds and feels a lot like Rocket Raccoon.
And that leads to my main issue with the film: it doesn’t try to steer away from its derivativeness.
A Star Wars movie is a Star Wars movie is a Star Wars movie
There hasn’t been a non-derivative Star Wars film since the 80’s. With all the prequels, sequels, shows and spin-offs, it’s difficult for the franchise not to feel, well, like a franchise. Still, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story did a great job in covering plot holes and expanding the story. Solo feels more like an attempt to make money than its predecessors – even if they were also exactly that.
Tapping into one of the focal characters of the original Star Wars trilogy was a risky move. Han Solo is one of the most beloved characters in film, but part of his charm lies on his “mystery.” He’s kind of like the cool uncle who tells you stories from his time as a roadie in the 70’s. Delving into his sad childhood/backstory is something of a disservice to the way Solo always presented himself. Plus, there’s no real arc showing us how he became the more “jaded” man we meet in A New Hope.
Solo is a fun movie, though it suffers from a slow and somewhat lifeless first act. But it also clearly feels like a spinoff that doesn’t bring anything new to the table. A mild twist in the end suggests that Lucasfilm wants to expand, though its disappointing box office might prevent it.
Solo: A Star Wars Story works, but it’s not at the same level as its predecessors. Maybe it’s time to keep the franchise on its regular timeline, with Star Wars Anthology movies focusing on unknown characters. More Rogue One and less Solo from now on, please, Mr. Disney.