The film’s co-written by Lawrence Kasdan (“The Empire Strikes Back”), so we’re treated to depictions of events in Solo’s past we already know: how he hooks up with his co-pilot, Chewbacca; how he gets the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian; how he accomplishes the feat of flying the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. But the script tells these plot points so “by-the-book” that the most dynamic and memorable qualities contained in the Han Solo character- his arrogant charm, his flippant asides- get lost in the slog of a straightforward sci-fi story.
As an origin story, “Solo” literally chooses a Dickensian upbringing for Han as a burgeoning smuggler with a bounty on his head. Like a page ripped from “Oliver Twist,” Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is part of a band of runaway children enslaved by a worm-creature named Lady Proxima to steal valuable resources: while all of the kids are young and speak with Cockney accents, Han is curiously decades-older and has no such accent. Also decades-older but with a British accent is Han’s girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Han, in a plan to escape enslavement, has stolen a valuable resource called coaxium from Lady Proxima. Han’s deception is found out, but he manages to get away from Proxima’s clutches with the coaxium and Qi’ra in tow. During the escape, he and Qi’ra are separated but Han vows to return to rescue her. Now in exile and penniless, Han does what every “on-the-run” rogue has classically done: he joins the Imperial army for money and anonymity.
Three years pass (thankfully, as what I’ve just described is too fast paced by director Ron Howard) and the film’s rapid pace settles when Han’s stint in the army allows him to meet a professional thief, Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who, in true Dickensian fashion, is like a pseudo-Fagin. Beckett plans to rob a train containing that ever-so-valuable coaxium for a criminal named Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and Solo finagles his way into Beckett’s crew. The train heist goes awry, the coaxium is lost but the action sequence is the film’s highlight and solidifies Solo’s start as a smuggling pilot. To avoid bounties on their heads, Solo and Beckett meet Vos to persuade Vos to let them make amends for the lost coaxium. Solo finds Qi’ra in Vos’ employ and Qi’ra vouches for Han, saying he can deliver another load of coaxium to Vos. The coaxium can be found on the planet Kessel, allowing us to witness Solo’s infamous Kessel Run.
The storied events in “Solo” seem to tick off like bullet points and leave little room for the characters to stand out. While the film elicits some empathy with enslavement, whether it be runaway children, droids or Wookies, “Solo” is largely emotionless, particularly in Solo’s character. While “Solo” has touches of Hans’ trademark arrogant bravado, his quips are minimal and his reuniting with lost-love Qi’ra is oddly passionless. The blame for this doesn’t fall on the actors as much as a script that sets its sights on hitting its story points so soundly that the feelings behind character motivations get lost in the shuffle.
Even though he doesn’t physically encompass a dead-on resemblance to Harrison Ford, Ehrenreich’s a good actor (just see the Coen Brothers’ “Hail, Caesar”) and manages to do a decent job in the role. While I didn’t envy Ehrenreich making us believe he’s a younger version of Han Solo, the script doesn’t lend much support. What would have made “Solo” more entertaining in trying to capture the origin story of a Harrison Ford-based character is what Spielberg did in the beginning of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:” enlist an actor who looks more like a younger Ford (River Phoenix) and see how he adopts his trademarks (acquiring the whip, his fear of snakes, even that scar across his chin). When you’ve seen it done better, it’s hard to accept substitutes.
In all, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” hits its marks where plot points are concerned, but its lack of character depth and detail make it marginally better than kissing a Wookie.