The worst thing you can say about Solo: A Star Wars Story is that it’s perfectly fine. That may sound like a weird criticism, except that this is Star Wars we’re talking about here, the franchise that dared to turn Hollywood space opera into popular mythmaking. Now we’re a few films deep into a major Disney-driven reboot, with a new trilogy, one-offs like this one, and additional film and television series in the offing. In that context Solo represents another step on the franchise’s evolution—or devolution, if you prefer—from pop mythology to corporate product.
As products go, the film is pretty good: it hits its marks, does what it was designed to do, has X number of action scenes interspersed with Y number of one-liners and Z unexpected character reversals. And in its good-enoughness, you can begin to see a future in which a new Star Wars movie is no longer an event that thrills the soul of every pop movie-lover…but just another thing that happens from time to time.
Alden Ehrenreich plays the titular character, and he’s…fine. Really, he’s fine. Cocky, smirking, but lacking some essential ingredient that was core to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. Maybe it’s Ford’s effortlessness that Ehrenreich lacks, the feeling that Ford wasn’t even trying that hard but simply was the character he was playing. By contrast, you can see the effort, the sweat, in Ehrenreich’s performance; you imagine that he practiced in the mirror, worked long and hard to mimic Ford’s distinctive way of speaking.
I feared for Ehrenreich—and the film—especially during the awkward opening sequence, in which Solo and his girl Kira (Emilia Clarke) try to escape a life of servitude to a crime boss on the planet of Corellia. There’s action and tension right from the get-go, but none of it really connects because we don’t really have a chance to settle into this world, and Ehrenreich and Clarke play their roles less like professional actors than like kids playing pretend: I’ll be Han Solo, you can be his girlfriend.
Luckily, the film becomes more sure-footed as it goes on. Scenes in which we learn where Han’s name came from, how he met Chewbacca, and how he met Lando and first put eyes on the Millennium Falcon are effective, even as we know they’re pure fan service. And the plot, involving an escalating series of heists with a band of galactic ne’er-do-wells led by Woody Harrelson and Thandie Newton, is diverting and fun. The stakes aren’t as big as they’ve been in other Star Wars movies—it’s not good vs. evil, and there’s nary a mention of The Force—but the conflict still has emotional heft because of its import to the relationship between Han and Kira, which accrues believability as the movie wears on.
Ron Howard’s direction is unremarkable but competent; you can tell why he was brought in to replace Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who allegedly were pushing the material in a more comedic direction than uber-producer Kathleen Kennedy wanted. Gone is the kind directorial vision that gave Rogue One a unique tone and feel; in its place is Howard’s workmanlike approach that doesn’t take many risks but doesn’t make many mistakes, either. An early heist scene is thrilling and brilliantly conceived, a reminder that Howard is really quite good at this—though it must be said that the one sequence the film really needed to nail, the mythic sub-12 parsec Kessel Run, is utterly botched and borderline incomprehensible. But the film lands on its feet with a few third act reversals that really are thrilling, as long as you don’t think about them too hard.
Ultimately, Solo is a pretty good movie—it’s just a forgettable one, which is a disappointing development for the Star Wars franchise. The quality of the films to date has varied, but even at their worst (I’m looking at you, Attack of the Clones) the films were trying something, they were providing something for an audience to have a strong reaction to, even if that reaction was anger or disgust. Solo paves the way to a Disney-fied, Marvel-ized future in which the franchise is home to some truly risk-taking, visionary work, and other films that are fine but forgotten as soon as their credits roll—both Black Panther and Ant Man.
Solo is the Ant Man of the Star Wars universe.