Solo: A Star Wars Story is the eighth movie named Solo since 1969, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. It has a 71% rating on RottenTomatoes but that doesn’t make it a slightly-above-average movie. It was first directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and finished by legend Ron Howard, but that doesn’t make it a scattershot movie. But it is one of those pesky prequels, and that makes it, ultimately, unsatisfying.
By now, unless you have no fanboy friends and avoid social media like it’s a disease, you know that the film follows the early exploits of Han Solo (Alden Ehenreich, whose big credits include Hail, Caesar! and Rules Don’t Apply) and his Wookie buddy, Chewbacca. It has Woody Harrelson as the “mentor” type, Emilia Clarke as the love interest, Qi’ra, and Donald Glover as a young Lando Calrissian.
Let’s be super clear: Ehenreich does a decent job of portraying a pre-Harrison Ford Solo, the CGI action is worthy of the Star Wars name, and the dynamics of the film fit the swashbuckling space adventure that makes Han Solo, well, Solo.
But the problem is that there’s no traction here, no real tension.
While Rogue One featured a cast of characters who we know don’t make it, who we know are heroic in their own right because this is the space version of The Dirty Dozen, Solo has nothing really at stake. The audience knows that Han and Chewie (and Lando) are still going to be around however far into the future A New Hope will be; the average Star Wars fan (young or old) knows what will happen to Darth Maul. The rest of these characters must be inconsequential (or worse, dead) by the time A New Hope arrives – so it’s nearly impossible to care about them. (For the record, I thought the Han/Chewie/Lando trio deserve another film.)
In the end, Solo is a fun thrill ride, which sets the stage for who Han will be, but which never robs him of enough to make him the cynical space cowboy we see in A New Hope. He’s never stretched far enough to make him angry or sad or scared, never pushed to have it be tough enough that he’d swear off the innate goodness that contemporaries old and new acknowledge that he has within him. The risks just aren’t high enough … yet… if the prequel gets a chance to have a sequel of its own.