Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story follows Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) in his younger years as he embarks on an adventure, where he first met Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).

First thing first, who’s in the right mind figured that coming up an origin story of Han Solo would be a good idea? Put it this way: Harrison Ford immortalised Han Solo since the first Star Wars in 1977 and it’s hard to think of anyone else to play that role other than himself. So, when Alden Ehrenreich steps in to fill Ford’s shoes to play the younger Han Solo, it already felt like a colossal mistake-in-the-making. Even before Solo: A Star Wars Story made it into the cinemas, the movie itself already plagued with troubled production history. Original helmers Phil Lord and Chris Miller of The Lego Movie fame were fired midway before the shooting even complete. The duo was subsequently replaced by the more experienced Ron Howard, who was reportedly shot a whopping 70% of new footage.

So, here it is. Despite troubled production issues, Solo: A Star Wars Story was screened a week earlier for critics (general release in the local cinemas is set for May 24). Well, what can I say? From the moment Alden Ehrenreich appeared onscreen, I already have a bad feeling about him carrying Ford’s iconic role. I admit he did try to emulate some of Ford’s trademark smirk as well as his roguish charm with a fairly decent result.

But still, it wasn’t nearly enough to offset the fact that Ehrenreich’s overall performance feels somewhat bland. It doesn’t help either when his backstory is both disappointingly vague and perfunctory. Given this is an origin story we are talking about, it’s natural to expect more of him. For instance, what makes him such a great pilot in the first place? Or what about his early childhood? While screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan did shed some light about Han Solo’s backstory, most of them are briefly mentioned through dialogues. I understand that Ehrenreich has already contractually signed up for a trilogy but really, is that really necessary to stretch the origin of Han Solo into three movies? This somewhat reminds me of The Hobbit when Peter Jackson decided to (over) stretch the late J.R.R. Tolkien’s short book into an unnecessarily padded trilogy. If only Solo: A Star Wars Story stick as a one-off movie and the Kasdans’ screenplay is more refined to make way for Han Solo’s stronger backstory, it would have been a better result.

Supporting actors are a mixed bag. Emilia Clarke delivers an adequate performance as Qi’ra but her chemistry with Ehrenreich lacks a genuine spark. Both Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany’s respective roles as Tobias Beckett and Dryden Vos are more like showing up for an obligatory Star Wars role that hardly left them a lasting impression. Thandie Newton, who plays one of Beckett’s gang members is sadly underutilised.

However, I’m relieved that Donald Glover manages to bring most of the same magnetic charm of Billy Dee Williams’ signature performance as Lando Calrissian in the original Star Wars trilogy. Then, there’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who surprised me the most as the voice of L3-37. As Lando’s droid assistant, she injects enough feisty attitude and sassy comic relief to her feminist character.

Now for the direction. Replacing Phil Lord and Chris Miller with Ron Howard does sound as if producer Kathleen Kennedy opting to play safe instead. Don’t get me wrong. I love some of Ron Howard’s movies in the past. After all, he gave us contemporary Hollywood classics like Backdraft, Apollo 13 and Ransom. However, his recent works have been inconsistent (e.g. Inferno) and I hate to say that the trend continues with Solo: A Star Wars Story. Howard’s direction is predictable. It’s like as if he’s more of a work for hire than a visionary director that a Star Wars movie needs to be.

The cinematography, in the meantime, almost ruined the cinematic experience of this movie. It was lensed by none other than Bradford Young, the same person who gave us the Oscar-nominated moody cinematography in Arrival. But here, it looks drab and annoyingly foggy to the point that watching Solo: A Star Wars Story in IMAX 3D really hurt my eyes. Perhaps someone should remind him that the smoke machine has gone malfunctioned during the production.

Still, Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t entirely bad. Howard still knows how to stage some thrilling set-pieces. They are particularly evident during an elaborate train heist sequence as well as the climactic chase scene involving Millennium Falcon during the Kessel Run. The combination of John Powell’s soaring score and John Williams’ recognisable theme often keeps the pace alive from being completely mundane or stagnant. Kudos also go to the imaginative creative designs as well as Neil Lamont’s equally impressive production design in this movie.

Under the hands of Ron Howard, Solo: A Star Wars Story is pretty much a mixed result. This makes me wonder if Kathleen Kennedy sticks to her guns to remain Phil Lord and Chris Miller all the way, could the result be any different or livelier than Ron Howard’s version?

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