After an excellent movie in the form of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - the first of a planned series of spin-off movies that will, apparently, supplement the main Star Wars saga for years to come - Solo: A Star Wars Story had all the ingredients it needed to end up being a powerful and charismatic film. Perhaps this promise is because Han Solo has become an iconic presence in our shared cinematic experience, this in no small part due to his arrogant and insolent attitude as much as his dashing good looks. Or maybe it's because alongside Chewbacca onboard the Millennium Falcon he has given us some utterly unforgettable moments. Either way, our interest had been steadily building around this film focused entirely on the origins of our favourite galactic smuggler, and our expectations couldn't have been much higher. Yet, despite an excellent premise and some extraordinary base ingredients, Solo proves more inconsistent and less exciting than expected.
Standing behind the camera we find director Ron Howard - who took an almost finished movie out of the hands of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller after they left the project due to "creative divergences" with LucasFilm and Disney - and in front of the lens there's an incredible cast. However, that doesn't seem to have been enough and the biggest problem we found with Solo is that watching it left us feeling completely indifferent. Howard and his predecessors played with different cinematic styles, from western themes through to action setpieces via war movie tropes, and from a purely cosmetic point of view they have offered up a well-rounded product. However, the flaw that undoes much of the good work in Solo: A Star Wars Story is that there's a total lack of soul behind all the polish.
Of course, the plot flows smoothly on the screen and it's well-paced, as you would expect from a director as good as Howard. However, while there's a nice mix of the things that have always distinguished Star Wars movies (exciting fight sequences, brave heroes, plenty of humour, etc.), what's missing in this spin-off is the ability to give form and substance to a character who should be larger than life, especially considering how he's flanked by a supporting cast of a similar calibre. In other words, what holds Solo: A Star Wars Story back is, paradoxically, Han Solo himself. Alden Ehrenreich, who plays the loveable rogue, lacks almost all of the charisma that Harrison Ford brought to the role in the past. That said, it doesn't help that the script writing isn't very strong with the Force either.
In a movie trying to tell the origins of such an iconic character, starting with his long and fruitful friendship with the hairy Wookie that defined so many of his scenes across the films they appeared in, we expected a far more complex and well-structured film. We're introduced to Han's mentor, Tobias Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson) and there's an appearance by Lando Calrissian too (performed well by Donald Glover), and both are able to offer more interesting and characterful moments than the protagonist himself is able to muster. Then there's the case of Qi'ra (Emilia Clark), but her presence in the story doesn't really add anything of significance, nor does she initiate any particular narrative mechanisms that would make her appearance in the movie indispensable.
It would, however, be unfair to rest all of the blame for the film's inconsistency solely and exclusively on the shoulders of its main actor. Nor should we blame the supporting cast who, in their own small way, performed the roles asked of them (albeit without ever threatening to steal the show). Ultimately we feel it's the baggage that accompanied the production that has negatively influenced the state of the movie at release, and this is most likely the main reason why the film lacks the soul we described before. The fact that Ron Howard has put his hand to the film after the project was pretty much completed by others means that he has been more of a guide than a director, and so we're not going to blame him either.
What ultimately left us most disappointed after watching this latest Star Wars Story is the feeling that it's a missed opportunity. Although we're not going to call it a total disaster, the film never reaches the levels of excellence that we would have expected from a project such as this, one that's focused solely on one of the most popular and series-defining characters in the Star Wars universe. Of course, this underwhelming origins story has also been held back by a legacy that has fueled expectations on the one hand, but that on the other intimidated those who steered the ship (at least during the majority of the production). Solo: A Star Wars Story is not the great cinematic experience we were hoping for, but that probably has as much to do with the massive burden of expectation that this extraordinary character brings to the table as it does the creative problems that threatened to derail project along the way.