The cogs behind Disney’s massive “Star Wars” investment have never been so … obvious.
It’s foolish to ignore the marketing might behind the space saga. Every step of the franchise is examined and re-examined, all to ensure maximum profit and vitality. The stakes are far too high for any other approach.
And, given the excellence of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the results sometimes speak for themselves.
Still, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” feels more like a promotional giveaway than a bona fide movie. That doesn’t mean it’s a dud. Not even close. It’s merely everything a fanboy might concoct from a Han Solo origin tale.
The franchise deserves better. So do we.
We first meet the young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich, solid but no Harrison Ford) living a tortured life on a planet called Corellia. He’s not alone, though. His lady love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is faithfully by his side.
Together, they attempt a daring escape with dreams of a better life. Fate, and a perfunctory plot twist, have other plans for them.
The duo go their separate ways, unwillingly. Han hooks up with a team of Imperial soldiers, a gig that introduces him to an unlikely ally. Woody Harrelson plays the wily Beckett, a ne-er do well who teaches Han not to trust any one at any time.
Sound advice in this part of space.
Together, Han and Beckett meet a gaggle of new franchise players. Paul Bettany of “Avengers” fame gets the juiciest role as Dryden Vos, a crook who may hold the keys to Han’s liberation. And, of course, we meet Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, an exquisite casting decision).
Glover’s Lando rocks a cape like no one in the galaxy can, but he’s still not as integral to the story as we’d like.
He’s got a robot sidekick who fulfills the now obligatory “woke” element in the rebooted franchise. Phoebe Waller-Bridge voices L3-37. She’s saucy and often funny, even if she’s not as distinctive as Alan Tudyk’s R-2S0 robot from “Rogue One.” Later, the female bot takes the action personally, blathering on about equal rights in the middle of combat.
Director Ron Howard, stepping in for the unceremoniously exiled Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“The LEGO Movie”) brings exactly what you expect to the franchise. Slick action sequences. Glossy imagery. And nary a blip of personality to be found.
That’s not Team Disney in action. It’s Howard’s calling card. And for much of the movie it’ll suffice. The story moves along with few storytelling hiccups. The screen is awash with talented actors, including Harrelson and Thandie Newton. There’s enough cash thrown at the screen to keep us engaged. And the saga’s unwillingness to give in to CGI mania, as we endured during the justly maligned prequels, remains firmly in place.
“Solo” offers smaller pleasures that could have been bungled in less capable hands. We have the Han/Chewie meet cute moment and the explanation behind the smuggler’s curious name.
FAST FACT: Billy Dee Williams had a short and sweet bit of advice for Donald Glover, tasked with playing the young Lando Calrissian: “just be charming.”
“Solo” is as breezy as it should be. It’s neither as dark as “Rogue One” or as cartoonish as “The Last Jedi.” It even offers a few inspired bits, penned by the father-son team of Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan.
Ehrenreich is serviceable here, and his performance can’t help but grow on you. He lacks the dry charisma that made Ford the ’80s go-to movie star. Good luck capturing that lightning in a bottle a second time.
It’s a purposely soft impersonation, one that nails some of Solo’s signature moves without nudging into parody.
The action sequences engage while never astounding us. It’s still that distinct “Star Wars” landscape with a few new wrinkles added for our bemusement. Consider a massive set piece involving a train-like transport as a prime example.
It’s visually compelling, and yet we’re not as drawn into the action as we should be. That’s “Solo” in a nutshell. It’s solid but forgettable, a paint-by-numbers prequel told with precision, not passion.
We already know what makes Han tick. He’s a selfish rogue with a stubborn sense of decency. “Solo” merely juggles those elements and re-introduces them for our consideration.
Fans looking for franchise callouts and similar goodies won’t be let down. Hollywood circa 2018 is so very good at appeasing its core fan base, as it should be.
Want more? Good luck.
HiT or Miss: “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is unnecessary but never dull, a brisk addition to a franchise that aspires for something more than mere popcorn distraction.