Two things hit you over the head once this 2hr 15m Star Wars edition finishes: 1.) It’s cool that it coyly pulls together characters, in their younger selves, that will know each other in the future. 2.) Given so much goodwill and creative capital, why did the filmmakers squander the moment with a weak script, dull direction and dreary visuals. The characters may pull the lever for warp speed, but the footage never leaves its very routine orbit.
The one thing that the last chapter, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, taught fans of the sagas is that if you put a brilliant, innovative writer and director (Rian Johnson, Looper) at the helm, add in a smart editor (Bob Ducsay, Looper) and gifted cinematographer (Steve Yedlin, Looper) the sky, literally, is the limit.
No offense to veteran director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Splash, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon), but fast-paced, sci-fi, action fantasy films are not in his wheelhouse. And that’s compounded by the fact that he was a last-minute replacement for directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie). Viewers won’t encounter the engrossing and vivid sci-fi style of a Ridley Scott (Prometheus), the verve of a young George Lucas (original Star Wars), or the perfected action/adventure sense of a J.J. Abrams (Star War: The Force Awakens, Star Trek).
Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) has had some experience with the genre, though his co-writer and son Jonathan Kasdan has not. There is some intrigue in their storyline, and they assemble some colorful characters, but none of it builds to a do-or-die moment that is absolutely riveting. Nor is any of the dialogue particularly memorable. Bland seeps through the movie’s pores.
In a galaxy far, far away a young outlaw named Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich, Running Wild) and his paramour Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones) are marooned on the planet of Corellia, which attracts pirates and smugglers. They attempt an escape using a small tube of coaxium, a powerful resource that powers ships, as a bartering tool. He manages to leave, she is caught behind. Han haphazardly meets a beast-like creature named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). He hooks up with marauders (Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton) who are trying to steal a large supply of coaxium. In Han’s mind, everything he does is in an effort to get back to Corellia to reunite with Qi’ra.
Life does not go has he planned, and his missions (robberies) get him involved with a gambler name Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), whose co-pilot is a feisty female robot named L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). In a continuing journey of space travel and planet hopping, roads (flight patterns) lead back to Qi’ra, who is now entangled with the villainous psychopath Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, Avengers: Infinity War).
There are enough plot pieces to add a third testament to the bible, but none of it adds up to much, or is developed in scenes that are innovative or particularly invigorating. You know you are in trouble if the best part about a movie is the way it sets up characters for future films or ones from the past. Of particular interest to old Star Wars fans is that the young Lando is actually the same character Billy Dee Williams played in the 1980’s classic Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Which brings up another problem…
Billy Dee in Empire… was the consummate, suave swashbuckler. Handsome, charismatic, dashing and virile. When he got into a fight, you expected him to win. The script’s and Glover’s interpretation of the younger Lando is tepid, wishy-washy and lacking in irrepressible gusto. It’s like he’s a millennial who got bored with video games and was drafted into this movie against his will. If Michael B. Jordan or John Boyega had this role, they would have cemented your attention to the screen with their vibrant personae and made you beg for Lando to have his own movie. Glover looks the part physically, and though he’s great on TV’s Atlanta, he doesn’t know how to command the big silver screen—yet.
Alden Ehrenreich is barely better as Hans. There are lots of young actors who could have made this role iconic. He does not. Emilia Clarke is decent as the smarter-than-him love interest. Harrelson, Bettany and even the brilliant actress Thandie Newton are wasting their talents.
OMG pageantry and pizazz are lacking: The space exploration is boring. The cinematography, especially the interiors, is too dark. The hospital-gray color palette is bland. The weapons look like toys. The gadgets in the spaceships are about has high-tech as levers on Ikea cabinets. The sets are embarrassingly obvious, as if they were designed for a high school musical. The CGI effects are painfully telltale. If you can’t make the images in a space-age movie look astounding, you can’t get it off the ground.
It’s cool that Solo: A Star Wars Story lets’ you know how Han met Chewbacca and Lando. But that’s just enough intrigue to fill a trailer—not a feature film.
Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.comand BlackPressUSA.com.