Solo: A Star Wars Story is the very definition of an unnecessary prequel. Han's introduction into A New Hope feels complete and having a little mystery around his previous adventures never bothered me. While this new film isn't bad by any means, it also isn't very good as there is a nagging sense that the film should be more adventurous, more humorous and all around more fun. I mean Han is arguably the most charming character in the Star Wars universe and so his solo film should also be, right?
After a rocky production, Ron Howard has emerged as the director of the film but there is a sense that many hands have been involved here. Solo doesn't have a very distinct style aside from Bradford Young's hard to see cinematography. He chooses to backlight everything and everyone and so the film often feels like your eyes are adjusting from darkness to bright light. It is an odd look that annoyed me to no end.
The film hits on some major Han Solo lore, some of it is a joy and some pure fan service. The best of these moments is the first meeting between Han and Chewbacca and the growth of their friendship. The card game that wins Han the Millenium Falcon and the infamous Kessel Run are less interesting to see that to hear about. The other joy is Lando, played by Donald Glover who oozes style. Lando Calrissian is an underdeveloped character and here we get some shades to his shady beginnings.
Alden Ehrenreich is a fine choice to play Han Solo but he never feels like an extension of the original performance from Harrison Ford. It took me over half the film to stop comparing how out of sync the performances are and just enjoy what Ehrenreich is doing here. Han Solo is so weathered by life by the time we meet him in A New Hope that it is hard to imagine this wide-eyed only five or so years before. I was never really clear how close this film is to that one.
The film's plot is serves to setup two more Solo films and is engaging in fits and spurts. When the film opens, we meet Han on the run with his girlfriend Qi'ra (Emilia Clake). The two are trying to get out of the underground allies of a mining planet. Han gets free while Qi'ra gets trapped behind. Han then joins the Imperial Navy but somehow ends up in the infantry where he meets smugglers Val (Thandie Newton) and Tobias (Woody Harrelson). They plan a heist on a train carrying fuel, a scene straight out of a Western although Solo doesn't fully commit to this genre in say the way Logan did. The heist goes wrong and leads them to Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) who may be the least compelling villain in the Star Wars universe. What happens from there is best saved for the experience of watching the film.
I may have had less issues with Solo: A Star Wars Story if I hadn't been so in love with this character growing up. He was always my first choice when my friends and I would act out scenes from the original trilogy. Even separating the Ehrenreich's performance from the film, Solo only engaged me in fits and spurts. Clarke, Newton and Harrelson have all been better than they are here. The story feel inconsequential and unessential.
However, Solo does give us something that makes it worth seeing. As mentioned before, the relationship between Han and Chewbacca is given its origin here and it is extremely effective. The film completes their arc from first meeting to Han's death in The Force Awakens. Seeing how they earned each other's trust adds great weight to their relationship through many films. Had Solo focused more on this, it may have been a classic instead of the fan-service focused, rocky film it is.