If we're being completely honest, there has never actually been a masterpiece in the Star Wars universe.
Go ahead. Debate this statement amongst yourselves.
Are you done yet? Finished hyperventilating?
I know. I know. We all have our favorite or favorites among the Star Wars films, but you're simply lying to yourself if you can truly convince yourself that any of the films actually qualifies as a masterpiece.
The Star Wars adventures range from "I can't believe I wasted my time watching that" to "That was effin' amazing!"
There's no true masterpiece to be found.
Now then, it should be noted and I believe this with every fiber of my being - the Star Wars films were never intended to be cinematic masterpieces. Entertaining? Absolutely. Fun? You betcha. Adventurous? Yep. Technically marvelous? Indeed.
The Star Wars films have always been intended as communal experiences. The Star Wars films aren't about cinematic achievement, but instead they are about the actual Star Wars universe.
It's important to remember this fact, and I do consider it a fact, when you walk into the theater to check out Solo: A Star Wars Story, a film that exhibits nothing more than dime store swagger but also a film that finds its rightful place in the Star Wars universe as an origin story of sorts for one of the most beloved of the Star Wars characters, Han Solo.
If there's one key problem with Solo: A Star Wars Story, it's that it exists as a feel good movie about a character who has, over the course of the years, never expressed even a remote interest in feeling good.
Don't get me wrong. Alden Ehrenreich, so brilliant in the otherwise forgettable Hail, Caesar!, is perfectly capable in taking over the role of Han, both managing to infuse it with an energy all his own and wisely avoiding any Fordesque moves. Ehrenreich manages to add substance to a rather paint-by-number script from Lawrence and Jon Kasdan that manages to cover all the major bases, take a few unnecessary and unconvincing turns, then plop us down exactly where we knew we were going from the beginning. Yet, Ehrenreich breathes life into Han as we experience Han's early days as a smuggler, his introduction to Chewbacca (Joonas Suotama), got his hands on the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), and maneuvered his way through betrayals, double betrayals, kinda betrayals, and not so much betrayals.
However, Ehrenreich can only do so much with a script from the Kasdan's that feels like it was guided by the studio toward timid functionality and competence excepting creativity. The truth is that Solo: A Star Wars Story is likely vastly superior to anything we expected it to be when Phil Lord and Chris Miller, of The LEGO Movie and 21 Jump Street, were canned as directors about 3/4 of the way through shooting and the ultimate in functional professionalism, Ron Howard, was brought in to get the film back on course.
Or something like that.
Basically, that was a huge red flag and we all started to think "Oh man, this is gonna' suck."
Solo: A Star Wars Story doesn't suck.
While considered a stand-alone film, it's pretty obvious given the notes played that Disney and the powers that be, like Kathleen Kennedy, have higher hopes for the film. Perhaps, I suppose, that's exactly why they couldn't simply allow Lord and Miller to do whatever they wanted - they needed to tie it into future cinematic endeavors.
The film starts off wonkily, Han and his gal, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones) get separated and sooner rather than later it's been three years and Han is now Han Solo for reasons to be revealed. Han gets hooked up with Chewie along with Woody Harrelson's Tobias Beckett and the Star Wars universe's first African-American female key player, Val (Thandie Newton).
It's tempting to keep steering my way through the various storylines that unfold, though that would be remarkably unfair to those who've yet to experience the film for themselves. Suffice it to say there will be more adventures, some rather creative and some not so much so. Paul Bettany is one of the film's highlights as the sadistic Dryden Voss, while it should go without saying that Qi'ra is never completely out of the picture, a fact that made one friend squeal with delight at the presence of a morally ambiguous female character in the Star Wars universe rather than the usual totally righteous ones.
Solo: A Star Wars Story seems to keep throwing us curve after curve, yet there's nary a curve that's particularly convincing. It's hard to picture anyone, in fact, falling in love with Solo solely on the basis of its formulaic, universe-serving storyline. While Ehrenreich is perfectly fine here, and certainly much better than expected, the film's true highlights come from Donald Glover's suave and risk-taking Lando Calrissian, Paul Bettany's awesome turn as Voss, and Harrelson's adventurous take on Tobias. It's these three who manage to fill the cracks in the Kasdan's script while performing beyond the notes on the page. I suppose I would be remiss in not mentioning Emilia Clarke's winning turn as Qi'ra, as well, a sort of western-tinged femdom with more beneath the surface than she ever reveals.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is, I suppose one could say, "enough" of a film. It's neither good nor bad, meaningful or meaningless. It adds very little to the Star Wars universe, yet it takes nothing from it and manages to infuse that universe with a sort of Saturday afternoon matinee entertainment value that makes for a reasonably entertaining couple of hours even if you've mostly forgotten the experience a few hours after that. I enjoyed watching new actors take on iconic roles, though that was as much because it made me appreciate those iconic characters and the original players that much more.
If you're willing to dial down your expectations and just let yourself enjoy the first Star Wars film that is really nothing more than a popcorn flick, there's a pretty good chance you'll enjoy the time you spend with young Han and his early tribe. While there's a few key scenes here that seem destined to connect to future Star Wars endeavors, for the most part Solo: A Star Wars Story is a film that asks very little from the moviegoer and gives very little in return.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic