Well, the Star Wars barrage continues. Ron Howard, who’s been in directing jail for the past decade, looks to bounce back with a box office hit. Solo: A Star Wars Story is, of course, a spinoff and origin story of the galaxy’s greatest scoundrel, Han Solo. As much as it would be great to go back in time so a young Harrison Ford can reprise his role, Hollywood’s misplaced the DeLorean and audiences will have to settle for Alden Ehrenreich as the titular character. Ehrenreich made a good impression as dimwitted Hobie Doyle in Hail, Caesar! , and Solo represents an opportunity to leap into the A-list. With expectations running high, is Ehrenreich up for the challenge? Can he and the rest of an impressive cast (which includes Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany, Joonas Suotamo and Jon Favreau) deliver? With a script written by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan the potential’s there.

Not so fast…

Originally, Solo employed Phil Lord and Chris Miller as directors. Known best for The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street, the duo represented an outside the box choice. Lord & Miller’s predilection for comedy set the film’s production down a path that Kennedy didn’t agree with. They were fired last summer and production resumed a month or so later once Howard was hired to replace them. This was big news, especially since Kennedy quietly replaced Rogue One director Gareth Edwards with his screenwriter on the project, Tony Gilroy.

Solo underwent massive reshoots – it’s rumored that nearly 70% of the final cut is Howard’s footage (meaning Lord & Miller are listed as producers). The transition isn’t visible onscreen but I’m providing this information because what audiences will see is not what the original directors intended.

What direction did Lord & Miller seek out? We’ll likely never know, but that wrestling of creative control, in my opinion, has contributed to a summer blockbuster that’s unoriginal, uninspired and terribly boring.

Aesthetically, Solo manages to be both slick and cheap. Many of the worlds Han and Chewbacca travel to are grimy and dingy. That’s obviously a conscious decision to better convey Han’s seedy lifestyle. On the flipside, the Millennium Falcon has never looked better. I like the fact that we get to see the Falcon’s “backstory” and finally witness how he won it from Lando Calrissian (Glover). That’s a lighter moment which should appease devout Star Wars fans.

Discussing that brings me to one of Solo’s major issues – Solo focuses on a couple of Han’s legendary exploits but doesn’t delve deeply into his origin. Sure, Howard and the Kasdans let us know how Han got into smuggling. We have an idea of his birthplace. We learn how he got his surname and we witness his first encounter with Chewie. But we don't see Han as a child and never meet his parents (a missed opportunity at best). Instead, the opening act provides breadcrumbs that preface a pair of clumsy Ocean’s Eleven-inspired heists. And, as with all origin stories, there are no stakes since Han and Chewie live to fight another day. We clearly want to know the details of the pair’s early adventures and narrow escapes, but since Ehrenreich at his most charming falls well short of Harrison Ford’s output on a terrible day, it’s tough to get behind Solo when he’s essentially an arrogant jerk.

Nearly all of Solo’s charm is delivered by two actors – Harrelson and Glover. Harrelson’s been good for such a long time he’s winning roles because he is a glue guy. Harrelson's performances coax better turns from his co-stars, and he does just that when he’s onscreen with Ehrenreich. Without him, Ehrenreich would be lost (acting coaches apparently had to be brought in to help Ehrenreich).

Thanks to his show, Atlanta, and his highly-discussed video This is America, Donald Glover is a hot commodity. That momentum propels Glover as he plays Lando just as Billy Dee Williams did over 30 years ago. Glover replicated Williams’ mannerisms and speech patterns, and Calrissian’s reputation as an intergalactic playboy is on full display. Glover is perfect as he makes pimpin’ look easy. All that is great for Glover and his Lando, but it poses a problem because it means a secondary character outshines the titular protagonist (it’s called Solo: A Star Wars Story after all).

So watch Solo at your own risk. Han Solo is my all-time favorite Star Wars character, so, even though I saw no need to get nostalgia for a plodding 135 minutes, I hoped Disney would do him right. But this spinoff is third-rate due to a poor script, massive creative changes and forgettable acting from its lead. And, in what should be considered as calamitous from Disney’s vantage point, Star Wars ripped off 2009’s Star Trek! Are Disney and the Kasdans out of ideas? It sure looks like it, because this should’ve been more exciting and fun. Sadly, it’s not.

2 stars out of 5


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