A high-flying adventure, Solo: A Star Wars Story deftly navigates any number of potential disasters. It’s never quite thrilling, though, or even occasionally unpredictable; instead it’s a safe, steady, and professional journey to a known destination.
This appears to have been the plan all along. Lucasfilm executives, led by Kathleen Kennedy, are evidently most concerned with protecting an extremely valuable franchise. Still, defying any past fan concerns about his casting, Alden Ehrenreich creates a young Han Solo who is distinctive from the archetype that Harrison Ford inhabited.
Han has been lovestruck at an early age by Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). They grew up together in the lower reaches of Corellia, a well-populated planet where the only means for advancement appear to be off-planet. Their plans to escape together are dashed at the last possible moment, which leaves Han wandering by himself, with his only goal to reunite with his beloved Qi’ra and realize their dreams.
In the meantime, he’s a drifter and a scavenger. When he encounters a criminal group led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), he falls easily under a new sway of possibilities: adventure awaits!
Writer Lawrence Kasdan, who kickstarted his career by writing The Empire Strikes Back, Body Heat, and Return of the Jedi, here collaborates with his son Jonathan Kasdan to fashion a narrative that borrows from classic Westerns while cloaking them in updated stylings, as the older Kasdan did with Silverado. It forms a very solid backbone to the story that is told, while allowing for a good degree of humor.
And the latter point may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, prompting the eventual firing of original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. To be fair, we may never know what, exactly, led to their directorial demise — was it their working methods? Was their footage unsuitable? — but it’s become apparent that Lucasfilm and Kennedy have a very definite, fixed perspective on what they want the new Star Wars films to be.
Ron Howard is an experienced craftsman, though it’s been quite a while since he made anything truly exciting or surprising. So it’s not a shock to see that he has done similar work here. It’s fine, it’s somewhat above average … it’s pleasing because it’s not a disaster.
As someone who has seen every Star Wars film during its original theatrical release, Solo: A Star Wars Story falls solidly in the middle range of achievement. Perhaps that is all that should be expected at this point in the life of the franchise.
The film opens in theaters throughout the known galaxy, including Dallas and Fort Worth, on Friday, May 25.