SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY
Released months earlier than previous recent films in the franchise, Solo: A Star Wars Story was Disney's most difficult new Star Wars film to get off the ground due to countless issues encountered during production, including reshoots, which led to a change in director as Ron Howard eventually took over from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.
Between all that and on-set concerns over actor Alden Ehrenreich's performance, Solo sounded more and more like an unresolvable problem and, indeed, it ended up going way over budget and it struggled to break even after a relatively lukewarm run at the box-office. The Star Wars franchise is no stranger to production hell, however: Harrison Ford's injury on the set of The Force Awakens, Rogue One's reshoots etc. But those films still performed as expected in theatres so why did Solo struggle to pique audiences' interests?
One reason could be the release date that landed the film only a few months after The Last Jedi, perhaps too soon for people to really get excited about another Star Wars film, especially a spin-off prequel. Then there's the bad press the film received throughout its production. Watching the film itself, some aspects of it might just have made the studios slightly nervous and prompted them to just release it as soon as possible, hoping to bank on the Summer.
This is certainly not an essential film, and neither was Rogue One, but if there's one thing the latter showed it's that, if you tell a story well enough, it'll be worth sticking around for. Solo, thankfully, tells its story well and there's something comforting about spending this much time with a beloved character like Han Solo, even if it is a different actor playing the role. Critics saying Alden Ehrenreich does not look like Harrison Ford or didn't do a good job adopting the actor's mannerisms were simply not paying any attention or went into the film with this idea already in mind.
Truth is, Ehrenreich does so well with his portrayal of the iconic character that, in some shots, it's almost like seeing a young Harrison Ford back in the role. You can tell the actor put a lot of work into his performance and he's likeable throughout. Same goes for Donald Glover's take on Lando Calrissian, though Glover doesn't quite disappear into the role once played by Billy Dee Williams due to his increased popularity making it tough to forget him and see him only as Lando.
The plot sees a young Han and his girlfriend Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) escape a criminal gang they stole from, before they get separated and Han is forced to join the Imperial Navy in order to become a pilot, find a ship and return for Qi'ra, who was left behind. During a battle, he meets a group of soldiers who turn out to be criminals and he decides to join them, though they initially betray him. During his adventure, he meets the likes of Chewbacca, Lando and others as he finally joins Tobias Beckett's (Woody Harrelson) team of misfits and tries to help recover copious amounts of coaxium for intimidating crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).
This being a prequel, there is obviously a good amount of fan service thrown in (the Millennium Falcon is introduced, Han shoots first at one point, there's a big last minute cameo) and this should either please or infuriate fans who both want to see all this stuff but also don't want it to be shown to them, so... therein lies the Star Wars fan paradox.
One thing that might have played a part in this unexpected Summer release is the film's surprisingly gloomy visuals. Perhaps fearing a completely depressing Winter release, Disney might've thought that the Summer's inherent brightness might balance the film's dark and foggy look somewhat? Hard to say. If you thought that Rogue One looked gritty, then expect Solo to look gritty even in comparison to that film. It's unclear (literally) why most of the settings in this movie are either overcast or shrouded in darkness.
Maybe the idea was to show a grimy, sleazy side of the galaxy, seeing as the main characters are all criminals, but that doesn't make for a particularly joyful or uplifting experience, something you would frankly expect from a Han Solo movie. This stylistic choice might have worried the studios and, indeed, it could alienate fans but the film is still visually appealing even if it's about as colorful as a rain cloud. And its tone can be light with Han bringing the one-liners, while Lando adds some smooth coolness to the proceedings.
Parts of Solo definitely suggest creative differences along the way when the project was being conceived, however, Ron Howard has managed to somehow tell a good Han Solo story regardless. There are some predictable moments, odd choices here and there and Emilia Clarke never seems to really get into the spirit of things but, overall, this is an enjoyable (if slightly overlong) piece of Western-style sci-fi that's well worth experiencing.
Flawed but fun.