SOLO doesn’t feel like a mess of a movie, it feels dully competent, which is striking considering basically the entire film was reshot by Ron Howard after Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired for their deviances from the Disney blueprint (improvisiation, shooting scenes from specific chosen angles instead of coverage wide enough to give postproduction so many options how to re-cut a film after-the-fact). It purports to be a heist film, but has zero interest in any of its heists (they don’t even get classic planning-the-heist sequences, a highlight of the genre), endlessly falling back into repetitive pew-pew combat. Where that actually shines is in the brief tench warfare sequence towards the beginning of the film, a fascinating deviation that plays very nicely with cinematographer Bradford Young’s absolutely bizarrely dim lighting scheme, a welcome deviance from the visual blueprint of the other STAR WARS films. The various dingy environments play well with this, as do some of the alien designs.
Unsurprisingly for a STAR WARS film, the prequelising elements are terrible. All the nuggets of backstory Han gets in the original films are compressed into a few short days (what is it with the Disney STAR WARS films, and compressing timespans down to hilariously short lengths?), an unintentionally ridicolous reduction of the character. Meeting Chewie, meeting Lando, making the Kessel Run, these are all sandwiched right into each other, making the Han of the original films seem like a sad has-been obsessed with barely even a week of his life, if one doesn’t take the ending of the film to indicate he barrels right into the original films from here, an even more universe-shrinking act of reduction. This would all be more forgivable and forgettable if the film had more on its mind, but the humour is flat, the action scenes not dynamic enough to really continually catch attention (though they are competently crafted), and Han is a woefully static character – ‘you are the good guy’, he’s told, zero-summing his character development in the original films before it even begins.
The character of Qi’ra actually works quite well, she has layers, and her backstory is suggested in the way Han’s is dragged onscreen and reduced. But she ends up tied in a bizarre at of retroactive continuity that dangles for a sequel this film seems never to receive, after it bombed (no thanks to the colossal cost of shooting the whole thing twice). The droid L3-37 feels like a mean-spirited satire of activists, a jarring injection of modern sort of satire into a series that works best when situated firmly in much more old-fashioned influence. The film is competent, and it’s occassionaly quite a good time, especially in the first act, but it’s such a flat, unambitious story determined to keep itself as uninteresting as possible. Not a bad time, but not exactly worth the time either. Two and a half sabacc cards, and an absent Michael K. Williams.