Ron Howard | 135 mins | cinema | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 12A / PG-13
The fourth movie in the modern age of the Star Wars franchise hit headlines for all the wrong reasons last weekend, as its opening box office frame failed to live up to expectations by quite some margin. As I pointed out on Twitter, by most standards Solo had an excellent debut; but by Star Wars standards, yeah, it was well short. Why did this happen? Theories abound. Did the manbabies’ “Boycott Solo” campaign succeed? Doubtful. Do audiences have “franchise fatigue”, with Solo debuting just five months after The Last Jedi? Possibly, though it doesn’t hurt Marvel films. Were audiences worn out from big blockbusters, after Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 preceded this in quite a short space of time? Could be. Did the stories of behind-the-scenes strife reach mainstream awareness and put people off? Perhaps. Is it just that people simply aren’t interested in a standalone “Young Han Solo” movie?
None of those sound like a definitive explanation. I guess it was a combination. And I’d like to say it’s a shame because Solo deserves to find a wide audience, but… well, maybe it’s already found the audience it deserves. It’s a decent space adventure flick, but I was sadly a bit underwhelmed by it. Frankly, I wish I liked it more than I did. Not just because I want to like every movie, but because I feel like this should’ve been a movie I really enjoyed — a fun sci-fi/heist/Western adventure kinda deal — but I didn’t love it. I thought it was mostly kinda fine.
There’s not a thing in it I’d single out as poor: the actors are fine (in the trickiest role, Alden Ehrenreich makes for a decent Han Solo), the script is fine (I’d’ve liked more humour — what’s the betting that was toned done after Lord and Miller were fired?), the action scenes are fine (the train heist from the trailer is the best one, though even that lacks a certain je ne sais quoi), the design work is fine (as well as familiar Star Wars stuff, there’s some striking new characters and vehicles)… If there’s one thing I’d criticise it’s possibly the cinematography, because half the film seemed too damned dark, but that might’ve just been the projection (it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had that complaint about this cinema). Other than that, it looked… fine.
Thing is, “fine” only gets you so far. Solo never really makes you laugh, never really makes you excited, never really makes you feel anything — it just sort of toddles along fairly pleasantly. In fact, I’d also say it’s less than the sum of its parts, because some of those bits that are “just fine” are almost more than that. And maybe, if the whole film was working, those bits would play well. But… it’s just not quite there. The neatest thing about the entire film is how it solves the problem with the famous line from A New Hope about how the Millennium Falcon “made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” — parsec being a unit of distance, not (as the quote makes it sound) time. I mean, I’m not sure that justifies an entire movie…
The thing that most annoys me about Solo’s mediumness, and its relatively poor box office, is that it’s left very, very open for a sequel. Without spoiling anything, we can more-or-less extrapolate how Han and Chewie get from here to a cantina in Mos Eisley, but there are other plot bits left dangling. It’s been fairly well reported that the cast are signed up for three films, and I guess Lucasfilm really meant that, rather than locking them in just in case. And the reason it annoys me is because I want to know what happens next, but with the stink of failure that now surrounds Solo (a drum the media have been only too keen to beat, for no reason other than clickbait) I’m not sure Disney will be too keen on taking that punt.
On the bright side, the Star Wars franchise currently has an admirable predilection for tying its whole canon together. It happened in Rogue One, with Forest Whitaker’s character having originally appeared in The Clone Wars, and it happens here too, with a cameo that is gonna confuse anyone who’s only watched the films and not paid any heed to other media — I shall say no more, but I imagine casual fans were left scratching their heads. So, if we don’t get Solo 2, I guess certain people will pop up in some animated series or comic book or something. Which I probably won’t get round to watching or reading. Hey-ho.
Maybe the “it’s fun!” tweets and reviews I read before seeing Solo undermined it for me, because I was expecting it to be fun, fun, fun, but instead thought it was just fine, fine, fine. Maybe I’ll enjoy it more when I watch it again on Blu-ray. At least it’ll have the extra pizzazz of 3D for me then. Anyway, this rating feels harsh, but, considering my reservations, the next one up seems generous. It’s another three-and-a-half-star film, but, as ever, I only deal in absolutes here.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is in cinemas everywhere, for the time being.