This review of Solo: A Star Wars Story is spoiler-free.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a prequel. Not a side story, not a piece of an anthology series, and not some spinoff. It’s a prequel, just like The Phantom Menace and its two follow-up films. The unenviable task of prequels is making the audience invested in a story where they know the eventual outcome in some way, shape, or form. It’s a Herculean undertaking that is often fumbled by most storytellers.
And when it comes to falling victim to prequelitis, Solo: A Star Wars Story is no different. But, it has a not-so-secret weapon that keeps it from sinking.
A Story Without Stakes
The entire draw of Solo: A Star Wars Story — seeing the origins of Han Solo, Chewbacca, and many other fan-favorite characters — is a difficult place to start a story because it immediately sucks away any tension from the tale. All the action and drama is undercut by a lack of genuine danger. We know our main cast of characters will make it out alive. No matter how elaborate or seemingly dangerous an action scene is, it is ultimately an exercise in futility thanks to our knowledge of the narrative’s future.
Solo: A Star Wars Story works best when it realizes this lack of narrative importance and substitutes it with as much charm, colorful action, and aggressive cuteness as it can shove into its two-and-a-half-hour running time. Honestly, these particular elements usually work well in the film. There are loads of clever little lines, flagrant references to other pieces of Star Wars history, and a general sense of laidback fun that keeps Solo: A Star Wars Story from ever becoming insufferable.
However, that comes at the cost of character. For example, the story kicks off with a young Han and his friend Qi’ra attempting to escape from their home planet of Corellia. The movie is barely underway before our characters are thrown into an elaborate chase sequence and any attempt at deep characterization is discarded in favor of special effects wizardry and relentless action. We aren’t given the proper time with these two to really connect with them.
Granted, nearly all of the Star Wars films begin in medias res — opening in the midst of action — but those movies aren’t trying to act as deliberate origin stories from their first scene. If Solo: A Star Wars Story had spent its time giving its central characters a good bit of grounding, the subsequent story beats would hit with a lot more emotion.
No More Gloomy Galaxy
But, as mentioned above, Solo: A Star Wars Story doesn’t want to get too into the weeds with its characters because that will invite a little too much uncomfortable conflict. And after the knowingly grim Rogue One and the thoughtfully challenging The Last Jedi, Solo: A Star Wars Story‘s goals are far less lofty. This is a film that is running on pure nostalgia fuel and fuzzy feelings.
That’s not always an inherently bad thing. In fact, there are plenty of instances where Solo‘s goofier tone make it a real treat. Probably the best use of this comes in the form of Chewbacca. His initial meeting with Han is a delightful bit of comedy and the big fuzzball gets some of the most tender moments in the entire film.
The same goes for Lando Calrissian. His effortless swagger lends a ton of charisma to the film, even if it means the plot needs to take a backseat to his conman shenanigans. And the Star Wars series continues to provide excellent droid characters in the form of L3-37, a feisty female robot that is outspoken and relatable. It’s really the supporting cast that steals the show in a movie called Solo.
Though Solo: A Star Wars Story doesn’t quite nail its characters in terms of drama and complexity, it makes sure to give them oodles of personality. That goes a long way with a film as fluffy as this.
Empty but Appealing Action
Though the action sequences might feel weightless since we know that certain characters will be okay, that doesn’t stop them from being impressive in some ways. There is a train heist early in the film that feels propulsive, well-executed, and fresh in regards to what we’ve seen in the Star Wars universe. And the infamous Kessel Run features some of the wackiest space hijinks that have ever been attempted in a Star Wars film.
Unfortunately, these sequences all feel stretched to the point of snapping. There is an unyielding quality to the action in Solo: A Star Wars Story that leaves the audience praying for a reprieve. It wouldn’t have taken much to either trim these sequences or reallocate some of their running time towards giving the characters some more room to stretch their legs. Although the action is admirable, there is simply way too much of it in the finished film.
Is Solo: A Star Wars Story Good?
With all of this said, Solo: A Star Wars Story is still a pleasant enough experience. It’s what we call a marshmallow movie: sweet, easy to consume, and mostly full of air. There is plenty here for hardcore Star Wars fans to pore over, and it will be interesting to see how this film will be received in the wake of the controversial (and brilliant) The Last Jedi. However, Solo: A Star Wars Story has little more on its mind than being a disposable piece of popcorn cinema.
And at the end of the day, that’s fine. Solo: A Star Wars Story is engineered to be vigorously cute and unflappably charming, so there are plenty of little bits that brighten the experience throughout, but they add up to a mountain of mostly nothing. At least it’s better than Rogue One. So it’s got that going for it.