The greatest burden that the current Star Wars cinematic product bears is the subtitle it shares with its Disney-produced predecessor, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story."
Like the addition of "for Target" to designer brands such as Missoni, Michael Graves, Lilly Pulitzer and Hunter Boots, the subtitle makes clear that what is being offered is not the real deal, but a mass-produced, lower-quality facsimile, trading on the reputation of the original.
For designers, a mass market line may have value because it is aimed at consumers unfamiliar with the original product. The "Star Wars Story" line, however, is aimed precisely at consumers intimately familiar with the core Star Wars saga who bring to the theater relatively high expectations (not to say that Star Wars is to cinema what artisan designers are to fashion, but you get the idea).
And so there is “Solo,” the second in a series of scheduled stand-alone Star Wars Stories, this one centered on one of the most iconic and beloved characters in the LucasFilm universe.
Star Wars fans may love Han Solo, the brash, arrogant outlaw-with-a-conscience portrayed by Harrison Ford in the original trilogy. But have Han Solo fans spent the past 40 years wondering about the origin of his surname? where he got his blaster pistol? what exactly the Kessel Run is (which Solo bragged the Millenium Falcon made "in less than 12 parsecs")?
Well, “Solo” is here to answer these questions anyway, by way of an origin story.
Written by Lawrence Kasdan, who has been crafting the Star Wars story-arc since “The Return of the Jedi,” and his son Jonathan, “Solo” benefits from telling a much smaller tale in a galaxy only tangentially related to The Saga. Hence, no Death Star, no Force, no lightsabers, and only a smattering of the Empire (stormtroopers, and a familiar cameo by an Imperial Cruiser). What results is an enjoyable, if unremarkable, adventure yard that might have fared relatively well at the box office even without its Star Wars affiliation.
After a slow start on the slave planet Corellia, bogged down by endless exposition , murky cinematography by the usually-excellent Bradford Young (“A Most Violent Year,” “Arrival”), and a surprisingly static Landspeeder chase, the action jumps planets and time (three years) to an actual plot.
Fighting as an Imperial infantryman (after being expelled from from the Flight Academy), Han falls in with space pirates led by the amoral Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), is introduced to Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) in a perilous and hilarious meet-cute, and gets roped into the film's central action--an intergalactic Great Train Robbery in service of Beckett's crime-lord boss, Dryden Voss (Paul Bettany), who comes off more unctuous Bond villain than viable counterpart to Jabba the Hutt. Along the way, he wins the iconic Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) in the fabled game of sabacc.
As Solo, Alden Ehrenreich (“Beautiful Creatures,” “Hail, Caesar!”) is sufficiently swaggering and sarcastic, even if we're never in doubt that this Han will ultimately do the right thing. Better is Donald Glover's take on the 70s-smooth Lando, a performance with enough charm (and capes) to rival Billy Dee Williams'. And both are overshadowed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Lando's companion (in every sense of the word, it seems) droid L3-37. With a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement, L3-37 is a droid-rights activist who takes the heist as an opportunity to act on her rhetoric by fomenting a droid revolution amidst the confusion of the operation.
It's a moment with resonances beyond the confines of the screen, a moment frustratingly unique in a film more interested in simply keeping the action and the Easter eggs coming.