“Solo: A Star Wars Story”  Ron Howard that is astonishingly mediocre

It’s hardly difficult to review a Star Wars film — some of the highest-grossing and recognizably iconic works of the modern silver screen. And yet, there is astonishingly little to say about Solo: A Star Wars Story. Like its box office performance, both the story and the stars of the space opera’s last installment were, well, fine.

Most of the buzz surrounding Solo before its release was overwhelmingly negative. Rumors derided not only the quality of the film, but also the credibility of the filmmakers — a debilitating blow for a work. That then struggled to distance itself from the bad press.

Solo: A Star Wars Story takes place before Rogue One and after Revenge of the Sith. The Empire is in power, and people across the galaxy are trying their best to survive under a fascist regime. Young Han Solo, trapped on a planet with no future prospects, is prepared to do anything to escape his dreary life and become a pilot. His plight leads him to space pirate Beckett (Woody Harreslon) and a seedy underworld he never expected.

Alden Ehrenreich’s performance was the biggest mystery going into Solo.

I read the various reports about Lucasfilm’s concerns over Ehrenreich’s acting. I supposedly hiring coaches to help his performance in line with the tone and previous films. Ehrenreich couldn’t just be passable. Stepping into the shoes of Star Wars’ most iconic bad-boy-turned-fearless-rebellion-leader meant becoming Harrison Ford. Every move, every sentence, every nod Ehrenreich performed needed to encompass Ford’s same charismatic nonchalance.

It’s a nearly impossible task, and one that Ehrenreich performs with his own take.

He doesn’t embody the Han Solo that fans idolized and romanticized. The man whose face graced posters of that we plastered to our bedroom ceiling. But he brings just enough individuality to the role to rejuvenate the smuggler, riffing on a character from a bygone era of cinema. Who himself echoed characters from bygone eras of cinema. Ehrenreich isn’t aiming to be this generation’s all-American action star. He’s just charming in his own right.

Wink winks and nudge nudges litter Solo, elbowing us in the ribs every time a character. It makes a reference to something within the Star Wars universe. Fan servicing is tricky. Too much can deflate the momentum; too little and a giant franchise installment like this loses some of their obvious appeal. Solo manages to find a healthy balance by circumventing the norm. This is a movie that dares to reference George Lucas’s prequel movies. It’s fandom that Solo plays into, not necessarily the franchise to which it belongs.

Goofy scenes and cute conversations in Solo seem ripped out of Avengers movies.

Solo isn’t so much interested in building towards established Star Wars mythology. Although that is touched upon — so much as the characters’ relationship to one another. This is especially true whenever young Han and young Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) or young Han and young Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) are on screen together. They’re adorable and funny, finding new rapport that only exists within the movie’s two-hour-and-15-minute runtime. Glover is exceptional as Lando, succinct in his sexual presence and a dominant force with his natural cool. And while he’s entertaining on his own, the real magic happens when he’s paired with Ehrenreich.

From the unceremonious replacement of Phil Lord and Chris Miller with one of Hollywood’s most reliable choices. Ron Howard, to rumors abounding that Lionsgate had shelled out for an acting coach for the young and relatively untested Alden Ehrenrich — the strapping Hail Caesar. Kid who spends most of the film doing a sly impression of Harrison Ford — the buzz threatened the audience’s belief in not only the film’s potential success but the producers’ reliability.

To trust in a reboot of a character as legendary as Han Solo is to trust implicitly. That the filmmakers know what they’re doing. For Solo, impressions of the opposite were hard to escape.

But why did it stick?

Other members of the franchise have overcome poor press before. And gone on to become the highest grossing films of the year. One could argue that the series’ biggest gaffe was Attack of the Clones. And even that became the third-highest grossing film of 2002. Perhaps Hollywood might consider that there was a 10-year interim between 2015’s he Force Awakens. And its most recent predecessor. By contrast, the last 30 months have packed in four Star Wars films, with a fifth to premiere next December. The novelty and wonder of a new Star Wars film is becoming humdrum — an annual expectation.

Nevertheless, adding to the mediocrity of the film is the number of predicted boxes it attempts to check. The star-studded cast is updated with only the hottest. And latest heavy-hitters — Westworld’s Thandie Newton, Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke, Avengers’ Paul Bettany, Donald Glover — and the always-reliable Woody Harrelson.

Additionally, the film spends far too much time showing viewers the vistas and quintessential life-making moments

That Star Wars buffs and fan-fiction authors alike have imagined a young Solo to have traversed. Partially a nod to the core base, partially a demonstration of “Look! We know this character! Look, it’s him!,” these scenes have a strange taste of hokum: Here’s Han Solo meeting Chewbacca! Here’s Han Solo meeting the Millennium Falcon!

Many have laid the film’s lackluster box office performance (by comparison to its counterparts) at young Ehrenrich’s feet. Which may or may not be justified. Perhaps it would be harsh to characterize his performance as underwhelming. But he fails to reinvent the character as his own or steal the screen with any rugged charm. But as far as the space opera’s youth portrayals go, he does still rank above Hayden Christensen’s Vader. Not a high bar.

In total, credit where credit is due: This was a Han Solo film. Whether audiences were hungry at all for a Solo film remains to be said; whether the script, director or actor chosen were all ideal remains to be said. But for a summer flick on a three-day weekend, Solo was a perfectly acceptable pastime.

PRODUCTION: A Lucasfilm Ltd. production. Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanuel. Executive producers, Lawrence Kasdan, Jason McGatlin, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller.

CREW: Directed by Ron Howard. Screenplay: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan, based on characters created by George Lucas. Camera (color): Bradford Young. Editor: Pietro Scalia. Music: John Powell.

WITH: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Joonas Suotamo, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jon Favreau, Linda Hunt.

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