While watching Solo: A Star Wars Story, youre likely to catch yourself wondering, a few times, "Why does this movie exist?"
Sure, the titular hero, Han Solo, is one of the most iconic and talked-about characters from the original trilogy and was played by Harrison Ford with an unrivalled self-assured swagger; and sure, there have been questions asked about how the character became who he was in the original trilogy, but this standalone Solo movie is almost nothing but a superficial sketch of the character's origin story.
Just like the prequels to the original Star Wars trilogy, Solo spends a bulk of its time connecting narrative strings to things that have already become canon in the larger Star Wars universe. How did Han ever meet Chewbacca? How did he acquire the iconic Millennium Falcon and make that famed Kessel run? How did he meet Lando? Even though it's hard to imagine anyone's ever asked how Han got his last name, the movie takes a few seconds to answer that question too in a hilarious self-aware moment of weakness.
The movie's desire to get through this checklist robs it of some allure as it channels its energy towards getting the character familiar with the audience as soon as possible, leading the movie to taking few risks that sometimes make the script appear clunky.
Despite the movie's desperate bid to fast-track its star's development, Solo is still an origin story of one of cinema's most iconic antiheroes who worked his way from smuggler to becoming a general in the Alliance.
Long before he joined forces with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker in that cantina on Tatooine in A New Hope, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) was just a plucky teenager trying to work his way out of the wretched world of Corellia with his sort-of girlfriend, Qi'ra played by Emilia Clarke who takes time off from tending to her dragons on Game of Thrones.
The movie quickly moves on to his quest to become a pilot for the Imperial Navy and how he falls in with a criminal gang led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a father figure that deserves the credit for some of Han's personality traits on show in the original trilogy. He also meets Chewbacca around this time and the origin of their bromance, as depicted in the movie, is one of the most compelling things it can put in the win column.
Speaking of the win column, despite the movie's narrative lethargy, it also has more than a few things going for it.
The movie's visuals are bold and alluring as they immerse the audience in new worlds that have yet to be explored in the expanded Star Wars universe. The movie's cinematography presents some gorgeous visuals capable of distracting you from everything else for a minute
Solo still finds the time to entertain and enthrall the audience with its mesmerising special effects and, sometimes, spectacular action sequences from a car chase in the opening scenes in Corellia to a fascinating train heist in Vandor and another brilliantly riotous heist in Kessel.
There's a double-cross and a triple-cross and then an infinity-cross that almost makes no sense but results in a feel-good cameo appearance for an original character, an appearance that makes you scratch your head about how the Star Wars universe works.
More than the glamourous colours and the action sequences, some of Solo's supporting cast pull their weight to make it a little bit more inspiring than it turns out to be. Thandie Newton offers a near-permanent scowl and sass that you can't get enough of while Phoebe Waller-Bridge voices L3-37, a bowlegged droid whose unassuming hilarity offers something refreshing to the movie's general lag.
The character of Lando Calrissian is an integral part of the movie, and Donald Glover doesn't disappoint as he steals scenes with his casual style and charisma.
Harrelson also delivers a commanding performance as the leader of the criminal gang with whom Han first cut his teeth in the criminal world.
Asking Ehrenreich to fill the big boots left behind by Harrison Ford's cocky and enigmatic Han was always going to be a tough ask and it's no surprise to find out that he suffers under the weight of that expectation.
Sure, he has a near-identical face, postures the same and carries the same casual swagger in his portrayal of the antihero, but he almost always appears to be lacking something, anything; or maybe the problem is that there is too much projection of the older Han onto Ehrenreich's portrayal. It's hard to tell sometimes. The most amenable conclusion might be that he's the victim of a massive legacy.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is hardly an inspired narration of Han Solo's origins, but it has loads of fun for its audience when it really commits to it.
However, when the movie clearly sets up for a sequel in the closing scenes, it sounds more like a threat than something to genuinely look forward to. So now, you go from "Why does this movie exist?" to "Why will there be another one?"