Ehrenreich is 'Solo' -- in a respectable 'Star Wars' origins story
Posted May 15, 2018 3:18 p.m. EDT
embargoed online 2 p.m. pacific tuesday may 15
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It would be a mistake to talk about ``Solo: A Star Wars Story'' as just another movie, because that's not how its fans will receive it. As the 10th ``Star Wars'' entry in a series going back 41 years, it will be received as a part of a puzzle, as a set of clues and revelations concerning previous ``Star Wars'' movies -- the secular equivalent of an entirely new gospel.
Weighed according to that scale, it's a successful movie. It introduces Han Solo, the role made famous by Harrison Ford (until he got stabbed and fell of a bridge), and shows how he met he best friend Chewbacca. It places him in an adventure in which he gets to show off his rakish personality and even gives him a romance -- no, Princess Leia was not the first.
However, if this were a stand-alone movie, which it most definitely is not, it would call for a more balanced judgment. It has humor, but compared to a movie like ``Thor: Ragnarok'' or ``Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,'' not much. Some of the action scenes go on too long and aren't especially gripping. And although Alden Ehrenreich is appealing in his own right, there's none of that flash of recognition we got when we first saw Chris Pine as Captain Kirk and thought, ``Oh, yeah, that's the guy.'' Ehrenreich doesn't really seem like Harrison Ford.
Ron Howard directed -- actually, he came on to direct during production, though he has the sole director's credit -- and although Howard's homespun authenticity would seem a nice addition to the ``Star Wars'' universe, his personality is not really in evidence, except perhaps in the quieter scenes between Ehrenreich and Emilia Clarke. It's as if everyone involved here were in a creative straitjacket, assigned to produce a ``Star Wars'' movie, nothing more and nothing less. So that's what we get.
We begin, as movies do these days, in action. Han (Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi'ra (Clarke) are trying to get off the creepy planet where they have been stifled all their lives. He has stolen some coaxial, which he believes they can use to bribe their way onto a space ship out of town. Han is street smart and cocky, sure of his destiny, and what follows is an exciting chase scene on flying cars, all the way to the airport.
When he escapes and she doesn't, he makes it his mission to get a space ship and rescue Qi'ra from that awful place. To that end, he teams up with a pair of outlaws, Tobias (Woody Harrelson) and Val (Thandie Newton), who are about to pull off a big job. It's at this point -- just as you're happy to see Harrelson and Newton and feel that things will only get better -- that things start to get worse. A heist involving a moving train goes on forever and loses all propulsion, and most of the action that follows is similarly overblown yet uninvolving.
But still, this is ``Star Wars'' and there are things to enjoy. Harrelson lifts every scene he's in. Paul Bettany shows up as a mob boss, polite and twisted, and he's genuinely unsettling. Lando Calrissian shows up in the youthful form of Donald Glover, and he and Han get to spar over who is the biggest wise guy. Best of all, there is Clarke as the enigmatic Qi'ra, who returns to Han's life with a surface poise and a sadness she didn't have before.
Curiously, for an origins story, there's not all that much about Han's early life. He has no family -- hence, the ``Solo'' -- but that's about all we know about him. (We also have no idea how he will get so much taller before the start of ``Episode I.'') But all this may be answered in a future installment. Though ``Solo'' finishes with a satisfying sense of arrival, the movie leaves room for a sequel, and it may be the best measure of this movie's ultimate quality that the idea of another one of these sounds fun.
It ends well. That's the one thing we can't talk about, only characterize, but the last half hour and the lively opening make us almost forget the movie's so-so middle. It brings all the elements together, points to the future and keeps the action to a human-scale minimum. If you want to see ``Solo: A Star Wars Story,'' I wouldn't talk you out of it.
Mick LaSalle is The San Francisco Chronicle's movie critic.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
3 stars out of 4 stars
Adventure. Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke and Woody Harrelson. Directed by Ron Howard. (PG-13. 135 minutes.)