PLOT How a street-wise youngster became the intergalactic outlaw Han Solo.
CAST Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson
RATED PG-13 (action-violence)
BOTTOM LINE The brightest character in the “Star Wars” universe gets a lackluster spinoff.
Sorry, “Star Wars” fans: The first dud of the new series has arrived in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”
The origin story of Han Solo, the beloved character originated by Harrison Ford, is far from a disaster. The word is disappointing — which, in a way, is worse. If rising star Alden Ehrenreich had totally embarrassed himself as a young Solo, or if the dependable director Ron Howard had somehow delivered an accidental laugh-riot, then at least we’d have another “Battlefield Earth” or “The Last Airbender” to boggle our minds. Instead, the most iconic character of the “Star Wars” universe is now in a movie that’s only marginally entertaining — and that’s a shame.
“Solo,” like the very first “Star Wars,” has the right idea: It wants to be a classic movie in galactic guise. There’s a noirish shade to the romance between Solo and his onetime girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who takes up with the ruthless overlord Dryden Vos (an enjoyable Paul Bettany). Solo’s first meeting with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), chained together in a mud pit, recalls any number of handcuffed-buddy comedies. The gambling dens, watering holes and windswept outposts in this movie speak to Solo’s roots as a classic Western character. (The script is by “Star Wars” veteran Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan.)
The problem is that Ehrenreich, a talented actor (in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” and the Coen brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!”), simply doesn’t cut it as a young Solo. Ehrenreich has cannily adapted some of Ford's Solo-isms (the barroom swagger, the wink-and-smile combo), but he doesn’t seem to understand the character. He delivers every line with total sincerity whether it's a confession or a quip. We’re supposed to be watching a young outlaw develop a hard shell around his heart, but Ehrenreich’s Solo has no layers, no hidden depths. Almost as big a letdown is Donald Glover, replacing Billy Dee Williams as the suave gambler Lando Calrissian; it’s an amusing but superficial performance, made up mostly of wardrobe. The film’s one truly convincing turn comes from Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett, a career criminal who serves as a dubious father figure to young Han.
It’s worth asking how “Solo” might have fared under original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“The Lego Movie”), who left mid-production. Better or worse? We'll never know. As it is, “Solo” has the nagging feeling of a missed opportunity.