Didn’t it seem like we just got a Star Wars movie a few months ago? Oh, that’s right. We did. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, the eighth installment of the series’ sacred Skywalker Saga. Like Rogue One and The Force Awakens before it, it was released in mid-December. These year-end release dates seemed to imply that the Star Wars franchise had graduated from summer popcorn fodder to prestige entries of our collective cinematic lexicon.
There had been talk of reverting the franchise release dates back to the summer rotation once the novelty had worn off and we’d settled on the notion that we’ll be getting at least one new Star Wars movie every year from now until the Sun swallows our solar system.
It’s fitting, then, that Solo: A Star Wars Story would be the film chosen to make the move with. While a predictably enjoyable romp (with an emphasis on the predictable), Solo seems to be lacking… something.
Alden Ehrenreich, while not exactly looking — or sounding — the part of the galaxy’s most notorious smuggler, does pull off a likable enough version of the scruffy-looking nerf-herder. He plays the part with a suitable nonchalance, embodying the character we were first introduced to way back in 1977’s A New Hope. While that Solo was only in it for his reward, Solo the film does give the character an emotional stake in Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), a fellow runaway from the streets of Corellia.
The two hatch a plan to bribe their way off their shipbuilding planet and live a carefree life seeing the galaxy together. It doesn’t go as planned, an Solo ends up enlisting in the Imperial Navy, a move that grants the character his eponymous last name.
Flash-forward a few years and Solo meets Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a master thief whose crew has infiltrated the Empire’s front lines as part of his elaborate train heist. Yes, a train heist. Granted, Star Wars was rooted in American Westerns as much as Flash Gordon-esque sci-fi, and no character embodied that more than Harrison Ford’s rogue gunslinger.
After things go spectacularly wrong, Solo hatches a plan that will allow Beckett to make good on the debt he owes to Dryden Voss (Paul Bettany), the godfather of the crime family Crimson Dawn. From there, they meet up with Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), who’s coerced into letting them use the Millennium Falcon to attempt the (you guessed it) Kessel Run.
It’s moments like this that remind you that Star Wars is, at this point, less about filmmaking and more about retro-fitting every possible throwaway line into some kind of plot point. Given that Solo exists squarely in the timeline between the prequel and classic trilogies, there’s no shortage of opportunity to do so. And Solo proves willing and able to able to cram as many of those winking nods into its narrative as possible, regardless of whether or not it serves the larger story.
That’s not to say that Solo isn’t fun. It’s very fun. In fact, it’s almost exactly the kind of Star Wars film you’d expect director Ron Howard to deliver: a lighthearted heist film designed to further endear the franchise’s most bankable character to audiences everywhere.
Ehrenreich, by the way, is perfectly suited for this task, as he bridges the gap between his own boyish looks and his character’s roguish charms. Likewise, Glover’s effortless charisma makes Lando a joy to watch, even if he does seem to veer in-and-out of a Billy Dee Williams impression, rather than deliver his own unique spin on the character.
For those looking for a palate-cleansing Star Wars story, without all that pesky deconstruction and subtle nuance of Johnson’s The Last Jedi, then Solo will seem like it’s delivered on a satin pillow. Anyone else who’s looking for something that goes a little beyond a vanilla Star Wars adventure, Solo will end up an enjoyable, albeit entirely forgettable installment.
Solo: A Star Wars Story hits theaters on Friday, May 25.