The towering legacy of Star Wars is also the franchise's greatest curse. Ever since the credits faded on Return of the Jedi 35 years ago, Star Wars films have been doomed to constantly reference its roots. Where novels and video games have explored , the films haven't been so lucky.
[Warning: Major spoilers ahead]
Solo: A Star Wars Story is the latest expression of this curse. While it is a competent film compared to most mindless blockbusters, Solo becomes obsessed with explaining every last detail we've ever known about Han Solo, destroying the mythos that made Harrison Ford's character so memorable in the first place.
The Good Stuff
Disney has the resources to ensure no Star Wars film is truly terrible, and Solo is far from unwatchable. Despite some worrying news from the Solo set, Alden Ehrenreich delivers an admirable depiction of Harrison Ford's iconic character. In some moments, Ehrenreich feels like he's doing a mere imitation of a far superior actor, but thankfully it's not distracting.
The supporting cast is equally good—to varying degrees. Donald Glover's Lando Calrissian is a joy to watch though woefully underused. Woody Harrelson's Beckett, Solo's gunslinging father figure, helps explain where Han gets his devil-may-care bravado. Only Emilia Clarke's Qi'Ra feels bland, and Solo continues the unfortunate trend of using droids as comic relief with L3-37. Just once I'd like to see a droid who is also a serious character.
The film's greatest gift to Star Wars fans is that it dials down the immensity of its story. The original trilogy must save the galaxy from not one but two planet-destroying super weapons. The prequel films detail (horribly) the downfall of the Galactic Republic and the rise of the fascist Empire. The first film from the latest trilogy deals with another massive superweapon, and The Last Jedi deals with the very survival of The Resistance against the First Order and the preservation of hope in the galaxy.
Mercifully, Solo takes a breather from these galaxy-shattering storylines and just tells a simple yarn about a train heist gone awry with a dizzying number of double-crosses to tie things together. The Empire is there, but in the background. We see new corners of the galaxy, like Han's home planet of Corellia.
Of course, with Solo being crafted for maximum fan service, the film tries to increase the stakes when it intimates that Han's efforts helped to establish the original Rebellion. But ignore than throwaway line and we finally have our first small film in a very large galaxy.
The Bad Stuff
On the other hand, it's hard to ignore the fact that Solo would be utterly forgettable if it didn't have 40 years of cinematic history propping it up. Motivations are poorly fleshed out, extreme coincidences wash away any sort of believability, and it's easy to get lost as to the film's point other than filling in the history of those one-liners Han Solo (drunkenly?) uttered in a Mos Eisley cantina.
That is Solo's biggest sin—explaining every little detail we know about Han Solo. Fan service is to be expected in all of these films. But in Solo, the subtle nods to the audience are either painfully forced or downright embarrassing.
In one scene early on, we learn about how Han got his last name (something I really didn't need to know). In another, we see him get his signature blaster. During a major plot point we get to see the Kessel Run, which the original A New Hope script treated as a complete lie. But audiences need to have something they remember from the original trilogy, so now there's an entire film about it. Near the end, we hear that Han Solo is going to meet up with a "gangster on Tatooine," a clear reference to Jabba the Hutt.
What Solo seems to be telling us is that everything that was ever interesting about Han Solo happened in about a week or two. If the filmmakers had cut out half of these references and instead introduced something new about Han Solo that adds to the beloved character Ford created in the original trilogy, then I think Solo would've become something more than a two-hour fan service film (like Rogue One).
As it stands, Solo is just a fun escape into a galaxy you know and love. The characters aren't perfect, the story is a bit clunky, and the cinematography is weirdly muddy and dark, but Solo remains a worthy sci-fi adventure film. But it's also a film that shows that .
It's time to lift the curse.