For a Wookie in his 190’s, Chewbacca isn’t very wise. Rather, he’s pretty gullible; or at least his agent is for getting the lovable galactic Sasquatch mixed up in an enterprise as ill-conceived as “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” Under his alias, Joonas Suotamo, the tower of fur and personality at least avoids embarrassing himself in Ron Howard’s half-baked tale of … of … of … well, I’m not quite sure.
It’s billed as an origin story centered on how Chewie met BFF Han Solo. But that part of Howard’s ridiculously long movie takes all of about 4 of the torturous 140 minutes. The rest of the time is occupied by useless drivel, most of it concerning procuring — and transporting — a couple of cases of glowing cylindrical tubes that look like the lawn lamps you place along your front walk. Apparently, they contain all of the power sucked from Howard’s klieg lights, judging by how dank and murky “Solo” looks on screen.
Talk about “the dark side,” Howard epitomizes it. But why? What’s the point of producing a film that looks like it was shot in a closet? Or, more to the point, why does a movie as useless and unnecessary as this even exist? Cash! Nothing but cash. At this point, Disney rightly figures “Star Wars” fans are so brainwashed, addicted and subservient, they’ll lay down money on anything transpiring in the proverbial “galaxy far, far away.” It’s much the same formula the Mouse applies to its array of hit-and-miss offerings emanating from the neighboring Marvel Universe. To borrow a phrase: If you slap it together, they will come — by the millions.
Just the name — Han Solo — will get fans in a tizzy. That is until they catch a glimpse of the dull, charisma-free actor trying to pass himself off as the younger version of Harrison Ford. His name, you do not know, and I suspect after witnessing Alden Ehrenreich’s subpar attempt at playing Solo it will stay that way. As played by the 28-year-old star of the Coen Brothers vastly superior “Hail, Caesar,” Ehrenreich not only looks nothing like Ford, he has none of the Great One’s surly charm or way with a sharply written quip. He’s basically a lump of ore, a zit on the face of the Galactic Empire. And this from a person who really likes the guy — just not in this particular franchise.
He’s in way over his pretty little head. And considering the lame status of an indecipherable script by series veteran Lawrence Kasdan and his son, middling filmmaker Jonathan, Ehrenreich doesn’t have a chance from the start — even with an annoying and intrusive John Williams score constantly trying to pump air into his lifeless performance. Same goes for his hugely popular co-star Donald Glover, only slightly better cast as the charmingly roguish Lando Calrissian. Like Chewie, he’s a standout lost in a shuffle of too many characters and copious random story twists that are more like a string of set pieces than a cohesive story.
Adding to the boredom, are a host of somnambulant turns by Emilia Clarke as Han’s duplicitous girlfriend, Qi’ra; Woody Harrelson as an intergalactic pirate, Beckett; and Paul Bettany as this tale’s lame excuse for a Darth Vader type, Dryden Vos. All suffer from a lackadaisical directing job by Howard, who was brought on midstream after the Mouse canned original helmers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for not sticking to the Disney blueprint. And after now seeing what that plan was, you understand why the guys behind such great comedies as “The LEGO Movie” and “The 21 Jump Street” pictures saw a teetering Millennium Falcon and tried to right it. What they might have made of this turkey will forever be a wonder for “Star Wars” fans.
In Howard’s favor is his long association with series creator George Lucas, having starred in his classic “American Graffiti.” But it doesn’t show in Howard’s feeble attempts to recreate the fun and excitement of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. In Howard’s hands, “Solo” is mostly a funeral experience, with any attempts at humor either falling flat or failing to connect. And why he opted to shoot the entire film in a murky haze is a true mystery.
Perhaps he was trying to hide his actors from the humiliation brought on by a script that meanders and makes little sense. I’d worry about spoilers if there were anything to spoil. There isn’t, unless you count the aforementioned lawn lights. But I’m not even sure what that was all about, other than a catalyst for a host of long, noisy action scenes that are instantly forgettable due to their poor execution and even worse editing. The best (and I use that term loosely) is a sequence involving the theft of those lawn lights from a train speeding precariously along a steep, snow-covered mountainside. But even that is marred by its lack of brevity. Like everything here, it wears out its welcome.
Then there are all the little annoyances, like Williams’ grating score, the lack of empathy for any of the characters, and — worse — the tendency of the actors to announce what they are going to do next before doing it. Just do it, already! Don’t tell me; I can figure it out. What I can’t understand is how so much talent, and so much money (a reported $250 million), could be laid to waste so egregiously. It’s a case of not-so-grand theft. Worse, how could they do this to a good joe like Chewie? They’ve turned him into a wonky Wookie enslaved by incompetents in a universe of stifling mediocrity.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story”
Cast includes Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke and Thandie Newton.
(PG-13 for sci-fi action/violence.)