Alden Ehrenreich wears a smirk throughout “Solo: A Star Wars Story” that turns Han Solo into a guy who is just this side of insufferable. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
It’s the smirk. It’s not a good look.
Alden Ehrenreich wears that smirk throughout “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” and in doing so turns Han Solo into a guy who is just this side of insufferable.
Look, Han’s defining characteristic in the original “Star Wars” movie, now rebranded as “Episode IV — A New Hope,” is arrogance. Harrison Ford projected it, and in “Solo,” the tale of how young Han became the legendary Han, it oozes from every pore of Ehrenreich’s performance.
Best pilot in the galaxy. Famed for making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.
A wily smuggler. Quick on the draw with a blaster.
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The arrogance is earned.
But there’s an engaging quality in Ford’s arrogance — his Han is a self-impressed rogue, but a likable one — that Ehrenreich lacks.
The difference is reflected in their signature expressions. Ford’s Han, buffeted by life but accustomed to overcoming adversity, regards the world (or rather worlds) with a sardonic grin. Ehrenreich has that smirk. It’s the difference between a rascal and a jerk.
The “Star Wars” series has had this problem before. When Jake Lloyd and later Hayden Christensen portrayed young Anakin Skywalker, one searched in vain for convincing signs that somewhere in the character, as they played him, nestled the seed of evil that would bloom into Darth Vader. Same with “Solo.” Watching Ehrenreich, it’s tough to envision that guy becoming the guy.
By contrast, that’s not a problem for Donald Glover in the role of Lando Calrissian. He’s a cool smoothie very much in the mold of Billy Dee Williams. Han tries to win the Millennium Falcon from him in a card game.
At the start, Ehrenreich’s 20-something Han announces himself as a streetwise dude who’s been running scams since he was 10. He’s got a dewy girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), from whom he’s fatefully separated early on and then spends a significant chunk of the picture hunting through the cosmos trying to find her. In the course of his hunt, he links up with a grizzled outlaw named Beckett (Woody Harrelson), and later winds up in a mud-wrestling bout with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). It’s a bonding experience. Afterward, they’re pals for life.
For some reason, director Ron Howard (given the job after original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were bounced from the picture due to “creative differences”) opted to shoot the movie in various shades of murk. It opens with a speeder chase through a dingy tunnel, segues to a sequence set on a twilit smoky battlefield, and the big moment when the Millennium Falcon is first revealed (as the “Star Wars” theme swells majestically in the background) takes place in an inky cave. Thus, visually at least, does “Solo” go over to the Dark Side.
Howard stages a number of spectacular set pieces, with a raid by Han and Beckett’s outlaw band on a speeding train through snowy mountains being a real nail-biter. And with Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Force Awakens,” and his son Jonathan on board as co-screenwriters, “Solo” is well-grounded in the “Star Wars” mythos. We’re shown how Han pulled off the Kessel Run in those 12 parsecs, and the picture definitively answers the question: “Did Han shoot first?”
Good fun, and all that, but its flawed central performance ultimately makes “Solo” a distinct disappointment.
★★ “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” featuring Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Paul Bettany. Directed by Ron Howard, from a screenplay by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan. 140 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence. Opens May 25 in multiple theaters.