The reviews for Solo: A Star Wars Story have zoomed in from a galaxy far, far away.
Given Solo’s troubled creation — with original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller replaced by Ron Howard weeks before the original shoot was set to end — it’s no surprise that the Star Wars stand-alone has been at the center of intense anticipation about how the finished movie would hold up. Would it, like the beloved character at its center, pull off an unexpected victory, or was this going to be the first Star Wars movie to disappoint since Disney revived the franchise? Ahead of the movie’s May 25 release, the reviews are out, and… it’s still unclear. Here’s what the critics are saying about the film, which holds a fresh rating of 73 percent on Rotten Tomatoes as of Tuesday evening (May 15).
The Hollywood Reporter’s own Michael Rechtshaffen becomes an avatar for the uncertain critical response for the movie by noting that Howard “gets plenty of entertaining mileage out of Han Solo and company’s formative years, even though he never quite manages to launch the Millennium Falcon into hyperdrive.” Giving Solo a generally favorable write-up, he notes that, “although the end result will unlikely find itself occupying an upper berth in the Star Wars movie pantheon, there’s enough here to satisfy the fan base and give Disney a very strong turnout (it received its Cannes premiere today) when it opens Memorial Day weekend.”
If Rechtshaffen is on the fence, however, he’s rare in that respect. Solo, it seems, is a movie that divides audiences about its charm, or lack thereof. For the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, for example, the movie is little more than “a curiously low-stakes blockbuster, in effect a filmed Wikipedia page” that “ambles from one set piece to the next in a spirit of genial in-betweenness. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it also holds whatever irreverent, anarchic impulses it might possess in careful check.”
Ann Hornaday from the Washington Post was similarly unimpressed. “For the most part, Solo is a conglomeration of set pieces we’ve seen before — from familiar chase scenes and a battle sequence reminiscent of World War I trench warfare to a train heist followed by a decadent cocktail party thrown at an art-deco-inspired space yacht — with some tasty callbacks to Star Wars legend and lore thrown in to delight lifelong aficionados,” she writes. The movie, she continues, “gets the job done with little fuss, but also with precious little finesse. It might arguably succeed in teeing up the cinematic narrative that would change movies forever. But in both substance and execution, it bears but a whisper of the revolution to come.”
That the movie plays it too safe is an opinion shared by Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers. “Solo: A Star Wars Story keeps throwing curveballs to distract us from the fact that we know all too well where this is heading,” he complains, adding, “Howard and [screenwriters Lawrence and Jon Kasdan] play the series game without ever raising the stakes, defaulting to dull and dutiful when they might have blasted off into creative anarchy. Even the new score by John Powell (Jason Bourne) only soars when it samples the original John Williams theme. And somehow Han Solo – the roguish Star Wars hellion famous for breaking all the rules – finds himself in a feel-good movie that doesn’t break any.”
Other people, however, appear to have found a far better movie at the heart of it all. Kate Erbland of IndieWire argues, “As an origin story, Howard’s film has to line up a series of expected beats — how Han got his name, where he learned to fly, how he met Chewbacca and Lando, when he acquired the Millennium Falcon, — but Solo crams all that stuff into an entertaining package that can also stand alone.… It’s not as dark as the franchise’s other stand-alone film, the satisfying and sad Rogue One, and even without lightsaber battles or Jedi or anyone aligned with the formal Rebellion, it still captures a humor and pace Star Wars audiences expect.”
For USA Today’s Brian Truitt, the movie is “more successful than Rogue One, the first spinoff from the Skywalker saga, in breaking from other Star Wars vehicles because it leans into marauders, mob syndicates and the seedier aspects of the franchise. Rather than taking another run at another Death Star, this is instead like spending two hours in the crime-infested cantina from George Lucas’ original flick that introduced Han to the universe.” Indeed, he argues, “Solo is much more akin at its core to an Indiana Jones movie in the way its often-hapless rogue bounces between sticky and/or speedy situations but somehow doesn’t end up eaten by a space monster or blasted to smithereens.”
For those concerned, there are some points of agreement across the critical spectrum: Alden Ehrenreich may lack the cynicism of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, but everyone seems to agree he does a good job with the material. Everyone loves Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian, and equally unsurprising to anyone who’s watched Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3-37 apparently steals every scene she appears in.
There was, at least, one full-hearted positive review in the bunch. Step forward, Bryan Bishop of The Verge: “Like its title character pulling off a crazy scheme just in the nick of time, Solo is a swashbuckling success, a space adventure that pays homage to the DNA of the original films while carving out its own unique space in the canon. It’s a sheer delight, but it also has the courage to explore the darker aspects of a character who could have all too easily been polished to an inoffensive, family-friendly Disney sheen. Solo represents the most refined iteration yet of the new Disney/Lucasfilm formula — and cements longtime series screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan’s place as the defining voice of the Star Wars universe.”
So, is Solo: A Star Wars Story going to win over audiences when it arrives in theaters? We all know how Han Solo feels about telling him the odds.