Like estimations of how many parsecs it takes to make the Kessel Run, your mileage may vary when it comes to "Solo: A Star Wars Story." Star Wars fanatics stand a better chance of having a good time than those who don't know a wampa from a bantha. It could be said that Solo is fan service in search of a movie, which may explain the artistic-differences rift that led Lucasfilm to get rid of original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("The Lego Movie") and replace them with Ron Howard ("Apollo 13"). After extensive re-shoots, did Howard find a movie? Yes, but it's more rote and dutiful than exhilarating and transporting. This "Star Wars Story" safely fits the brand, but that's the problem: It's deathly afraid of thinking outside of the box. After the more idiosyncratic "Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi" and "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," time to expect the expected.
So, yeah, fans will get what they came for: a swaggering young schemer named Han (Alden Ehrenreich) who makes his name, befriends a Wookiee named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), does the Kessel Run and acquires the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Um, spoilers? There's more, of course, taking Solo on a journey from downtrodden street thief on the "mean streets" of Corellia to uptrodding space smuggler under the mentorship of Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Paul Bettany plays crime lord Dryden Vos, Emilia Clarke plays Solo's female foil and love interest Qi'ra, and Jon Favreau (in voice only) and Thandie Newton play members of Beckett's crew. If you're to believe the buzz, Lando's droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) constitutes the film's breakout character, but in truth, she's just another in the series of sassy, English-speaking droids established by C-3PO and relayed to K-2SO.
"Solo" feels like the movie that, from an artistic perspective, you maybe make 20 years from now, as a fresh take on a classic character starring an actor ideally suited to take the baton for Harrison Ford. But commercially, Disney has decided that now is the right time to slot another "Star Wars" movie and bank more profits. Ehrenreich is just fine, but unlike Chris Pine's engagingly loose take on William Shatner's Captain Kirk, Ehrenreich's performance feels weighted with baggage, scared straight by Ford, three directors and an acting coach. What's left is swagger and a smile but not a whole lot of soul. No doubt that has something to do with the film's patchwork construction, which fails to finesse a compelling emotional throughline for the character.
Without one, "Solo" becomes all about the trappings. Some of those are admittedly pretty nifty, like the science-fiction variations on action norms. An opening air chase plays like something out of "The Fast and the Furious: Corellia Drift," and there's a kinetic train robbery sequence that could be a "Snowpiercer" set piece cut for being too pricey. But Solo actually gets duller as it goes along, marking foregone conclusions. One part cheeky Guy Ritchie-esque gangland thriller, one part human-Wookie buddy picture, and one part fight-the-Imperial power rebel cry, Solo should be more engaging than it turns out to be. Someone should've had the good sense to make a Lando picture instead, and let Glover write it (although a featured role in a soon-to-be-worldwide hit is nothing to sneeze at, let's face it: It's creatively beneath the guy). Still, given its shaky path to the screen, Lucasfilm can be pleased that this one resembles the Millennium Falcon: a bit beat up, perhaps, but it scrapes by in a tight spot.