Star Wars, stop trying to make prequels happen. They’re not going to happen.

You would have thought Episodethrough III would have made Lucasfilm swear off stories about the origins of Star Wars forever. They played with fire with Rogue One — a movie that required the work of at least two directors and four writers, and weeks of reshoots to complete — and barely pulled it off by the skin of their collective teeth. Yet here is Solo: A Star Wars Story, about the adventures of the “young” Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) in the days before A New Hope, revealing such scintillating secrets as how he got his blaster. (Spoiler alert: Someone gave it to him!)

Solo very clearly teases a potential sequel. (A seprequel?) If we get it, maybe it will explain how Ehrenreich, 28, turned into Harrison Ford, 33 at the time of the first Star Wars, a man he looks, sounds, and acts nothing like. No one wants to watch a feature-length Harrison Ford impression, but Ehrenreich feels so disconnected from the original Solo I honestly forgot at times that he was playing the same character. It took someone onscreen yelling “Han!” to remind me that I wasn’t watching Chewbacca’s Nice Friend: A Star Wars Story.

As directed by Ron Howard from a script by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, Solo flattens a complex and mysterious rogue into a bland and simpleminded dude: At his core, he’s just a good guy who loves a girl. That would be Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), an orphan he grew up with on the mean streets of Corellia. Han escaped and Qi’ra didn’t, and so he dedicates himself to finding a way back home to rescue her.

After a tour in the Imperial army and his first meeting with Chewbacca (playing himself), Han lands with a crew of intergalactic thieves: Crafty Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), his feisty partner Val (Thandie Newton), and their four-armed buddy Rio (a special effect voiced by Jon Favreau). Han hopes he can score enough credits to fund his trip back to Corellia, but every twist of the plot takes him further from his goal, until he’s forced to steal hyperfuel for Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the sadistic leader of a crime syndicate known as the Crimson Dawn.

Lucasfilm

Ron Howard made his first film in 1977, the same year the original Star Wars was released in theaters. While George Lucas introduced the world to a galaxy far, far away, Howard was working for exploitation master Roger Corman on something called Grand Theft Auto, about a pair of star-crossed lovers (Howard and Nancy Morgan) who boost a car and go on the run after her parents disapprove of their union. There’s a little of that Ron Howard in Solo’s spunky opening, where Han steals a speeder in order to hop a ship off Corellia with Qi’ra.

The rest of the movie has very little personality, apart from the diffuse, heavily backlit (and sometimes so-dark-it’s-hard-to-follow) cinematography by Bradford Young. Howard came onboard midway through production after the original directors, 21 Jump Street’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller, left the project over creative differences with Lucasfilm. Whatever they shot, however much of their footage remains in the finished film, there’s little of their quirky imprint in Solo except perhaps in the character of the young Lando Calrissian, played by Donald Glover as a swashbuckling dandy more interested in his lavish wardrobe than the Empire’s ongoing conquest of the galaxy.

Glover is hilarious as Lando  and not in nearly enough of the film. Bettany is a seductively charming psychopath as Vos, but his part is also dwarfed by Harrelson’s, who’s mostly going through the motions as Beckett, the guy who taught Han everything he knows about smuggling. Clarke gets to wear some of Star Wars’ most fabulous costumes, and little else. At least Chewbacca shines during the big action set pieces; casting a former basketball player (Joonas Suotamo) to replace 73-year-old Peter Mayhew certainly has its advantages in fight scenes.

Lucasfilm

There are a couple of okay prequels, but by and large they all suffer from the same problem as Solo: They’re too predictable (we know how things will end, and, in large part, who will live and die), the new actors struggle to measure up to the old ones, and the backstory they fill in wasn’t that important in the first place. Discovering how Han met Chewbacca, or why he made the famous Kessel Run, doesn’t make him more interesting. And if the goal here was to really understand how a brash kid from a backwater planet became an amoral smuggler, Solo failed. Han’s evolution in this movie is entirely superficial. He doesn’t become the character we recognize. When you get right down to it, the biggest thing about him that changes is he goes from wearing a vest to a jacket.

Additional Thoughts
-If Lucasfilm really is serious about a Solo sequel, I only want to see it if it’s called Lando: A Star Wars Story.

-I won’t spoil it, but there is one “explanation” of a part of Han Solo’s backstory that is so groan-inducingly dumb it’s arguably worse than anything in any of the George Lucas prequels.

-Between this movie and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a case could be made that Harrison Ford is the most irreplaceable actor in Hollywood history.

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