Here is what film critics are saying about "Solo: A Star Wars Story"

"It’s the very definition of 'solid' and 'competent.' Nothing more, nothing less," one critic writes in his review

By Joseph Neese

Deputy Editor in Chief

Published May 16, 2018 4:41PM (EDT)

Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca and Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo as "Solo: A Star Wars Story" (Disney/Lusas Films)
Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca and Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo as "Solo: A Star Wars Story" (Disney/Lusas Films)

Before filming even wrapped, the latest entry into the beloved "Star Wars" canon was making headlines – and not necessarily ones that Lucasfilm had hoped to attract. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Rob Marshall was asked to take the reigns of "Solo" away from Phil Lord and Chris Miller. The duo, who had achieved success with hits like "21 Jump Street" and "The Lego Movie," had already filmed three-quarters of the Han Solo origin story before they were dismissed, according to Variety. But their unique interpretation of the film's script, which reportedly included added comedy and improvisation, seemingly sparked irreconcilable creative differences with executive producers Lawrence Kasdan and Kathleen Kennedy.

Was the blockbuster doomed from the start? Early reviews of "Solo: A Star Wars Story," which debuted Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival, are in and the results skew from mixed to good – but not great. The film currently enjoys a score of 72 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, which encourages fans to "check their expectations at the theater door." While Howard was able to stick the proverbial landing, according to critics, a rocky takeoff and inconsistencies in steering from the film's three pilots remain visible to the viewer.

"Solo" seems to be a far cry from the game-changer many had anticipated with the hiring of its original – and less conventional — choice of directors. This sentiment was well captured by Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty, who writes, "'Solo' feels like a placeholder, a wafer-thin palate cleanser before the next big course. It’s the very definition of 'solid and 'competent.' Nothing more, nothing less."

There are also varying schools of thought as to whether the film's title star, Alden Ehrenreich, who undoubtedly had over-sized shoes to fill when stepping into one of cinema's most iconic roles created by Harrison Ford, was miscast. The consensus seems to be that, once you move past the fact that Ehrenreich is not Ford, you are likely think he is "apt" — if not a star in his own right.

That being said, the title role ironically may not be the juiciest part in this "Star Wars" film. Vanity Fair's K. Austin Collins calls the character "the least interesting guy in the room," while The New York Times' A.O. Scott begins his review by quoting a line spoken to Solo in the film: "This was never about you." That being said, there seems to be a consensus that Donald Glover steals Solo's spotlight in the standout role of Lando Calrissian.

Here is a sampling of what the critics had to say:

Andrew Barker, Variety:

Say what you will about Lucasfilm’s itchy trigger finger under Kathleen Kennedy, but the team certainly has the good sense to keep their cash cows from roaming off the pasture.

And yet, maybe they could stand to be a bit more willing to fail. With Lucasfilm and Disney dead-set on monopolizing multiplexes for the rest of our natural lives, these “Star Wars Story” offshoots ought to give them ample room to let down their hair a bit and play in George Lucas’ expansive sandbox, leaving the narrative heavy lifting to the series’ numbered installments.

Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press:

The early scenes are incredibly dark, literally. Shot by cinematographer Bradford Young, it’s an interesting aesthetic choice, likely meant to lend a vintage vibe, but also distracting as though you’re watching a worn VHS copy of “Episode IV,” where faces are only clear in extreme close-up and even then it’s still through a thick layer of fog and gauze (it clears up eventually).

Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times:

Ehrenreich isn't given much to work with here, but his sly comic reserve and devil-may-care attitude give you reasons to keep watching, well after the story has stopped doing anything of the sort. His performance sharply rebukes the rumors that swarmed the internet a few months earlier, suggesting the actor himself was chiefly responsible for the production's many woes. Ehrenreich hasn't failed "Solo: A Star Wars Story." The truth, I daresay, is exactly the opposite.

K. Austin Collins, Vanity Fair:

The bad news is that Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t do much of a Ford impression; the older actor’s no-bullshit charisma is too singular to imitate, really, which is one of the reasons he’s a bona fide movie star. The good news, though, is that Ehrenreich manages something more apt. After all, this isn’t a movie about the fully formed, breezy, macho-lite hero we all already love—it’s a movie about a guy who hasn’t totally come into himself.

Kate Erbland, Indiewire:

And yet one of the greatest pleasures of the film is how it digs into the slow evolution of Han’s lifelong taste for rebellion, one that will eventually lead him to become part of a collective resistance. For now, he’s a lone gun, but “Solo” ably lays out how and why that might change. We may know where he ends up, but for now, we can’t wait to see where he goes next.

Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly:

Speaking of Glover, it’s no spoiler to say that the Atlanta star is easily the best thing in this good-not-great movie. More than any big action set piece or narrative double cross (and there are plenty of them thanks to a smooth crime boss played by Paul Bettany), it’s Glover’s mack-daddy, Colt 45 swagger as the rakish gambler formerly played by Billy Dee Williams that will be the thing you’ll be buzzing about after the lights come up (well, that and how much you’d rather see his standalone origin story).

Mick LaSelle, San Francisco Chronicle

It has humor, but compared to a movie like “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” not much. Some of the action scenes go on too long and aren’t especially gripping. And although Alden Ehrenreich is appealing in his own right, there’s none of that flash of recognition we got when we first saw Chris Pine as Captain Kirk and thought, “Oh, yeah, that’s the guy.” Ehrenreich doesn’t really seem like Harrison Ford.

Brian Lowry, CNN:

As "Rogue One" demonstrated, there's a rich vein of material in "Star Wars" prequels, just waiting to be mined. "Solo: A Star Wars Story" will surely make off with plenty of that loot, even if the movie requires considerable time to take flight, recovering from a messy, flat opening half before rallying and picking up speed down the stretch.

Part of that might have to do with behind-the-scenes drama spilling onto the screen . . . The movie's first half is excessively dark -- both in terms of its actual dreary look and the story, as the young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) escapes an impoverished upbringing on his native Corellia and takes off to pursue his dreams of becoming a pilot.

Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter

Although Howard dependably steered the production back on tonal course after the original directors reportedly took it in a different, less traditional direction, the realignment has ultimately resulted in something that feels a bit too comfortably familiar.

This time around, that galaxy far, far, away doesn’t seem quite so out of this world.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

But only a glimmer of the hardassed charmer that Harrison Ford immortalized finds its way into this episode. Howard and the Kasdans 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 Warshellion famous for breaking all the rules – finds himself in a feel-good movie that doesn't break any.

Brian Truitt, USA Today:

Solo 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.

A.O. Scott, New York Times:

Unlike “Solo,” which 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. Some fans may blame Mr. Howard for this, and fantasize about what might have been if Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, the “Lego Movie” auteurs originally hired to direct, had been allowed to see the project through. But this galaxy has always been a rule-bound place, and too much divergence from franchise traditions would probably have stirred up its own kind of fan outrage.

By Joseph Neese

Joseph Neese is Salon's Deputy Editor in Chief. You can follow him on Twitter: @josephneese.

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