"Solo: A Star Wars Story" is part of Disney's plan to release a "Star Wars" film every year for the rest of eternity or until box office receipts dry up. This film is the second entry in Disney's "Star Wars" catalog to feature the moniker "A Star Wars Story", as if audiences would be unsure if "Solo" was actually about Han Solo if there was not a handy subtitle to remind them which Disney property they are viewing. The film caused a stir last year when it came out that the original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("The Lego Movie") had been fired from the project and replaced with Ron Howard ("Apollo 13"), who would subsequently reshoot 80% of the movie. Despite the troubled production, "Solo" manages to avoid being a disaster of "Justice League" proportion, but nonetheless falls short as a fun summer blockbuster.
The story is a prequel, taking place somewhere in the chronology of the "Star Wars Rebels" TV series, which is to say the film's events occur at some point before the original "Star Wars". Han (Alden Ehrenreich), who does not get a surname until a few minutes into the movie, lives a hard life on the industrial planet of Corellia. He and his girlfriend Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) dream of one day making it off of their home planet and starting a new life together. However, in their attempt to escape, the couple is separated and only Han makes it off the planet by hastily enlisting in the imperial army. Three years later, now dubbed Han Solo by the imperials, Han finds himself wrapped up with a gang of thieves who are out scavenging the battlefields. Along the way, he also meets his iconic companion, Chewbacca. What adventures the wookie had in the interim between "Revenge of the Sith" and this film are not mentioned, presumably to save material for the inevitable "Chewbacca: A Star Wars Story".
After a botched train heist (farewell, CGI Jon Favreau, we barely knew ye), Solo and his new criminal comrade Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) must find a way to appease their contractor, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Conveniently for Han, Qi'ra works for Vos, and the two have a tenuously happy reunion. To make amends for their bungled mission, Solo and Beckett offer to steal more of hyperfuel (a glorified space MacGuffin) from the spice mines of planet Kessel. With the help of Qi'ra, Han recruits Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his ship, the Millennium Falcon, to complete the mission and escape from Kessel through the treacherous Kessel Run. Any "Star Wars" fan worth their mettle knows where this is going. The heist is, of course, successful, and Solo makes the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. This is not a spoiler, by the way. Han boasts of this feat in the original "Star Wars". This film decides to show us how that happened. The film continues on for what feels like another forty-five minutes past this climactic chase sequence, with all manner of double-crossings going on as Han and the crew try to give the hyperfuel to Vos. This being a Disney franchise film, the door is obviously left open for future sequels, or even worse, in-universe crossovers à la the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Like the widely reviled prequels before it, "Solo: A Star Wars Story" falls prey to the constant desire to retroactively explain things about the original "Star Wars" trilogy. We as an audience do not really need to know how Han got his blaster, nor do we need to know how Chewbacca learned to play holographic chess, but "Solo" is going to tell us anyways. Constantly connecting things and events from the original trilogy only serves to make the universe feel smaller and more cramped.
The performances and characters of "Solo" do not fare any better. Alden Ehrenreich comes off like a second-rate Chris Pratt, but the script does him no favors. In the original trilogy, Han Solo was roguish and perhaps a bit brusque. "Solo" makes him too much a jackass to ever care about him as a character. Donald Glover's performance as Lando Calrissian is serviceable, but he is somehow outshined by his snarky robot copilot, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Strangely, the two non-human members of the supporting cast, Chewbacca and L3-37, are the only two characters who breathe any spark of life (and fun) into the film.
"Solo" brings nothing new to the "Star Wars" universe, and it frequently feels like a placeholder film meant to tide over fans until "Star Wars Episode IX" comes out next year. I have no idea if Lord and Miller's take on Han Solo would have been any better than what Ron Howard delivered, but the final product is just not compelling. It drags for a majority of its runtime and is dead on arrival whenever an action sequence rolls around. Disney is well on its way to making yearly "Star Wars" films something to dread instead of something to anticipate.