One of the themes of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest instalment in that grand tradition (which I love, to be clear), involves predictability. Given this film’s whole reason for being—the origin story of Han Solo—it’s a bold choice. The last thing we should have on our minds here is foresight. Nevertheless, as salvaged by director Ron Howard (after Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired), and written by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, the space derring-do on offer is not without appeal. The film does indeed do as promised; but it’d take a real whopper of a tale to make us forget everything that comes afterwards—and, frankly, Solo is not quite that.
Of course, one of the other elements of Solo is just how dang hard Han (played here by Alden Ehrenreich) is trying to become the free-wheeling bandit of his mind—he’s brash! he’s cocky! he’s sporadically effective! Much like his film, Han (and Ehrenreich, bless him) spends most of his time trying to be convincing. After escaping his home planet Corellia, splitting from his sweetheart Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, at home), Han meets a band of rogues led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and we eventually get The Plot. What follows is a series of set-pieces, invoking heist films and westerns in equal measure, in which everyone looks like they’re having fun (especially Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian). In that process—and with some abrupt transitions—the full Solo story plays out: how he meets Chewbacca, how he gets the Millennium Falcon, even how he learns to shoot first. These are not spoilers because why else would you be watching this movie?
By the time the double crosses of the film’s third act play out, it’s hard not to think of where Lord and Miller may have taken this material. It’s unfair to critique a film for the things it is not (and apparently the script didn’t change much through production), but when what it is is exactly what you expect, why not speculate. Lord and Miller were likely taken off the project because they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) do the job as intended—in other words, they didn’t follow orders (hey, like Han!). It’s ironic then that we end up with Howard’s version instead: professionally made, fun in spurts, dutiful in its efforts. That last part isn’t quite the same as predictable—but, eh, close enough.