FOR MORE than a year, the kind of questions that trail most any next Star Wars film had escalated into full-scale worries when it came to the Han Solo origin story.
Who would direct? Who would direct after the first directing team was fired? Who would dare try to fill Harrison Ford’s shoes in somewhat younger form? And just as challenging, who would have the panache to try to fill Billy Dee Williams’s cape as Lando Calrissian?
Well, good news. With the first wave of reviews for “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (opening May 25) having just docked, here are some answers and assurances concerning some of the spinoff movie’s most pressing questions:
1. Did “Solo” avert the type of cinematic disaster that some social-media doomsayers had predicted?
Fear not: Lucasfilm’s cinematic universe is safe, according to early critical consensus.
“Solo” has an average score of 66 on Metacritic.com, and a 72 percent certified “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. For comparison’s sake, the franchise’s most recent spinoff film, 2016’s “Rogue One,” scored a 65 on Metacritic and 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
So “Solo” is safely skirting embarrassment and looking viable enough to spawn sequels.
Some top reviewers, though, are finding the new release underwhelming. Writes The Washington Post‘s Ann Hornaday: ” ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ gets the job done with little fuss, but also with precious little finesse. It might arguably succeed in teeing up the cinematic narrative that would change movies forever. But in both substance and execution, it bears but a whisper of the revolution to come.”
And Slate, in its pan of “Solo,” says it “isn’t a stand-alone film so much as a corporate directive made flesh, a quarterly earnings report in a vest and black leather boots.”
2. Did Ron Howard “save” the film — or did he steer too “safe”?
Star Wars films have had a couple of white-knuckle landings since Disney bought Lucasfilm and rebooted George Lucas’s universe. Yet the late-stage firing of Chris Miller and Phil Lord (“Lego Movie”) by Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy over “creative differences” — leading to the swift hiring of Howard — sparked a bonfire of concerns that unceasingly burned among many fans, with the heat only increasing when it was reported that Howard was reshooting the majority of “Solo’s” scenes. (Miller and Lord retain executive producer credits.)
Now, most reviewers agree that Howard delivered a movie that has all the hallmarks of his methodical professionalism. “Solo” doesn’t hit the stratosphere, functioning as a diverting, high-action heist movie in space. (Writing credits go to Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan and son Jonathan Kasdan.)
The New York Times doesn’t pile on “Solo” for lacking cheeky irreverence (a Miller/Lord staple) and for playing it safe — as the movie “ambles from one set piece to the next in a spirit of genial in-betweenness”:
“Some fans may blame Mr. Howard for this, and fantasize about what might have been if Christopher Miller and Phil Lord . . . 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.”
But The Post’s Hornaday writes: “It’s Howard’s more workmanlike, less antic sensibility that infuses ‘Solo’ and, in many cases, drags it down, with the few remaining traces of quippy, flippant humor either falling flat or sounding hopelessly derivative.”
3. Does Alden Ehrenreich sufficiently fill Harrison Ford’s boots as a young Han?
Ehrenreich drew a tough assignment here. He doesn’t look much like a young Ford, and doesn’t readily summon (or try to impersonate) Ford’s brand of signature swagger. But many reviewers believe Ehrenreich — so promising in “Hail, Caesar!” — acquits himself well in “Solo.”
“It’s difficult to adjust at the beginning” writes the Associated Press of watching Ehrenreich. “You can’t help but scrutinize every gesture, every smirk, every aside as you try to get used to him. Eventually you do, and the talented Ehrenreich wins you over with his execution, capturing Han’s spirit, his sarcasm, egotism and charm with apparent ease.”
The Hollywood Reporter calls Ehrenreich’s performance “an irresistibly charismatic title turn.”
And the Los Angeles Times praises Ehrenreich to the point of hailing him as a more versatile actor than Ford “in every way” — and says that he’s even better than the film. Write the Times: “This Han Solo may not scan as an exact younger replica of the character who has taken root in collective pop-cultural imagination, but there’s more to good acting than fitting a physical type. If I may risk sacrilege for the sake of accuracy . . . 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.”
4. Does Donald Glover live up to the promising buzz as Lando Calrissian?
The Post’s Hornaday calls Glover “perfectly cast” as Lando. And Entertainment Weekly calls him “easily the best thing in this good-not-great movie,” writing that “more than any big action set piece or narrative double cross . . . 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.”