Can Solo Work as a Serious Film?

The first trailer for the Star Wars spinoff plays it safe—far from the sillier tone that reportedly got the movie’s original directors fired.

Still from the upcoming Star Wars spinoff movie, 'Solo,' featuring Han Solo and Chewbacca
Disney / Lucasfilm

The first trailer for the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story—a spinoff-slash-prequel focused on the legendary Han Solo (now being played by Alden Ehrenreich)—made me instantly think of another iconic blockbuster hero. There’s the famous scene in Jurassic Park where Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) lectures the park’s creator on the foolishness of cloning dinosaurs: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should,” he proclaims with a sigh. The sentiment applies perfectly to the decision to give viewers a new, young Han Solo while Harrison Ford still walks the planet.  Sure, in the wake of Disney’s blockbuster acquisition of Lucasfilm, the producer Kathleen Kennedy could do whatever she wanted with the Star Wars franchise. But Solo was always going to be a risky proposition.

The project was first made official in July 2015, with the 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller brought aboard to film a script by the father-son team Lawrence and Jon Kasdan. Lord and Miller were fired in June 2017 after reportedly clashing with Kennedy over their humorous approach, which she wanted toned down. From the looks of the trailer that debuted Monday, giving audiences the first look at any kind of footage from the film, she got her wish. Solo is being sold much like the other Star Wars movies that have debuted after Disney’s acquisition: as an epic swashbuckling adventure, with a brooding hero and plenty of expensive-looking set pieces.

Lord and Miller were quickly replaced by Ron Howard, an Oscar-winning Hollywood mainstay. Given his experience with big-budget projects, he was asked to finish the film in time for its scheduled release date, despite the massive upheaval that arises from replacing a movie’s director halfway through shooting. By that yardstick, Howard has succeeded: Solo is definitely a film that will come out Memorial Day weekend. Everything after that is still up in the air.

The trailer plays it safe in every way. Han Solo, we’re told, is a rebellious pilot with an attitude, rejected by the Empire for having a mind of his own, and a dab hand behind the wheel of the spaceship. We get a peek at the ensemble around him, including stars like Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, and Donald Glover, who is playing a young Lando Calrissian. Chewbacca, Han’s favorite co-pilot, is on board as well. There are misty, foreboding shots of Star Destroyers and gun-wielding enemies and exciting chase sequences. It’s all to remind the viewer of one thing: This is a Star Wars movie.

Then there’s Han Solo. Well, little glimpses of him. Mostly of the back of his head, or his hands flicking around a dashboard. Aside from his voice-over narration, we just see him smirking, a millisecond at a time, until the final sequence, where he executes a daring bit of piloting and drops a smart-aleck remark. “I thought we were in trouble there for a second, but it’s fine! We’re fine,” he says. The vibe is right: Han Solo, insisting that everything’s ship-shape as chaos erupts around him. But the performance itself is entirely different.

That’s Ehrenreich’s choice, one that we’ll get the full picture of in May, and I’d say it’s the right one. Doing an impression of Harrison Ford would only serve as a reminder of what’s come before, which would be hard for any actor to live up to. Instead, Ehrenreich seems to be doing his own thing, which is where the rest of the trailer’s tone—very straightforward and dramatic—becomes a problem. This familiar seriousness tells fans to expect a typical Star Wars movie; it doesn’t exactly prime them to be open to departures, which the new Han Solo certainly is.

A film with a more heightened style would have been a better way of introducing viewers to a very different, young Solo. But according to The Hollywood Reporter’s coverage of Lord and Miller’s firing, the biggest clash they had with Kennedy was over their penchant for comedic improvisation. Lawrence Kasdan, who has written three Star Wars movies (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens), apparently also objected to the ad-libbing, insisting his script be delivered as written. “People need to understand that Han Solo is not a comedic personality. He’s sarcastic and selfish,” an on-set source told the Reporter. That’s accurate—Ford’s performance never played up the character’s comedic side that much, though he had his moments. But Lord, Miller, and Ehrenreich may have simply been trying to distinguish their project enough from what came before.

Lord and Miller’s films often rely on self-awareness and sly winks to the audience. The directors have taken on existing media properties and give them new cinematic life this way, and it’s easy to see why Disney initially hired them. In the end, whatever fun the duo was trying to have with Solo flew in the face of the company’s vision for the brand. So far, Kennedy’s Star Wars movies (including Rogue One, which also went through extensive reshoots) have struck a similar, faithful tone, and there’s an argument to be made for that kind of consistency. But given the one-a-year pace at which these movies are being released, it makes sense to occasionally shake things up a little before Star Wars gets stale.

So now, Solo is being sold as a traditional prequel, an origin story for one of the most famous characters in movie history, who just got a grand sendoff in 2015’s The Force Awakens. That might make Ehrenreich’s performance, which looks like it will sharply diverge from Ford’s decades with the character, a harder sell. Without Lord and Miller’s anarchic silliness, which could have at least poked fun at the inherently impossible task of bringing Han back from the dead, Solo looks like it’ll be just another Star Wars movie—only one that’s missing an actor fans know and love.