While watching "Solo: A Star Wars Story," I kept thinking of a 1979 movie called "Butch and Sundance: The Early Years."
"Butch and Sundance: The Early Years" was an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of George Roy Hill's 1969 film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," which not only made a lot of money but came to be looked at as an important contribution to American cinema.
Since the main characters (played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford) died at the end of the first film, "Butch and Sundance: The Early Years" had to be a prequel (hence the title).
It stars two fine actors who were chosen for their rough resemblance to Newman and Redford (William Katt and Tom Berenger, respectively).
After I returned from watching 'Solo," I Googled the late Roger Ebert's review of "Butch and Sundance: The Early Years."
Here's a sizeable excerpt: "How to put it fairly? This is not a necessary film, and that's really its most crucial shortcoming. As an exercise in filmmaking, it is technically fine...(the photography, direction and performances) are all impossible to dislike. The film even has some of the same easygoing charm (as the original).
"But as we listen to the freewheeling dialog, as we watch young (characters) blunder through their first adventures and finesse their later ones, there's a nagging question bouncing about in the backs of our heads: Why are we in this theater at this time? Did we want to know about the early days? Now that we're here, does the movie make us care?
I know I am going to sound like a stick in the mud here, but I am not sure I was aching to see a bunch of Han Solo's offhand remarks from the original trilogy fleshed out as scenes in a prequel.
Do we really need to see Solo make "the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs."? The fact that the comment seemed totally nonsensical to us was part of its charm, wasn't it?
I always assumed it was an empty boast, albeit one I didn't understand. I think I liked it better that way.
My biggest problem with "Solo," however, is the guy who was saddled with the toughest task in it: Alden Ehrenreich.
The challenge of playing a character as indelible in American popular culture as Han Solo is exacerbated here by the added indelibility of the man who originated the role: Harrison Ford.
Ford is hardly the sort of actor who disappears into his roles. Every character he's ever played has had a little Han Solo in him.
So what was Ehrenreich to do? Impersonate Ford?
It was a Sisyphean task and Ehrenreich did his best to perform it.
But he fell short.
I am not saying Ehrenreich is a bad actor. Far from it. He just never found a complete solution to the difficult puzzle with which he was presented.
I couldn't help but think of Chris Pine's miraculous resurrection of Captain Kirk while I watched "Solo."
Mick Lasalle of the San Francisco Chronicle put it better than I could: "...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."
In fact, the actor Ehrenreich most reminded me of is Jack Black.
Call me crazy, but once you see it, you can't unsee it.
Ehrenreich has Black's eyes and eyebrows and Black's way of grinning mischievously.
Don't get me wrong: I LOVE Black. But a svelte Jack Black as Han Solo? There's a skit in there somewhere, but not an earnest entertainment.
As I watched "Solo," I kept having to remind myself: "Oh, yeah. This guy is supposed to be Han Solo."
I enjoyed Donald Glover's performance without fully accepting that he was the Lando Calrissian I had come to know.
I never got sucked into the conceit.
So my experience of watching "Solo" never rose above what I experience when I watch a highly polished fan film.
It seemed like exemplary cosplay to me. Believe me when I write that I very much wanted it to be more.
I loved many of the ancillary characters and several of the action set pieces were exciting.
Some of the Easter eggs were fun and I appreciated all the practical effects.
But I never felt like I was actually inside the "Star Wars" universe.
The fact that a lot of fans are saying online that "Solo" is a truer and purer "Star Wars" movie than "The Last Jedi" flummoxes me.
I can't unpack it.
Do most "Star Wars" fans really want further installments to be bloodless exercises in nostalgia coddling?
And regarding that plot twist at the end of "Solo" - If you really judge the return of a certain character to be more believable than Princess Leia's space flight in "The Last Jedi," then (to paraphrase author John Gray) you are from Mars and I am from Venus.
Or, you are from Tattooine and I am from Endor.
Subscribe to whatzup2nite for a chance to win a pair of passes to:
Leonid & Friends
July 11 • Foellinger Theatre