“I have a bad feeling about this”. That’s what crossed many Star Wars fans’ minds, myself included, when Solo: A Star Wars Story was first announced. After a shaky production, which saw original directors Lord and Miller get the boot and replaced by Hollywood old guard Ron Howard, Solo: A Star Wars Story is finally here. Set prior to the events of A New Hope and Rogue One, Solo follows a much younger Han Solo in his early smuggling years. Played this time by Alden Ehrenreich, the film has a lot to prove as many fans have been vocal about not wanting to see Han Solo’s early years and after the mixed reception to The Last Jedi which divided the fan base, Solo needed to be a hit. So how is it?
As it turns out, pretty good! The plot follows Han Solo years before meeting Luke and Old Ben in the Cantina and sees him going from a scrapper on the street to an Imperial soldier, (much like his old Expanded Universe backstory), to becoming a member of a smuggler crew. The leader of that crew, Woody Harrelson’s Tobias Beckett owes a lot of money to a gangster and needs to pull off a daring heist to wipe his slate clean. Han ends up partaking in this caper with his new buddy Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), his childhood friend Qi’ra (Emila Clarke) and the smoothest man in the galaxy, Lando Calrissian played by here by Donald Glover. Rounding out the cast are Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the fiercely independent droid L3-37 and Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos, the gangster Beckett owes.
The film does have shining attributes. Let’s get the obvious one out of the way: yes, Donald Glover does an amazing job as Lando. He not only captures original actor Billy Dee William’s swagger and pitch, but more importantly finds a way to make the character his own. He steals the scene every time he’s on camera, which ends up taking some of the limelight of Han himself. Alden Ehrenreich is much better than I think we all thought he’d be and ends up capturing that sarcastic, arrogant nature that the character is known for. He never reaches Harrison Ford levels here-but no one ever could to begin with. It takes a little while to get used to someone else playing Han, but once you get past it Ehrenreich does a pretty decent job.
Another bright spot is Chewie himself. While the film is named after Han Solo, Chewbacca ends up having the most interesting moments in the film and is ultimately the emotional anchor of the plot. His interactions with Han are why you end up being invested in this movie. He’s funny, charming, heartwarming and dangerous as hell! Holy, the action scenes with Chewie-you’ll never look at him the same way again. Emilia Clarke is serviceable as Qi’ra, Han’s old flame while Harrelson does a solid take at playing Han’s mentor.
The set design and costumes are flat out the best in a Star Wars film. The worlds feel lived in, dirty and real. Never once does a place or character feel out of place or fake. In fact, it felt like you could go to these places. That’s quite often been the case in Star Wars, but this was a whole new level. The practical effects and sets really elevated this movie. The score is also a treat and John Powell does a far better job at capturing that Star Wars magic than Michael Giacchino did with Rogue One.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of the film though comes from the fact that this plot has nothing to do with the good guys facing the bad guys and stopping their armies and planet destroying weapons. The Empire is in this movie, but more as background noise to set the tone and establish the timeline. This is a much smaller story, with much smaller stakes and that’s probably the best thing about this movie. It proves that Star Wars and Lucasfilm can tell these smaller character stories without getting bogged down by the primary narrative of the saga films and Rogue One, which ties directly into A New Hope. More of this please!
The film isn’t without some faults though. As previously mentioned, the film is very safe. Han doesn’t get much in the way of character growth and many moments are on the nose fan service bits, which show how Han got this or got that. While Ron Howard does a great job directing, many of the film’s faults can be attributed to the script, which was done by Star Wars vet Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jon. Lawrence has co-penned The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens and the Indiana Jones films so it’s surprising to see that the film’s biggest faults come from the script’s side of things. It doesn’t bring the movie down, but neither does it elevate it. There’s also some pacing issues, mainly at the beginning and near the finale, but it’s never enough to detract from the film. What might annoy some fans is some of the backstory information we learn about Han, as it may not align with previous information we once knew about him. Lastly, I found the character of L3-37 to just be…annoying. It’s never prequel level or anything, but the droid character did stick out a bit.
Overall, Solo is much better than I thought it would be and a fun caper in it’s own right. It doesn’t revolutionize the franchise and doesn’t really add anything to Han as a character, reinforcing the question of the urgency of needing this movie in the first place. But once you get past that, it ends up being a fun film, full of great action, great characters and amazing visuals. The film leaves a few threads hanging, including one surprise cameo, so don’t be surprised if Solo returns to the big screen in the near future.
What did you think of Solo? Do you plan on seeing it or are you starting to get Star Wars fatigue? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to check up on our Han and Lando reading list and why the Halloween reshoots are nothing to fear.