The second of Lucasfilm's Star Wars spin off films under Disney's tenure, Solo: A Star Wars Story returns us to an earlier point in the galaxy far far away to give us the origin story of Han Solo, one of the franchise's first and most beloved characters. Like Rogue One before it, Solo had a lot riding on it, with an even more turbulent ride to the big screen. With so many public behind the scene shake-ups (including losing it's original directors in Phil Lord and Chris Miller), many doubted Solo would be able to overcome all the challenges facing it. Against all odds, Solo: A Star Wars Story delivers on all the fun and charm you’d want from everyone’s favorite scoundrel, even if it’s a bumpy and uneven ride.
From the beginning, the biggest question on almost everyone's mind was can Han Solo exist on the big screen without Harrison Ford? We're happy to report that Alden Ehrenreich exceeds expectations and makes the character of Han Solo his own, playing Han with an energetic and naive charm that will no doubt win over even the biggest detractors. No Ford impersonations here.
The camaraderie he develops with Chewbacca is arguably the biggest emotional draw in the film. Considering this is Joonas Suotamo's third go as Chewbacca, it should come as no surprise that he seems more comfortable here as the big fuzzball than ever before. Joonas has mastered the smallest of Chewbacca's physical quirks and gestures, completely owning the character by this point.
Similarly, Donald Glover steals every scene he's in as Lando Calrissian, playing Lando as smooth and cool as ever, but with a more youthful and adventurous edge to him. The flirtatious back and forth between him and his droid co-pilot L3, as played wonderfully by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is an especially great highlight in the film.
While the legacy characters have nothing to worry about, the same can't be said for the new ones. Emilia Clarke's Qi'ra has the most development out of the new batch, but not enough time is given to delve into her hinted at dark past to be truly compelling. On the other hand, she arguably has one of the biggest moments in the film, one that will (for better or for worse) keep fans talking for a long time.
Woody Harrelson does a decent job as Han's mentor Tobias Beckett, but isn't allowed to take the character into any unexpected places you wouldn't expect. The same applies to Thandie Newton's Val and Jon Favreau's Rio. They're all personalities serving the larger narrative rather than complete characters, albeit likable personalities. Main antagonists Dryden Vos falls under the same umbrella, but Paul Bettany manages to bring a menace laced charm to the character whenever he is one screen.
On the story side of things, Solo stumbles through a very clunky first act. We're taken on a breakneck and fan service filled journey of Han's earlier years that establishes his skills and greater ambition. Ehrenreich inhabits this version of Han well, but he also gets stuck here. There is no complex arc for him to complete, essentially starting and ending the film in a similar mindset.
While there are greater themes of trust and belonging in play during Han's journey, they're never allowed to fully take off. Character defining moments end up feeling more like a list of expected events, all quickly being checked off to get past them. It's a far cry from his compelling "smuggler to Rebel hero" arc he went through in the original Star Wars. But Solo does eventually find it's groove after it gets past the bulk of these moments. Once all the characters are where they need to be for the main action to begin, the film never lets up.
From a nail biting train heist straight out of a western, to the now legendary Kessel Run, Solo features some truly great action set pieces, all punctuated by John Powell's thrilling score and replacement director Ron Howard's unique take on the world. It's here where Solo is really allowed to shine. We're taken on a much grimier and grounded tour of the galaxy, one that's far removed (but not forgotten) from the larger Empire and Rebellion stories that dominate the movie narratives. We're introduced to concepts (and in some cases, characters) only before explored in Star Wars outside the films, so devoted fans of the extended Star Wars universe will have PLENTY to look forward to because of this.
Solo: A Star Wars Story ultimately gives us the fun and nostalgic heist story many wanted from it, overcoming it's chaotic production history and wonky script issues. It's not a story that necessarily needed to be told, but a welcome one nonetheless thanks to the great performances from the cast and Ron Howard's steady and unique directing style. Hardcore and casual fans alike will feel right at home.
Stay tuned to Fans of the Force Podcast, as we're barely starting our Solo: A Star Wars Story discussions!