WHAT’S THE DEAL: Behold, the origin story of Han Solo — legendary smuggler, mirthless mercenary, and lovably scruffy-looking scoundrel of the STAR WARS saga! Charting Solo’s (Alden Ehrenreich) first introductions to fan-fave characters Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), the film’s plot follows the young Corellian’s journey into the criminal underworld under mentor Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), aiming to become a pilot to make enough dough to return to his home planet and rescue Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), the woman he loves.
WHY SEE IT: If you’ve been waiting decades for the ultimate Han and Chewie buddy flick — minus all that “hokey religions and ancient weapons” Jedi stuff — this may finally be it. A fast-paced action thriller with plenty of laughs and rewarding STAR WARS tropes, SOLO exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations despite a sorely missed Harrison Ford’s involvement (it would have been nice to bookend the story with Ford’s presence/validation onscreen, but I understand why they didn’t want to undercut their casting choice with that distraction). Many fans of the franchise have voiced strong opinions against the concept of replacing Ford with another actor to tell his origin story. The embattled film also very publicly changed directors midstream. But here it is, for what it’s worth. And what we get is a rollicking film made with a clear vision. It’s a heist film, a love story, a coming-of-age flick, a mentor-protégé study — and a blast.
Having picked up the reins from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (whose creative vision did not line up with Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy’s expectations), director Ron Howard delivers a busy, crackling Sci-Fi experience with feeling, fueled by an engaging script by veteran STAR WARS scribe Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan Kasdan. Packed with new STAR WARS creatures, hardware, vehicles, and fashions, the film’s look and production design is decidedly dark and lived-in, coinciding with Han’s street-rat upbringing amid the gritty criminal underbelly of the iron-fisted Imperial regime. As Solo quickly moves up the ranks to get closer to his motivating goals, Howard makes sure to take significant pauses for emotion and nostalgia. Lingering on the moments that count, we get to bask in the crucial milestones, such as when Han receives his signature blaster, befriends Chewbacca in an unlikely scenario, and first climbs into the cockpit of the shiny new Millennium Falcon. Howard understands the spirit of Solo and of STAR WARS, and for that we finally get another STAR WARS movie that is much more concerned with fun and adventure and less distracted by mythology. It was worth the wait.
THE FLICK FLACK: Appreciation of this movie is largely dependent on your attitude walking into the theater. Do you want to watch an entertaining STAR WARS movie? Or are you looking to disparage this latest product from the Disney franchise factory because you think that yet another STAR WARS movie will muddy up the waters of your fond childhood memories? Sounds a bit harsh, but that is a collective groan that can be heard loudly and daily on the Internet. Compared to Lucasfilm’s last item to roll off the assembly line, THE LAST JEDI, SOLO is a marked improvement in terms of the saga’s overall story logic and trajectory. Walking out of the theater this time around I was much more pleased with the outcome, as opposed to when I was befuddled and frustrated after witnessing THE LAST JEDI. The Kasdans have crafted a solid, interesting, and action-packed tale that shows love for its characters and a desire to creatively reveal the pivotal moments that define these heroes, as opposed to throwing a wrench into the proceedings and story logic just for the sake of unpredictability.
The most important question here is how is Ehrenreich as Han Solo? The answer is he’s good. He’s capable. His performance is solid. But I don’t think he has enough of the overflowing movie-star charisma that Ford possesses as Solo. That’s not meant to be a dig, but you cannot deny that it is a key component for this whole project to really knock it out of the park. Did anyone really think another actor could pull off such a feat? Like Chris Pine stepping into the boots of William Shatner’s James T. Kirk in STAR TREK, Ehrenreich starts out as a good avatar for the real thing, but shaded comparisons are inevitable. Still, you get used to Ehrenreich soon enough as Solo once you get caught up in the story. Same goes for Glover as Calrissian. You just have to go with it.
This is a film that could be fan-nitpicked to death if we really wanted to: Do we really need yet another Cantina-inspired scene? Is the Empire starting to feel like a caricature? Despite her sassy personality (and having some of the best lines of the movie), is Lando’s droid co-pilot L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) too much like K-2SO from ROGUE ONE? Are the John Williams music cues a bit too obvious? Perhaps we could have done with one less double-cross at the end? This is a movie ripe for dissection if you really want to go down that path. But it’s not bad. Crimes have arguably not been committed here. It’s a fun escape, pure and simple. Just make sure to check your blaster — and cynicism — at the door.
NOTABLE NOTES: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is the second STAR WARS anthology spinoff tale to hit theaters after ROGUE ONE and in between THE LAST JEDI and the yet-to-be-titled STAR WARS: EPISODE IX. While we have yet to get a film adaptation of Brian Daley’s HAN SOLO AT STAR’S END or HAN SOLO’S REVENGE, two books I hungrily read in 1979 while waiting for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK to hit theaters (no, I’m not really holding my breath for that to happen), this origin story has plenty of street cred in that it was pitched by George Lucas to Disney after the purchase of Lucasfilm as one of the first standalone STAR WARS stories, and the script comes from the mind of the man who wrote the screenplays for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI.
Lawrence Kasdan understands who Han Solo is from the inside out, and says, “It’s a story about someone being forged in the crucible of life—in danger, in violence and in love. It’s about how a person is formed.” He adds of the title character, “He’s unpredictable. He’s reckless. He’s not brilliant. He’ll say things that he can’t back up. He’ll leap in when he should stay back. There’s nothing more attractive to me than a screw-up who’s actually got a good heart but hides it as best he can.” I wholeheartedly agree, and by that standard Alden Ehrenreich pulls off a perfectly fine performance as Solo.
Also, look in the lair of the villainous Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) for a fun Easter Egg nod to Kasdan’s RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK screenplay. It’s not too hard to find!
MORE INFO: starwars.com/films/solo
Then read more of my Famous Monsters-related pieces, ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews, see cool vintage movie lobby cards, and much more!