Everyone’s favorite scoundrel is back, but with a new, younger look! Does Solo pass the Kessel Run, or is it just a hunk of junk? Find out now!
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany
Directed By: Ron Howard
With Lucasfilm and Disney pumping out new Star Wars movies every year, we were bound to get one that wouldn’t be met with a ton of pre-release hype. The early behind the scenes buzz around Solo: A Star Wars story hasn’t been great, with original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller getting the boot and Ron Howard being brought in to help finish the project, so it would be understandable to think that Solo would be the first of the Star Wars “sidequels” to truly bomb in the narrative department. But surprisingly, the end result is still a pretty good time at the movies.
That’s not to say that Solo doesn’t have it’s problems though. For starters, the familiar “over-explaining things that don’t need to be explained” aspect of the prequel trilogy is in full force here. There were plenty of times where I rolled my eyes over learning the true origin of Han’s name, or just how he was able to get a giant Wookiee to be his wingman. The film also makes quite a few narrative leaps in order to get from point A to point B. Whether that’s a fault of the original script or the rushed production to get the film into cinemas remains to be seen, but it’s definitely apparent when you see the finished film that there are some points where you may take a step back and wonder how certain ships and characters are in the right place at the right time. More time in production would’ve easily fixed a lot of these problems, but the Disney train must keep a rollin’, so here we are.
The plot of Solo is actually pretty refreshing in how small-stakes it is. After following a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) on his home planet of Corellia with girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), we’re then whisked up in Han’s adventures as an up and coming smuggler under the tutelage of Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). When Beckett’s crew messes up a heist for crime boss Drydan Voss (Paul Bettany), they need to quickly assemble another crew that can do a make up job, or they’re all dead.
So that’s basically the plot in a nutshell. There’s no giant, galaxy threatening weapon, no mention of the Force, and nary a Lightsaber to be found in the whole thing (well, maybe not), and in a way, that’s kind of refreshing. If this film was about a different character than Han Solo, it would be an entirely new entry in the franchise with new characters. But, Disney, Lucasfilm, and even George Lucas himself, who was in early pre-production on this film even before selling Lucasfilm to Disney, are hell-bent on giving us Han Solo’s backstory, so here we are.
Speaking of Han Solo, let’s talk about Alden Ehrenreich. Stepping into the shoes of Harrison Ford is no easy task, and Ehrenreich wisely doesn’t try to become Ford’s Mini-Me. There are small hints to Ford’s portrayal here and there, but at no point is Ehrenreich trying to do a straight copy of Ford’s performance. He actually grows into the role fairly well as the film progresses. After an awkward few scenes early on where he finds new ways to explain that he’s “a pilot” and “waiting for an opportunity like this”, he finally starts to come into his own after the first botched heist. He’s not going to ever make you forget about Harrison Ford, but at the same time, Ehrenreich’s performance in this movie is a lot better than the trailers let on.
Of course, Han isn’t the only character with a new portrayal, Lando’s got one too. Being played by none other than Donald Glover, Lando Calrissian is just as smooth and suave as ever, and I’d actually say he’s more smooth than he was in the original trilogy. Glover easily steals whatever scenes he’s in, but there were times where I felt a little like he was doing more of a parody of Billy Dee Williams than truly inhabiting the role. His droid L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), is the real standout of the film, with her cracks about getting equal rights for her fellow machines being one of the funniest bits in the film. Unfortunately though, both she and Lando are criminally underused in the film.
Making the jump from Westeros to the galaxy far, far away is Emilia Clarke, who’s Qi’ra isn’t quite the femme fatale that the trailers would have you believe. After having a pretty bleak film debut in Terminator: Gensys, I was a little concerned that Clarke wouldn’t have what it takes to really shine in the movie, but she’s actually pretty fun and is involved in a really entertaining and shocking twist late in the movie that legit had me scream out in the middle of the theater. She’s also more than just a damsel in distress too, with her probably being more resilient as a con artist than Han.
Woody Harrelson is fun as Tobias Beckett, the older smuggler showing Han the ropes. Unfortunately his fun crew of fellow grifters that includes Thandie Newton and a John Favreau voiced alien are barely in the movie. Paul Bettany is kind of wasted in a role that really just needed anyone available to play it. Bettany replaces the original actor Michael K Williams, who was unavailable for the reshoots that Howard needed. It shows, as Bettany doesn’t really give the character the menace required for the role. He’s not quite cashing a paycheck, but he’s also not very invested either.
Much has been made about Ron Howard’s role in the making of this film, and he does have a full director credit when the fanfare starts on the closing credits. According to reports, over 70% of the movie was reshot by Howard, and that’s both a blessing and a curse. As I said earlier, there’s a very rushed feeling to the film, causing some people to probably completely miss major plot points or not catch how certain characters or narrative beats arrive. But at the same time, the action sequences are really, really well done, and have a surprisingly heavy and violent feel to them. In all honesty, this might be the most violent of the new era of Star Wars films, which makes sense, seeing as how this movie heavily features the darker sides of the universe, with criminals, scoundrels, and smugglers being our focus point.
In the end, Disney and Lucasfilm are going to keep pumping out Star Wars content, and while not all of them are going to be something I’m really interested in, I can only hope that they are as watchable as Solo is. Sure, it’s not necessary, but it’s a fun enough diversion and a cool little look into a side of the Star Wars universe that never got a fair shake in the main films. While I doubt we’ll see another movie starring Ehrenreich as Solo, the super amazing SPOILER that happens in this film is something that I hope is followed up on in a future film, so there’s that. Solo, like the Millennium Falcon itself, “may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid”.