Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson
Released May 25th, 2018
Han Solo arrives as such a complete character in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope that I was never curious about his past. He’s introduced in that film as a smug smuggler and that was good enough for me. The prospect of a film detailing how a younger Han met his Wookiee co-pilot/Life Partner Chewbacca, his frenemy Lando Calrissian, and how he came about owning his signature blaster and famous spaceship the Millennium Falcon didn’t interest me in the slightest. So it’s a huge credit to director Ron Howard and father/son screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan that they managed to craft such a fun, engaging, thrilling movie out story threads that could have been so boring.
Ron Howard ended up reshooting a reported 80% of the movie after directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were removed from the project by LucasFilm, who were concerned it was becoming too much of a comedy (Lord and Miller are credited as Executive Producers). The final product doesn’t feel as disjointed as you might fear. Howard said he approached this project as if it was a biopic of a real person and it shows. In what amounts to his strongest effort in years, Howard does an exemplary job shepherding the smaller scenes and big action scenes equally, always driving the narrative forward with great pacing. I especially enjoy how he places the camera right next to the characters during action scenes, resulting in a you-are-there feeling that is different than most Star Wars films.
Camera placement is just one of the many ways Solo: A Star Wars Story separates itself from other Star Wars films. This is the first film set in a galaxy far, far away that doesn’t have an epic scope. Nobody is trying to save the universe. This is a tale of low-level criminals double and triple-crossing each other. There is no talk of The Force and no Jedi to be found, only scoundrels, cheats, and liars, all desperate to better their situations by any means necessary. Bradford Young’s cinematography presents a more lived-in and grimy universe than either Rogue One or A New Hope, bringing out the muted hues of a galaxy in turmoil. John Powell’s rousing score brings the right amount of bombast, even incorporating a few classic John Williams cues mixed in at appropriate moments.
A talented pilot in his early twenties, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is a runaway scum rat who dreams of traveling the galaxy with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Orphans Han and Qi’ra are indentured servants of Lady Proxima (Linda Hunt), from whom they desperately want to break away so they can get off of their home planet of Corellia. I enjoyed Emilia Clarke in this movie a great deal, as Qi’ra is much more than just the love interest. I hope we see more of this character’s story in future films or books or animated shows or what have you. More Qi’ra please.
I’ve seen people on the internet point out that Alden Ehrenreich is not Harrison Ford. You’re right, internet! Great job, you figured it out. He is an altogether different actor playing a younger version of the character we know. Alden wisely makes the decision not to imitate Ford, bringing his own sensibilities to the character, resulting in a performance that presents a young Han growing into the Solo we know. Donald Glover, on the other hand, is doing an impression of a young Billy Dee Williams, and yet it totally works. Glover oozes charisma as he masterfully slides into Williams’ vocal cadence and mannerisms, embodying the character for a new generation.
Everyone’s favorite Wookiee Chewbacca is a big part of this story and Joonas Suotamo brings plenty of emotion and humor to the part just as Peter Mayhew always did in the classic films. As Han’s mentor Tobias Beckett, Woody Harrelson fits into the Star Wars universe much better than I thought he would, but Thandie Newton’s character Val doesn’t add up to much and I was underwhelmed with her performance.
The standout in the supporting cast may be L3-37, a self-made robot performed and voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The droid’s advocacy for her fellow mechanicals is a surprising and hilarious breath of fresh air, and her relationship with Calrissian is deeply felt and well-realized. Given her outspoken, revolutionary nature, L3’s fate is somewhat controversial, but I have an idea on how this may work out in future films to great effect. I won’t say more so as not to spoil anything. Speaking of spoilers, there is a huge cameo from an iconic character at the end of the film that caused some in the audience to gasp in shock and others to scratch their heads in confusion. If you’ve been keeping with the Star Wars universe via the animated Clone Wars and Rebels series, this cameo will make sense to you, but if not, you may have to ask one of your nerdier pals to explain.
Full disclosure: I’ve never been a big fan of Han Solo. Growing up I was more of a Luke Skywalker guy. A whiny kid who learns to control his emotions and becomes a zen monk was more my style than a roguish dreamboat scoundrel. What’s surprising about Solo: A Star Wars Story is how much this film informs Han’s actions in everything from A New Hope to The Force Awakens, taking a character who could have been an example of toxic masculinity and presenting him as a young man with a good heart who pretends to be an outlaw to save his skin. Having Han’s swagger be a cover for his vulnerability made me appreciate the character in a way I hadn’t before.
The comedic tone may not resonate with fans looking for a more serious film and as is the case with a lot of prequels, some of the dialogue is too on the nose, but I enjoy how intimate Solo feels compared to the other movies in the saga. If we are going to have a Star Wars film every year, then I am ready for the films to feel different, to tackle smaller, more character-driven tales, and that is exactly what makes Solo: A Star Wars Story a worthy entry into the Star Wars canon.