When I walked out of the theater after watching “Solo: A Star Wars Story” last night, I breathed a quiet sigh of relief. I was originally concerned about this film, considering it had such a bumpy ride to the box office. With behind-the-scenes drama that included fan backlash to casting choices, a director shake-up, and major reshoots, this movie could have easily turned into a cinematic dumpster fire.
Against the odds, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” turns out to be a very enjoyable movie — and it actually feels more like a heist film than an origin story (another positive, in my book). While it’s fair to say I enjoyed the other three Disney Star Wars flicks — “The Force Awakens,” “Rogue One,” and “The Last Jedi” more — don’t let the negative prerelease buzz scare you away. “Solo” is still well worth a trip to the theater.
We meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich) as a scrappy survivor on the streets of Corellia, where he’s hatching a plan to escape to a better life and become a pilot. He wants to take his childhood friend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) with him, but they’re separated when she’s captured and detained. Although he swears he’ll come back to free her, he signs up for the Imperial Navy and becomes, for all intents and purposes, a prisoner as well. Still, Han never stops scheming and hoping, and he eventually joins a group of criminals on a job that could earn him enough money to get back to Corellia. However, things naturally don’t go as well as he plans, and the Qi’ra he returns to may not be the same person he left.
As mentioned before, “Solo” technically qualifies as an origin story but feels like a fun heist adventure. Like “Rogue One,” this movie has a grittier, grimier aesthetic than the main Star Wars saga, and for me, that really works. I felt like I was stepping into the Star Wars criminal underworld, and I enjoyed seeing a new side of that famous galaxy far, far away. There are some really cool action set pieces, including that train heist we caught glimpses of in the trailers, and the Millennium Falcon’s famous “Kessel Run.”
I feared the final film might be a little choppy, due to the behind-the-scenes drama, but it actually flows fairly smoothly. We’ll probably never know what the original “Solo” film was going to be like, before original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired. My gut feeling is that Lucasfilm made the right decision; supposedly, Lord and Miller were trying a lot of improvisation, and it just wasn’t working. “Thor: Ragnarok” also used a lot of improvisation, and it’s actually one of my least favorite Marvel films because of that (even though I still enjoyed watching it). That technique doesn’t work as well in these types of films, at least for me. Ron Howard did a good job salvaging the film (supposedly reshooting about 70 percent of it), and I REALLY hope this movie does well enough to get a sequel. I’d love to see what Howard could do with full creative control over a “Solo” film from the beginning of the process.
There was a lot of skepticism when Alden Ehrenreich was cast as Han Solo, and the fan concern was understandable. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is such an iconic performance, and you just can’t replicate that. However, I hope that skeptical fans are willing to give Ehrenreich a chance. Once you get used to the fact someone besides Ford is playing Han, Ehrenreich does a good job capturing the spirit of Han Solo while also making the role his own. The Han we meet in this film isn’t the same Han we meet in “A New Hope”; here he’s younger, cockier, and a little more idealistic. I can see how this Han becomes the more cynical, jaded Han in the Original Trilogy.
I appreciated how this film emphasized just how important “family” is to Han, even if he doesn’t admit it. Han likes to pretend he’s a tough, “too cool for the room” outlaw, but he’ll risk everything to help the people he cares about. This character trait shines through the whole franchise, from Han going back to help Luke blow up the Death Star to finally facing his son, Kylo Ren, and giving him one last chance to turn back to the light.
As expected, Donald Glover steals every scene he’s in as Lando Calrissian. With a smooth charm and a killer sense of style, Glover’s Lando is just about perfect. It’s great to see Chewbacca get some action scenes, and it’s also fun to see Woody Harrelson in a Star Wars film. I also really liked Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra; I won’t give away any spoilers, but there are some interesting layers to this character that are revealed throughout the film.
This film has a lot of nostalgic fan moments; again, I don’t want to give away all of them, but there’s a fun play on Han’s famous “I love you — I know” moment, and Lando mispronounces “Han,” just as he does in “The Empire Strikes Back.” And fans also get some closure for the “Han shot first” debate.
There are a few of these fan service moments that are a little too over-the-top, such the explanation of how Han got the last name “Solo” (we really didn’t need a backstory for that). And overall the film doesn’t feel as “epic” as Episodes VII and VIII, or “Rogue One.” Still, “Solo” is way better than a film with this much prerelease turmoil had any right to be. We may not have really needed a Han Solo origin film, but now that we have it, I’m really glad it’s part of the Star Wars universe.