Solo: A Star Wars Story, 2018.
Directed by Ron Howard.
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jon Favreau, Linda Hunt, Ian Kenny, John Tui, and Warwick Davis.
During an adventure into a dark criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.
We are now 10 movies deep into the Star Wars universe (live-action), 4 into the Disney era and one problem is starting to arise, the same one plaguing the MCU – how can people jump into a movie franchise with so many chapters? (it’s the reason I keep putting off watching so many famous shows). Well, it seems Solo: A Star Wars Story is the answer. This is a movie that functions as the perfect introduction to the series, a fun summer movie that feels like the closest in tone to the original ’77 film.
Let’s get something out of the way first – no, the whole troubled production and the did not affect the final film, and Ron Howard more than delivers with Solo. Really, the fact that the film is written by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, the man responsible for most of Han’s characterization, should be more than enough reason to not doubt this movie.
The plot of Solo: A Star Wars Story does follow the prequels’ style of re-introducing known characters. As Patton Oswalt once put it, you meet your favourite characters, but they are little kids who they are separated from people they love and they get very sad. Alden Ehrenreich stars as the scoundrel who knows that hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster on your side. Before he stopped wanting to hear the odds, he was a scruffy kid on Corellia in love with a girl named Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Shit happens and they get separated, making Han sad. A few years (and some boring scenes) later and everything you could expect from a Han Solo origin story happens: he joins a gang that teaches him the ways of the smuggler, he meets Chewbacca and Lando and pilots the fastest piece of junk in the galaxy.
After the serious themes and incredible visuals of The Last Jedi, it is a bit disappointed to see how uninteresting the look of this film is. Bradford Young tries his best to give Solo a western look with some serious undertones, but instead the film looks murky and uneven. Like someone threw a can of paint over a blank canvas and just hoped something would stick. An early scene on Corellia shows that Rush and Grand Theft Auto director Ron Howard knows how to frame a car chase. The excitement of the floating vehicles, the danger of a bigger foe catching up, the bystanders and pedestrians on the way, yet the chase gets wasted with a heavy blue tint that washes over the entire sequence and obscures both the action and the characters.
Solo: A Star Wars Story does a great job of showing the audience a part of the Star Wars universe we haven’t seen before. While Rogue One hinted at how badly the common folk had it under Empire-rule but focused on the Rebellion side of things, Solo goes ahead and introduces a desolate and dark landscape controlled by The Emperor, where the little guy has lost all hope and the law of the land is dictated by crime syndicates. We have seen the stories about the Rebels, the Jedi, and even the war aspect of Star Wars, but Solo shows us the crime side of this universe, all while still delivering the expected explanation as to why Han is named “Solo”.
The characters that inhabit this crime world do the trick, and for the most part are instantly likeable. Woody Harrelson not only plays Han’s mentor, but he mainly serves as a glimpse into what Han will eventually become, a scoundrel with no hope or loyalty to anyone but himself – and he’s really likeable in the part! His relationship with Thandie Newton’s Val is fascinating, even if the movie doesn’t really explore it that much. Emilia Clarke has surprisingly good chemistry with Ehrenreich, but she doesn’t really seem comfortable in her role, and her character doesn’t exactly fit because of that.
But what about Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover as Han and Lando, respectively? Well, let me tell you – they are great. Ehrenreich nails the portrayal of a younger version of the legendary outlaw, balancing wide-eyed wonder and the growing feeling of mistrust that eventually turns him into Harrison Ford. His portrayal never feels like an imitation of Ford, and there are a few times when the kid is actually unrecognizable in the role. And another thing, the Kasdans made damn clear that Han always shoots first.
Glover, on the other hand, blows it out of the water as Lando. Again, he is not an imitation, but he still shows as much swagger as Billy Dee Williams and exudes so much confidence and charisma he almost floats from place to place wearing those magnificent capes. And the film continues the tradition of having memorable droids that are as good if not better characters than their human counterparts. Phoebe Waller-Bridge steals the show with her self-aware revolutionary droid L3-37 and I can’t wait to read all the tie-in novels and comics!
While Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t the best-looking film in the franchise, it does feel closest to the original Star Wars. Where the new Episodes look like they are heavily influenced by Star Wars itself and other 80s movies, and even the Errol Flynn classics that inspired Lucas, the Kasdans are free to draw influences from some unexpected places – like the spaghetti westerns and heist movies that they grew up with. By focusing on being a one-off story and just delivering a fun summer movie, Solo manages to be a pulpy old school adventure movie that feels as much as a Saturday Morning show as the original film did back in 1977, while giving us the first caper in the franchise. This is pure escapist entertainment that may feel mindless and a bit dumb, but wasn’t that exactly how the original was received before it became a huge phenomenon?
Ultimately, Disney and LucasFilm know damn well what they are doing with the anthology films. While some fanboys grow angrier at what the Episodes are doing to the mythology and the new characters, the spin-offs are just giving them what they seemingly wanted – stories with familiar characters that have as many call-backs as possible while delivering a fun time at the theatre, and I don’t see a problem with that. Solo: A Star Wars Story is easily the most accessible film in the franchise for newcomers, even as it contains a lot of Easter-eggs and an insanely surprising cameo that everyone will be talking about. This is a perfectly fine summer blockbuster than can turn a new generation into Star Wars fans, and how is that a bad thing?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Rafael Motamayor is a journalist and movie geek based in Norway. You can follow him on Twitter.