A scruffy nerf herder in a “galaxy far, far, away…” Solo: A Star Wars Story, a movie that has no reason to exist, is a fun lovable escapade that gives us a new introduction to the most famous non-Skywalker in the galaxy.
The film opens as Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), Han’s love interest, attempt to escape from a smuggling ring on their home planet of Corellia. The initial 20- minute portion is weak, as the film needlessly flings us into a budding love affair: an affair we have little background and connection to. The introduction makes for a confusing salvo, one that the film almost never recovers from.
Nevertheless, it’s after Han’s escape that he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a black market smuggler. Beckett serves as a strong study for Han, as he’s Han before Han. Throughout the film, Solo is, surprisingly, a beacon of hope. He’s a “good guy.” Closer to Luke in blind belief than himself. Whereas Beckett is cynical, always searching for the better deal to come around. Han steals everything from Beckett: from his gun twirl, to his ability to read the situation, to, and as we come to find in later movies, his guarded survivalist instincts. Much in the same way as the later Ford incarnation of Han, there’s something attractive, redeemable, even admirable about Beckett.
It’s in Han’s run-in with Beckett that he meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). The writing between the two characters feels natural, as there’s an instant line of communication and understanding (some how Han can naturally speak Wookie). Also, Chewbacca has some of the biggest and best fight scenes of the film. You read that right. Here, he’s the Incredible Hulk of the Star Wars universe.
However, in the early portions of the film, we get the sense that director Ron Howard is trying to hide Ehrenreich. The first hour is very much a shared mantle, as Howard gives the bulk of the best lines to Becket and Lando (Donald Glover), while solely highlighting Ehrenreich using silhouetted close-ups rather than by dialogue.
Glover fits Lando like a well-worn cape. He perfectly encapsulates the character’s sophistication, selfishness, narcissism, and humor. In fact, Lando has the funniest moments of the film as Glover effortlessly provides not a copy of the character, but an admirable composite.
The same could be said of Ehrenreich, who as the film progresses, takes on more-and-more of Harrison Ford’s mannerisms. And though Ehrenreich isn’t a complete copy, in looks or sound, he does find the quintessential Ford-isms in the character: from the smirk to the boundless self-confidence. Against all odds, especially as Disney reportedly hired acting coaches for him (not an unusual move), he turned in not only a serviceable performance, but a good one.
But in actuality, Solo has two major components working for it: the comedy and the slick CGI-camerawork by Howard. I found the film to be hilarious, with the right amount of quips and self-referential humor. Some of the minor-spoiler highlights include a game of dejarik and the Calrissian chronicles (believe me, there are far more punchlines than the two I just shared). Also, the Kessel Run is everything you’ve ever wanted to imagine, while subtle nods to previous Star Wars battles are made in every movement of the Millennium Falcon.
Written by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, Howard does as well as one can expect after he took over from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. He successfully balances the prior directors’ visions, along with his own, while making an enjoyable Disney creation. The film also continues the success of Kathleen Kennedy. Though many Star Wars fans have blamed her for every conceivable mistake in the universe, she is a winner and her work speaks for itself (seriously, if you don’t know anything about Kennedy, look up her imdb and see what she’s been involved with).
If there are any warnings to offer against Solo, it’s the fact that its villain is somewhat wasted and it is Star Wars-by-the-numbers. Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos wins the award for the most underutilized actor in Hollywood. While his character isn’t as useless as Vision, he has some real moments in this film, he’s someone who I think should have been given more purpose. We never receive an explanation as to his origin or motives. The lack of any motivation holds Solo back from being a great film, as the character’s motivation could have said more about Han’s world and the Empire’s role in it.
Yet, the film isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. It’s not attempting to create some deeper meaning or push the boundaries of the universe. Instead, Solo is only trying to be a good time. And that’s alright. Not every film has to reinvent Star Wars. Some can be a meaningless confectionery. In fact, if you weren’t a fan of The Last Jedi, then you’ll probably welcome Solo as a sort of palette cleanser. And though it barely features a lightsaber or a Death Star, it is still recognizably Star Wars, for better or for worse. But thankfully, it’s not the disaster you’re looking for.