After a troubled production, Solo: A Star Wars Story is here. The good news: the behind-the-scenes woes weren’t enough to sink the film and create a mess. The bad news: that doesn’t necessarily mean everything in Solo runs as smoothly as it should.
At the center of Solo is a question: what do we want the Star Wars Story films to be? Do we want them to be big, bold space adventures with something on their minds? Or do we want them to be amusing, escapist entertainment we can easily digest and not think too much about? If you’re looking for the latter, Solo will please you. If you want a little bit more, well…
Here’s the thing: before “A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away” even comes up on the screen, we know how Solo is going to play out. That is, perhaps, the greatest weakness of the Anthology films so far: we know where they’re going, so we’re just waiting for them to get there. We know that Han Solo will be a lovable rogue. We know that he’ll team up with Chewie. We know that he’ll befriend Lando. We know all of this.
Thankfully, that foreknowledge doesn’t ruin things. Because ultimately, Solo is a hell of a lot of fun. That fun is the result of the actors and the characters they play. At the center of it all is Alden Ehrenreich, who makes Han Solo his own. Is Ehrenreich a modern-day Harrison Ford? Absolutely not, and that’s okay. The Han here isn’t the Han we met in A New Hope. He’s younger; funnier; more cocky. And Ehrenreich knows just how to play him – with a sense of wide-eyed optimism slowly being eroded away by reality.
The Han here is a lot more hopeful; a lot more chipper. He has total faith in his abilities to scam his way out of any situation, and make things right. The one thing he wants to make most right is to return to his home planet and rescue Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), a childhood friend Han has a massive crush on. The two were supposed to run away together, but fate – and the Empire – got in the way. Now, years have passed, and the only way for Han to get home is to throw in with a team of outlaws.
Han hopes to score enough money that he can buy a ship and blast off to whisk Qi’ra away. But first, he has to pull a job with his new surrogate family of thieves. These outlaws are led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a character that seems a lot more like the Han Solo we know from the original Star Wars trilogy than the Han Solo we meet here. Harrelson is an absolute delight to watch in this film, playing Beckett with a mixture of charm and weariness. The character truly feels lived in, as if he’s seen some stuff and doesn’t want to talk about it.
Along the way, Han also befriends Chewbacca, a Wookiee that almost kills him during their first encounter. The Han and Chewie relationship is exactly what you would want from this type of film – amusing, quippy, even emotional at times. We can see these two growing into the lifelong friends they’ll become.
Eventually, Han runs into Qi’ra again, only to find she’s not the girl she was years ago. Now she’s taken up with Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, somehow ending up with the funniest lines in the movie), a gangster working for Crimson Dawn, an intergalactic crime syndicate. Beckett owes a huge debt to Vos, and to pay it off, he’s going to have to pull one massive job – the job to end all jobs. Needless to say, Han wants in on this action. Qi’ra comes along too. All they need is a ship.
Enter Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), owner of the Millennium Falcon. Much has already been said about how cool Glover looks as Lando, and I can confirm that he does indeed end up providing some of the film’s best moments. Glover’s Lando doesn’t walk through this movie – he glides, as if the magnificent capes he wears have provided him with the gift of flight. Lando’s co-pilot is the droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who may or may not have a crush on Lando (who wouldn’t?). As great as Glover is, he’s matched by Waller-Bridge, who makes L3 extra droll and extra quippy.
Will Han be successful on the job, and make the Kessel Run? Will Lando look out for himself above anyone else? Will someone in Han’s party end up betraying Han? Will Chewbacca roar and growl in ways that only Han seems to understand? Search your feelings. You know the answers to these questions, and more.
While the predictability might have easily capsized Solo, the entertainment factor keeps it afloat. The film never sits still, zipping from one planet, one action beat, to the next. Characters don’t merely deliver their dialogue – they spit it out, as if the words themselves are hot fire they need to get off their tongues lickety-split. Director Ron Howard stages the big, thrilling action scenes with gusto, creating a film that’s loaded with vast, sweeping, romantic adventure. Emphasis on romantic. While Clarke’s portrayal of Qi’ra is a bit one-note at times, she and Ehrenreich share a palpable chemistry together. A scene where the two share a long, passionate kiss ends up being one of the most romantic things I’ve seen in a Star Wars movie in a long time (the second most romantic thing is Hayden Christensen talking about sand, I guess).
And yet, what’s the point of all of this? What hurts Solo is the fact that it’s ultimately not about anything. Let me be clear: I understand that in one way or another, all Star Wars films simply exist to create more Star Wars films. These stories are products. But Solo is the first Star Wars film in recent memory that feels like it’s selling something. Even Rogue One, one of the worst Star Wars films in years, felt like a self-contained, well-intentioned story with something on its mind. Solo merely exists to set up more Solo movies. And it shows.
Perhaps I’ve been ruined by Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson’s film is loaded with ideas – it’s a big, bold, brilliant film with a lot on its mind. Solo, in contrast, just wants to have a good time and then roll the credits. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe that’s exactly the sort of adventure you’re looking for.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10