REVIEW: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Theatrical Release Character Poster – Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The following is a review of Solo: A Star Wars Story — Directed by Ron Howard.

Okay, let us get one thing out of the way early on. We all expected this film to fall apart. Most of us had this sinking feeling that told us we were getting a film that had fallen apart during production. Just like with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, behind the scenes news made us worry about the film, but it was even worse this time with Solo.

Supposedly, some major Hollywood producers were unhappy with the original directors. Supposedly, the lead actor needed an acting coach. Supposedly, the original directors — Phil Lord and Chris Miller — and their insistence on improvisation frustrated legendary Star Wars writer Lawrence Kasdan. What really happened to bring Lucasfilm to replace Lord and Miller with the safe, company-man Ron Howard, we will probably never know the full story of.

But here you have it. A Han Solo origin story spin-off film with new actors in iconic roles. Did we need it? Not really, but you don’t really need most blockbuster films. Did fans want it? It certainly doesn’t seem like it. But does the film work? Yeah, surprisingly, it mostly does work as summer blockbuster entertainment.

Solo: A Star Wars Story aimed to tell the story of how Han Solo became the man that we all know and love. How did he meet Chewbacca (played by Joonas Suotamo)? How did he get his hands on the Millenium Falcon, and how did it make “the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs”? How did he first meet Lando Calrissian (played by Donald Glover)? That is basically the function of this prequel spin-off story — to answer these questions, and show us these stories on the big screen.

We first meet Han Solo (played by Alden Ehrenreich) when he is a young man with a dream to become the best pilot in the galaxy. But in order to do that, he first has to get away from the harsh world of the planet Corellia upon which he is nothing more than an orphaned thief.

While Qi’ra (his girlfriend played by Emilia Clarke) and Han are trying to escape the planet, they are, unfortunately, separated from one another. Qi’ra is swiftly apprehended, while armed forces are still looking for Han. Han then sees an opportunity to escape and become the pilot of his dreams by joining the Empire, which he does, but not for ideological reasons — joining the Empire is to Han just a means to an end.

Han Solo’s plan is to become a pilot with the Empire, get his hands on a capable ship, and then return to Corellia to save Qi’ra and live with her among the stars. But life isn’t as simple as that, and, all of a sudden, three years have gone by and Han is nothing more than another Imperial soldier. Eventually Han Solo meets the imprisoned Chewbacca, and they join Tobias Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson) and his crew on dangerous missions that teach Han Solo who to trust.

The best thing that you can hope for with a film like Solo: A Star Wars Story is that it works as well as the River Phoenix sequence in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, which came complete with a smooth and memorable transition over to the full Harrison Ford adventure. The worst case scenario, on the other hand, is that the final product feels alien and out of place when compared to the rest of the saga and the original portrayal of the central character.

Although Solo: A Star Wars Story never becomes as spellbinding as Disney-Lucasfilm’s two sequel trilogy Saga films, I found myself having a lot of fun with a film that, ultimately, is nothing more than a fun adventure (with one or two excellent action sequences) structured as an origin story for a beloved character. If you go in expecting the bold themes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, then you will absolutely walk out of the theater disappointed.

But there are a lot of people who simply did not like The Last Jedi. I was a big fan of the film, but many other Star Wars fans vehemently disagree with most critics when they say that it was one of the most interesting and bold films in the series. Some people simply think it didn’t handle the characters with enough care.

I have a feeling that those people that hated The Last Jedi will absolutely love Solo. Because there are a lot of really fun references in here that definitely cater to hardcore Star Wars fans — there is a lot of fanservice in Solo. I am not ashamed to say that there was one namedrop in here that made me giddy with excitement. And there is one cameo here that will shock both hardcore and casual fans of the saga. It will probably confuse some fans, though. Because it absolutely is a guest appearance that pretty much only makes sense if you’ve watched the Star Wars animated series Rebels and The Clone Wars.

Furthermore, I loved how they introduced and used Chewbacca in this film. If you ever wanted to see why someone like Jabba the Hutt would refer to everyone’s favorite Wookiee as ‘the mighty Chewbacca’ in Return of the Jedi, then Chewbacca’s introduction in Solo: A Star Wars Story may be exactly what you are looking for, as it does a good job of setting Chewbacca up as a powerful and scary creature.

In the trailers for Solo: A Star Wars Story, the one character that always stood out from the pack was Lando Calrissian played by Donald Glover, who I have been a fan of since he played Troy Barnes in Community (he’ll always be that character to me). People even went as far as to say that this should’ve been a Lando spin-off — that is how much people were drawn to Glover in the trailers.

As you would have expected, Glover is absolutely perfect in the role. He is such a charmer, and he gives a note-perfect performance. I thought the writers did a good job of giving him a sizable role without having him take away the spotlight from Han Solo. The Kasdans — the father-son writing duo — definitely have a lot of love for Lando Calrissian, who also has an interesting relationship with the politically involved droid L3-37 (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) that, late in the film, actually moved me.

What I also really enjoyed about Solo: A Star Wars Story is that it is a creature-friendly Star Wars film. If you are the kind of person, who enjoys seeing these funny looking or otherwise interesting alien creatures, then I also think this is your kind of Star Wars film. I was a particular fan of the character Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau), who, unfortunately, isn’t in the film as much as I had hoped.

And then we, of course, have to talk about Alden Ehrenreich — the actor given the impossible job of making the iconic character Han Solo his own. Ehrenreich doesn’t manage to do that, unsurprisingly. But I will say that he does a really solid job of playing a younger Han Solo who isn’t as cynical as you may expect him to be. I think he is helped a lot by the script, which was co-written by someone who understands the Solo-character better than anyone else (yes, probably even better than George Lucas). But if you thought Ehrenreich would ruin the film, then his performance proves you wrong — he doesn’t give a star-making performance, but he is solid.

Unfortunately, Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t just an adventure with nothing to say — it has other problems too. I think some of the dialogue is somewhat silly, and I think the way they’ve forced in an explanation of Han’s surname is just dumb. It is the kind of thing people hate about prequels — the tendency to overexplain popular characters.

I also just thought the film got off to a clumsy start. Just like with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we don’t get a traditional opening crawl. If I remember correctly, the opening of Rogue One was disorientating and messy, in part, because of the lack of an opening crawl. But it simply makes no sense for Solo: A Star Wars Story not to have the crawl. The thing is, even though the film doesn’t have an opening crawl, the film still opens with text explaining what is happening. I know that Lucasfilm wants to differentiate these ‘stories’ from the saga films, but it has gotten silly at this point.

But the biggest problem with this film is how predictable and safe it is. Solo: A Star Wars Story is basically a big checklist of moments that needed to be in a Han Solo origin story, and that does mean that the film feels more like a collection of major moments of character-specific lore than a fully-formed Star Wars adventure.

And yet I think that Solo: A Star Wars Story is still an engaging adventure. Somehow the Kasdans, Ron Howard, or whoever really steered the ship actually made it work. It isn’t a contemplative Star Wars film with thematic weight, and for some people that will absolutely be a dealbreaker. But Solo: A Star Wars Story does work as a fun adventure, even if it is a little bit forgettable.

7.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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