For an origin story, ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ doesn’t add much insight to its main character but this long-awaited, fun visualization should be enough to keep fans and casual moviegoers at bay.
It’s no secret that most of Solo’s weight hangs on Alden Ehrenreich’s performance. Unlike Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi) and Felicity Jones (Rogue One) who were given the opportunity to craft new characters for this generation, he is tasked to strike a balance in playing a younger version of the iconic Han Solo while honoring the inexorably linked Harrison Ford.
I’ll get the obvious one out of the way: Alden bears no physical resemblance with a young Ford. Hence, as the film kicks in, it takes a while before we latch on to him. It would be a lie not to say that I spent most of the first few minutes scrutinizing his smirks, his stance, his speech patterns, his constantly squinted eyes, etc. – this actor does not exactly act like a young Ford either.
But here’s the thing, he does not need to be a duplicate of Ford. Disney would make a big mistake casting an impersonator in place of an actor. Once you accepted that this version is something new, watching Han unfold isn’t bad as it seems. Alden’s performance does not scream of “I’m the only one who can play this role” and his character sometimes blends in the background (which should not happen). Nonetheless, he embodies the Han in A New Hope – his egotism, his tenacity and his arrogance (albeit less charming than Ford). And that’s the goal to begin with, right? For that alone, I am satisfied.
The reason why he does not get close to Ford’s work will have to do more with the competent but somehow unremarkable script. For an origin story, Solo doesn’t add much insight to its main character. What the film does is present a backstory of everything we have heard from him in the past: how he met Chewbacca, how he won the Millenium Falcon, how he became “the best pilot” in the universe, and so on. Sure, there are plenty of new characters to further explore his lore. We learn that Han is a scoundrel wanting to leave the enslaving planet Corellia, along with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). He affiliates with a team of rogue criminals: Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), his partner Val (Thandie Newton), and a four-armed alien Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau) – a character who I think is supposed to be a comic-relief but did not elicit any single laugh from the audience.
Han resorts to his thieving ways in a galaxy where everyone is capable of scheming and double-crossing. Beckett says to him several times, “Do not trust anybody” and we knew from there what makes Han tick. He embarks on this hero/anti-hero journey, constantly throwing himself into danger in search of freedom and wealth. Still, there’s no groundbreaking information here to give us a whole new perspective for Han. My biggest takeaway in this prequel is where he got his odd surname from.
That is not to say that Solo is a disappointing film. It is actually enjoyable to watch. This is a heist film after all featuring thrilling Western-inspired chases, hijacks and space jams. Remarkably, this is the first Star Wars film that does not feature “The Force” or the lightsaber. To compensate with this, we are served with grittier set pieces that we haven’t seen in the universe before. This should be enough to reel in a casual movie-goer.
What the film does excellently is to capture the relationship of Han and Chewie, an unlikely alliance turned into a lifelong bond. At one point Han says to Chewie, “Chewbacca? That is a long name. Don’t expect me to call you that every time.” That’s the beauty of this film, every time we are presented with a catch phrase, an iconic piece of item, or an initial meeting of the characters, it brings smile to our faces because we all know how it’s going to play out.
The same is true with the stylish Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) who steals the spotlight from the moment he enters the picture. If there are any doubts to Alden’s casting, I can say for sure that Glover is perfect for this role. Every angle and nuance of him embodies the character without making it a mere Billy Dee Williams impression. Paired with a sassy woke droid L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) we finally get the much needed humor.
Without a doubt, Solo is the lightest film in the franchise and not because of the sporadic humor, but because it lacks a formidable villain to add gravitas to its arc (see: Darth Sidious, Darth Vader, Kylo Ren or Orson Krennic). Paul Bettany does his best as Dryden Vos but with not much characterization to work around apart from having a bunch of unexplained scars, he ends up as an equivalent to General Hux or Captain Phasma. There’s a rousing revelation in the end that sets up a sequel to another Solo film and hopefully this will flesh out a more compelling story in the future.
Solo: A Star Wars Story, occasionally feels like a generic sci-fi film with the ‘Star Wars’ label stamped into it. In a way, it is still a competent prequel that works as palette cleanser from the franchise’s known heavy themes. It flows like a checklist mythology, with certain marks to hit and the film let you knows that it’s hitting them (like how Solo’s golden dice given by Luke to Leia in The Last Jedi gets a good amount of screentime.) Former directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were reportedly fired by Disney due to creative differences and since the film went into massive re-shoots, we can only imagine if their version could have been better than Ron Howard’s.
Still, aficionados will flock onto this film whether to enjoy it or to criticize it. This is a long-awaited visualization of Han Solo’s early years. It’s certainly fun to watch, though sometimes even super fans have better ideas than the filmmakers themselves.
3.5 out of 5 stars
About Solo: A Star Wars Story
Board the Millennium Falcon and journey to a galaxy far, far away in ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story,’ an adventure with the most beloved scoundrel in the galaxy. Through a series of daring escapades deep within a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his mighty future copilot Chewbacca and encounters the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian, in a journey that will set the course of one of the Star Wars saga’s most unlikely heroes.
Distributed by Walt Disney Studios starring Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau.
Directed by Ron Howard from a screenplay by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan. Based on the characters of George Lucas. Runtime: 135 minutes.