Solo: A Star Wars Story [2018]

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo & Paul Bettany
Directed by: Ron Howard

Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios
Release Date: May 2018
Running Time: 135 minutes

Chronology Placement: Set Ten Years before the events of “A New Hope

Synopsis: Young Han Solo finds adventure when he joins forces with a gang of galactic smugglers and a 190-year-old Wookiee named Chewbacca. Indebted to the gangster Dryden Vos, the crew devises a daring plan to travel to the mining planet Kessel to steal a batch of valuable coaxium. In need of a fast ship, Solo meets Lando Calrissian, the suave owner of the perfect vessel for the dangerous mission — the Millennium Falcon.

Easily one of the most charismatic characters in the Star Wars universe, Han Solo has had surprisingly little time in the movies dedicated to his backstory. When he is first introduced to audiences in A New Hope, he is already fully realised; a cocky smuggler with his loyal Wookiee lifemate. Sure, we get some glimpses at his past life through his interactions with Jabba the Hutt and later, Lando Calrissian – but Han is arguably the least developed character in the original trilogy. Flawed as they may be, the prequels provided the Star Wars universe with plenty of backstory on a myriad of characters, effectively charting the Skywalker lineage to its roots. Even Chewbacca featured in Revenge of the Sith to give a hint at the events that led to him leaving Kashyyyk and eventually ended up on the Millennium Falcon. The only character whose past remained unexplored at the end of the prequels was Han Solo. So with the announcement that Lucasfilm would be making standalone Star Wars movies that sit outside the main “Skywalker Saga”, it seemed like the perfect chance to explore Han Solo’s past.

Much like how Rogue One felt like a war story given a Star Wars makeover, Solo feels like a heist movie set against the Star Wars backdrop. It definitely has a different flavour to the core Star Wars movies, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One of my biggest issues with the sequel trilogy was how they were too loyal to some of the beats from the original films, making the films feel formulaic at times. While The Last Jedi attempted to subvert expectations, it did so in a wise-ass way (“this isn’t going to go the way you think”) and seemed to go out of its way to piss off fans. Telling a different type of story without a focus on Jedi and Sith is extremely refreshing, and given the success of The Mandalorian, I suspect that is where the franchise is headed next. What struck me most about Solo was how accessible it was – obviously those with a passing knowledge of Star Wars will be able to pick up on some of the references and foreshadowing, but the film doesn’t really delve into the dense mythology of the franchise at all. Arguably, Solo is far more effective as an introduction to the Star Wars universe than any of the other movies before it. I would even go as far to say that it would be better shown to Star Wars virgins ahead of A New Hope.

My first impression upon seeing images of Alden Ehrenreich as a young Han Solo was that the role had been miscast. I couldn’t quite connect the actor with Harrison Ford’s take on the character. It wasn’t until I saw him in motion during the film that I completely bought him in the role – there were moments when he was in the background that I actually thought it was a young Harrison Ford playing the role. Ehrenreich nailed that cocky grin and he was every bit a Han Solo as Ford was. I loved how we got to see a bit of fragility in the character at the beginning, and how the events of the movie hardened him. Ehrenreich gave the character a great deal of range and I totally accepted him as Han, especially in the scenes where he bonded with Chewie. It is easy to overlook Chewie in the movies since he is effectively a guy in a costume, but he really is the heart of the original trilogy (and the sequels) and his inclusion here makes the film feel like a legitimate part of the franchise.

While Woody Harrelson was cast as Beckett, he effectively played Woody Harrelson in space. His wise-ass Texan drawl suited the role and he instantly made for a likeable and morally questionable mentor for Solo. Emilia Clarke played Solo’s love interest, Q’ira, and there was certainly some chemistry between them in the flashback sequences that seemed lacking once the film moved into the present. Donald Glover was excellent as Lando, and I’d loved to have seen him in the movie more. While he nailed the character’s style and sophistication, he didn’t quite have the same effortless charm that Billy Dee Williams had on Cloud City. My only nitpick was the inclusion of L3-37, I felt the character was a bit one-note and was an attempt to include another quirky droid in the mold of C3PO and K-2SO. I felt that her inclusion weakened the character of Lando slightly, stealing focus from him. Other stand-out supporting cast members include the four-armed pilot Rio, who again deserved more screen-time and Paul Bettany’s turn as the deliciously evil Dryden Vos. Vos felt unlike other Star Wars villains, displaying a manic personality that filled every scene with menace. I loved his energized daggers too, introducing another awesome variant to the lightsaber.

One issue with Solo is that it condenses all of the references to Han Solo’s past that were made in the original movies (winning the Falcon in Sabacc, meeting Chewbacca, meeting Lando and making the Kessel Run) into a single adventure that spans several days. It feels a bit like fan-service and a need to explain away all of the comments he has made in prior movies. It also means that Han’s most defining moments in his life all occurred within the same week, and presumably the other adventures he has in the next decade before he winds up in the Mos Eisley Cantina aren’t worth mentioning in general conversation. While it might seem like the film explains away all of the loose ends surrounding Han’s past, it does leave room for a potential sequel with Q’ira and the Crimson Dawn. Unfortunately, Solo was considered a box-office failure and was the lowest-grossing live-action film in the Star Wars franchise, so it is unlikely that a sequel will ever come to pass, but I do hope Disney+ develops a live-action mini-series to explore those last few plot threads.

As charming as its lead character, Solo is a very different type of Star Wars movie that may divide fans. You could remove the Star Wars elements from the movie very easily and still largely have the same film, albeit without the added resonance that comes from depicting Han Solo’s origin story. The film is less about familiar tropes of light vs. dark and rebellion against oppression, but instead a light-hearted romp through the criminal underworld. It’s ironic that the film focuses on Han Solo because at times it shares a similar DNA to the Indiana Jones franchise, another of Harrison Ford’s iconic roles. The film is every bit the swashbuckler sci-fi extravaganza you’d expect to see from a Han Solo movie, and it is extremely great fun. A brilliant tribute to classic 1970’s science-fiction movies but on a modern-day budget, Solo is one of the most enjoyable Star Wars films of the past decade.

Score – ★★★★ ½

Solo: A Star Wars Story is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Amazon UK. It is also available to stream on Disney+ now.

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