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Solo: A Star Wars Story - Movies

Title: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Director: Ron Howard

Release Date: May 25, 2018

Timeline: 19-22 years after The Phantom Menace

Additional Reference: 13-10 years before A New Hope

Runtime: 135 minutes

Credits: Review & Text: Mike Taber; Page layout & Design: Chuck Paskovics

This is a full review. Spoiler warning applies...

Review | Talking Points | Discussion

Never tell him the odds.

Review

 “Buckle up, baby.” FULL SPOILERS.

From the second that it was announced, I was resistant to the very idea of a “young Han Solo” movie. Han Solo is just about the last character that I would build a prequel around for several reasons. To begin with, Han Solo has one of the most complete character arcs in the entire Star Wars saga. His story feels complete and any attempt to expand on that story has the potential to feel superfluous and forced. As it is, Solo’s introduction in the original film is essentially perfect and a prequel could very easily undercut the power and delightful simplicity of that introduction. In addition, it is nearly impossible to separate Harrison Ford from the role that made him a superstar. Even Ford’s famous displeasure with the character can’t hide the fact that there is a lot of Harrison Ford in Han Solo and vice versa. There may be performers who are better actors than Harrison Ford, but few are as captivating and commanding onscreen. Ford is as charismatic of a leading man as there ever was and is as physically expressive as the great Buster Keaton. Ford’s performance isn’t just charm, a lot of it is physical and any successor would have to capture that as well. Ford has always been the clumsy action star who thinks that everything going on around him is incredibly silly. That is ingrained in his performance as Han Solo (Indiana Jones too) and part of the reason that the character works so well. Moving beyond the Han Solo specific concerns, Solo: A Star Wars Story faced the same hurdles that all prequels do. I had two main questions heading into this film. Can I accept Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo and why does this story need to be told? I will revisit those questions at the end of the review, but despite all my concerns I walked out of the theater with a smile on my face. The film surpassed my expectations in several ways yet disappointed me in others.

   

Solo: A Star Wars Story is simultaneously pure escapist fun featuring an entertaining and likable cast of characters and a film that at times feels as if it is merely going through the motions by ticking boxes on a list of items we expect to see in a Han Solo origin story. Maybe giving fans exactly what they expect is the right move after The Last Jedi spent over two and a half hours subverting expectations and bitterly divided fans in the process. I had fun at the movie theater. This felt like Star Wars. Maybe that is enough at the end of the day but I can’t help but feel disappointed by this box ticking approach to storytelling. This approach to storytelling can be seen in other Star Wars films as well but it is the most blatant in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Han Solo is from Corellia. Check. Han meets Chewbacca. Check. Han makes the Kessel Run. Check. Han wins the Falcon from Lando in a card game. Check. Visually presenting events we’ve heard about for years in a straight forward and by the numbers manner is a fairly unimaginative way to spend two hours in a galaxy far, far away. Although the film found time for fun detours and interesting characters, it felt restricted by these predetermined moments as it sprinted from one to another. The worst fate that could befall Star Wars is that it becomes forgettable, just another serviceable and fun Hollywood blockbuster meant to pad an earnings report. Star Wars should feel special and it should be innovative, that was always the case when George Lucas was at the helm. Star Wars should be more than the typical fun in-the-moment blockbuster that quickly fades from memory. The Force Awakens arguably already fits that description as it had faded from memory since its release for this reviewer even if I still like and enjoy the film (I truly like and enjoy all of them from Star Wars to Solo). Only time will tell but Solo: A Star Wars Story feels like a largely inconsequential (and not because of the small scale plot which is actually refreshing) yet enjoyable detour. This is a good Star Wars film, it is a lot of fun, and I will happily re-watch it alongside the others but I would be lying if I said it moved me in the way that past Star Wars entries have.

   

I think the biggest question for a lot of fans heading into Solo: A Star Wars Story was whether or not they could accept Alden Ehrenreich as the titular character. Ehrenreich was excellent in Hail Caesar! but I remained skeptical he could follow in the footsteps of Harrison Ford until I sat down to watch Solo. Ehrenreich exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations and made a fine Han Solo. He’ll never be Harrison Ford and I needed to accept that. Ehrenreich was charming at times and fit the role despite looking and sounding nothing like Ford. He hit a few lines just right that made me think “that’s Han Solo.” With that being said, I don’t think Ehrenreich captured the expressive physicality that Ford brought to the role and although he was a fine Han Solo it was a somewhat unremarkable performance. Ehrenreich seemed more comfortable in the role by the end of the film, so I feel like if he is allowed to grow into the role he can be successful. Beyond Ehrenreich’s performance, screenwriters Lawrence and Johnathon Kasdan have a very clear understanding of the character. Whether we are talking about the character’s personality or motivations, this felt like Han Solo to me. Moments like getting the speeder stuck in the alley or questioning the Imperial officer reminded me of the character that was introduced 41 years ago. Qi'ra (and the Kasdans) distilled the character down to his core when she said that she knew who he really is, the good guy. Beneath the cynicism and outlaw status, Han is the guy that comes back to save Luke during the attack on the Death Star. Although I think the Kasdans captured the essence of Han Solo in this film, I can’t say their endeavor here was entirely successful. Perhaps it’s a mix of being boxed in by the aforementioned pre-determined moments and Ehrenreich’s performance but Solo was one of the least interesting characters in the film that bears his name and that is a problem. The relationships that Han established with characters like Chewbacca, Lando, Qi'ra, and Beckett were the most interesting things in the film. Of course these relationships can’t exist without Han but I found myself more interested in the characters around him.

   

Moving on to the characters around Han Solo, the deep cast of interesting characters and talented actors might be this film’s greatest strength. Solo is largely a character based film where the plot takes a backseat. The small scale plot about the theft of fuel may lack the epic scope that Star Wars is known for but it was refreshing to see a movie in which the fate of the galaxy isn’t hanging in the balance and it makes sense for the character of Han Solo. This needed to be a personal story about Han Solo and not a galaxy saving adventure featuring Han Solo. The first major new character that we are introduced to is Qi'ra, Han’s love interest that grew up on the streets of Corellia alongside him. Qi'ra turned out to be one of the best characters in the film, even if the script didn’t do her character any favors. Emilia Clarke is one of the main reasons that the character is such a success. Clarke was likable in the role, gave a good performance, and aptly navigated the shifts in her character. It’s not Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher by any means, but Clarke and Ehrenreich had a nice chemistry that made me believe in their relationship even if it was clearly doomed. A sense of melancholy and dread hung over their relationship since we know they don’t end up together which laced each happy moment with an underlying sadness. The smartest move that the Kasdans and Clarke made in creating this character was making it clear that Qi'ra knew that she and Han could never have their happy ending even if he refused to believe it until the end. Clarke seamlessly combined elation and sadness when her character met Han again after spending three years apart. Although the film is peppered with hints regarding the horrors Qi’ra endured during those three years with Vos, this missing chunk of time hampered her character development to a degree.

   

After our introduction to Qi’ra we met Beckett and his crew of thieves, Val and Rio. All three characters were excellent additions to the Star Wars saga. Unfortunately, both Val and Rio had very little screen time and were little more than cameos in this film. Jon Favreau’s Rio was a fun character but his death lacked impact and felt perfunctory. Thandie Newton’s Val was a real highlight of the first act of the film. Newton and Harrelson had a natural onscreen rapport and they were a great way to introduce Han to a life of crime. It was a shame to see Val go so quickly and her sacrifice also lacked the emotional impact that it needed which may be an issue with the film as a whole. The fast pace made the film an enjoyable race through the Star Wars galaxy but also undercut some of the emotional moments and character beats. The film often rushed from one set piece to another without giving individual moments enough time to breathe. Beckett was one of the strongest characters in the film and Woody Harrelson was a perfect fit for this role. The veteran actor added a level of credibility and world weariness to the proceedings and was clearly having fun testing the young cast members, particularly Ehrenreich. Beckett was the mentor figure that was necessary to push Han in certain directions, but sharp writing from the Kasdans and an expert performance from Harrelson made Beckett feel like an interesting character in his own right rather than a plot device. The offhand comment that Beckett killed Aurra Sing helped lend the character some credibility for hardcore fans but also represents one of the film’s greatest strengths. It could be argued that easter eggs like that are merely easy fan service, but most of these connections and references felt natural in a way that the Ponda Baba and Dr. Evazan cameo in Rogue One did not. Moments and references like that helped make this feel like a cohesive universe and story by pulling together elements from the Prequel Trilogy, Original Trilogy, and even Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Between Aurra Sing, Maul (more on that later), and the return of Warwick Davis’ Weazel there were a lot of The Phantom Menace references in this film which was unexpected to say the least.

   

This world wasn’t just populated with new characters though, Chewbacca and Lando played important roles in Solo as well. One of the biggest issues with the Sequel Trilogy is the virtual abandonment of Chewbacca as a character. He had some nice moments with Han in The Force Awakens but was an afterthought in The Last Jedi. Thankfully, Chewbacca had a lot to do in this film. This is Han Solo’s movie, but he and Chewie are partners and everyone’s favorite walking carpet is one of main reasons this film is (mostly) a success. The initial meeting between Han and Chewie could have been handled better in my opinion. There is no mention of the famous life debt, but having it go unspoken works as well. Han and Chewie’s brawl in the muddy Imperial dungeon had some good moments, but it also had Han speaking Chewie’s language which didn’t entirely work (Ehrenreich did the best he could). Following their initial meeting, the film seamlessly presented the Han and Chewie relationship we all know and love. Throughout the film, Ehrenreich seemed to be the most comfortable when he was working with Chewbacca. Solo: A Star War Story is filled with wonderful Chewie moments. Some of the highlights include Chewie freeing Wookiees on Kessel, actually ripping someone’s arms off, trying to knock the pieces off of the Dejarik Table, and assuming his rightful place as the co-pilot of the Falcon. I also want to take a minute to praise Joonas Suotamo. Peter Mayhew’s work in the Original Trilogy is very specific and personal yet the transition to Joonas has been seamless. It is more than wearing the costume and it is clear that Joonas takes this role very seriously. Moving on to Lando, as expected Donald Glover was fantastic in this role. There were moments that Glover sounded exactly like Billy Dee Williams and he has the charisma and charm that is so important to the character of Lando. The best comparison for what Glover did with Lando may be Ewan McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Both actors captured the essence of the character in their performances and managed to both evoke the original actors and make the characters their own. Of all of the characters in the film, I think everyone involved in the production had the clearest understanding of Lando as a character. Glover nailed it with his performance, the wardrobe felt like quintessential Lando, the writing was on point, and the design team did a great job with the Falcon. Out of all of the locations in the film, Lando’s Falcon was the highlight. It is such a crystal clear externalization of his character in the same way that the Falcon of the Original Trilogy is a reflection of Han Solo as a character. Besides, this movie is a success simply for introducing us to Lando’s cape room. I loved how devastated Lando was when Qi’ra used one of his capes to put out a fire on the Falcon. My only complaint about Lando in this film was that there wasn’t enough of him. I never thought I would say this but I’m ready for Lando: A Star Wars Story. While we’re talking about Lando, let’s discuss L3. For me, L3 was the only misfire among the major new characters introduced in the film. Her accidental droid rebellion on Kessel was actually a highlight of the film but overall her character felt like an interesting idea executed clumsily. Too often her character was played for laughs and the shallow writing coupled with limited screen time prevented any meaningful exploration of droid sentience in Star Wars. However, Lando running out to save L3 and L3 becoming a part of the Falcon were effective moments.

   

Due to the linear and straight forward construction of the film, it is pretty easy to break down the film into specific sections. The sections were often so neatly separated that it felt episodic. The opening sequence on Corellia is without question the worst part of the film. Very little in this portion of the film works and it had me very concerned. This may be the portion of the film that was reworked the most after Ron Howard took over because it felt hollow, devoid of personality, and as if everyone involved was merely going through the motions. Han and Qi’ra’s Bonnie and Clyde impression worked well enough (Clarke in particular seemed to be having fun with it). The most effective part of the Corellia portion of the film was probably Han getting the speeder stuck in the alley. The speeder chase as a whole though felt as bland and generic as an action scene in Star Wars can get. I like that it was clearly intended as an homage to Lucas and American Graffiti but if Ron Howard was involved in crafting the speeder chase then he should have paid closer attention to Lucas on the set of American Graffiti. American Graffiti captured the elegance of the vehicles and the loneliness of the people inside them. Lucas explored the interplay between linear direction and aimless wandering, freedom and control. The speeder chase in this film was just a competently staged chase between two grey boxes in a grey environment that lacked energy and passion. As for Lady Proxima, I don’t know what the creative team was thinking and I am glad it was over quickly. Han and Qi’ra’s separation was well done and appropriately upsetting. However, the Imperial officer giving Han his last name is as bad as the tongue antics of Jar Jar Binks and Anakin falling in love with Padme on Naboo. Things rapidly improved with a trip to Mimban though. The World War I style trench warfare was very well done and it was admittedly a highlight of the film to see Han in (and desert from) the Imperial army. Next up is Star Wars’ take on The Great Train Robbery which was probably the film’s standout action sequence. The twisting track and the presence of Enfys Nest and the Cloud-Riders produced one of the most memorable Star Wars action scenes since the sale to Disney. It was well staged, emotional, and a lot of fun. We then met Dryden Vos and the Crimson Dawn. Vos wasn’t a particularly well developed villain and didn’t have that much to do, but Paul Bettany is a great actor who played the role just right and was clearly having a blast playing the villain in a Star Wars movie. I’ve already talked about Lando but the first Sabacc game with Han was a great introduction to Lando and I particularly liked how he mispronounced Han the same way Billy Dee Williams did in The Empire Strikes Back. The trip to the mines on Kessel was one of the strongest portions of the film as well. It was great to see the Pykes in a live action film as it is always thrilling to see characters and ideas from Star Wars: The Clone Wars make the transition to the big screen. The design of the Pykes is among the best in the film and actually looks better in live action than it did in animation. As a matter of fact, all of the guards working for the Pykes on Kessel looked great and felt like they would seamlessly fit into any of the original trilogy films. The design of Kessel itself was simple but it was one of the few visually impressive environments in the film. The escape from Kessel finally brings us to the famous Kessel Run, which is a bit of a mixed bag for me. The character interactions during the Kessel Run were fantastic, it contained some thrilling moments, and felt true to spirit of Star Wars. Despite these positives I found the sequence as a whole to be visually unappealing, a mess of monochromatic CGI storm clouds. I would say that is a problem with the film as whole though as this may be the least interesting Star Wars film in terms of the visuals. The interior of the Falcon, Kessel, and Savareen were the most visually appealing locations in the film but a lot of the film featured muted colors, generic locations, fog and clouds to obscure the environment, and an overreliance on grey and blue. While we are discussing the more technical aspects of the film, I thought Ron Howard’s direction was competent, technically sound, but unexceptional. Perhaps he did the best he could after taking over for Lord and Miller and I have no doubt his professionalism and skill helped steady the ship but I didn’t find his direction to be particularly noteworthy. Meanwhile the score by John Powell is among the best of the Disney era and the musical cue for the Cloud-Riders was the clear standout.

   

The finale on Savareen was probably the strongest overall portion of the film. The almost absurd abundance of reveals and betrayals was delightfully pulpy and felt perfectly at home in the Star Wars galaxy. Based on the marketing for the film I was concerned that Enfys Nest would be another Captain Phasma, a visually impressive character that was wasted in the final film. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all. In addition to the great action scene on Vandor, the reveal that Nest was actually just a kid leading one of the earliest rebel cells worked beautifully. It felt like a natural and interesting connection to the overall saga and gave Han the opportunity to show he is not the same kind of man that Beckett was without fully embracing his good guy status. The design of Nest’s armor might be my favorite in the film and her band of Cloud-Riders offered a few welcome surprises. I already mentioned Weazel, but it appears Saw Gerrera’s second in command Two Tubes was part of the Cloud-Riders in an intriguing connection to Rogue One. Even more exciting than the connections to Rogue One and The Phantom Menace, the Cloud-Riders gave us the first appearance of a Rodian in a Disney era Star Wars film. The lack of existing aliens has been one of, if not the, most consistent issues with the Disney era Star Wars films. Let’s see some more Rodians! The arrival of the Cloud-Riders led to the funniest moment of the film for me, Lando leaving just after they arrived. Moving on, the standoff between Han, Qi’ra, Vos, and Beckett was a great way to conclude the film’s main storyline. The duel with Vos was handled very well and featured some of Ron Howard’s best direction in the film. The reveal that Beckett betrayed Han and Qi’ra was the right move even if I enjoyed the team they put together over the course of the film. Beckett warned Han throughout the film to never trust anyone and he is a survivor first and foremost. Beckett’s betrayal is key in turning Han into the person we meet in the cantina. Han’s final confrontation with Beckett is one of my favorite moments in the film. Han shot first! Yes, it was very on nose for Star Wars fans who understood that reference but it is more than lip service. It is a defining moment in the development of Han Solo as a character and the final exchange between Han and Beckett was a moving, emotional moment in a film that frequently sprinted past them. I liked Beckett a lot so it was disappointing to learn we won’t see more of him, but this was the right choice for both Han Solo and Beckett.

   

While Han dealt with Beckett, Qi’ra called the true leader of the Crimson Dawn and informed him of Vos’ death. Yes, Maul (he no longer has the Darth title) is alive and well on Dathomir and is the secret leader of the Crimson Dawn. Solo: A Star Wars Story is an enjoyable but safe film filled with few surprises, but I was floored by the reveal of Maul. I never thought they would reintroduce him into the films post-The Phantom Menace. Disney has been slow to embrace the prequels but I always figured we would get Maul: A Star Wars Story given the character’s popularity and marketability. I just assumed it would be about his training before the events of The Phantom Menace. Maul’s survival was already explored in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, I just never believed Lucasfilm would want to explain his survival for a general audience. I am sure many will be frustrated by this reveal and find the idea of Maul’s survival to be ridiculous. It does sound ridiculous, but I accepted it after Star Wars: The Clone Wars turned Maul into a complex, interesting, and tragic character in a series of wonderful episodes that featured the presumed dead villain. A lot of us can probably agree that Maul’s character was a missed opportunity after The Phantom Menace, an underdeveloped character with untapped potential. George Lucas apparently agreed with that logic because it was his idea to bring Maul back in the first place. Maul’s survival is silly, but in a series inspired by fairy tales and Buck Rodgers that features laser swords, a 900 year old puppet with telekinesis, and killer teddy bears silly doesn’t really bother me. It’s part of the charm. I’m fine with Maul’s survival and this is the biggest example yet of the films embracing the animated series (which is a great thing in my opinion). I will say that Maul’s appearance felt tacked on to a degree, like a Marvel post credit sequence. If Lucasfilm plans to revisit the storylines in this film, I will be interested to see what they have planned for Maul and Qi’ra. Qi’ra’s decision to leave Han behind was a powerful moment not only for its impact on Han, but because it is clear to me that Qi’ra only did so because she knew Maul would hunt her and Han down if they ran away after killing Vos. She is protecting Han by staying in the Crimson Dawn organization. The final scene where Han wins the Falcon from Lando and then heads to Tatooine with Chewie was a great way to end the film. I want to begin wrapping up the review by answering the two questions I posed at the beginning. Yes, for the most part I can accept Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo and I don’t know why this is a story that needed to be told but at least it was fun. Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t the best Star Wars film that has been released since the saga emerged from hibernation in 2015, but it’s not the worst either. It is a film that has its charms and its flaws, but overall it is a fun film and a welcome addition to the Star Wars saga.

What Worked

  • Chewbacca. Everything with Chewbacca.
  • Donald Glover’s Lando
  • Qi'ra and Beckett and their respective relationships with Han
  • Pure escapist fun epitomized by the train robbery
  • Enfys Nest and the Cloud-Riders
  • Han shot first and the twist-filled finale on Savareen
  • Connective tissue to the rest of the saga
  • Alden Ehrenreich exceeds expectations…

What Didn’t Work

  • …but Han is among the least interesting characters in his own film
  • The opening on Corellia
  • Box ticking storytelling and dull visuals
  • L3-37: an interesting idea executed clumsily
Back To TopPromotional Posters

      

        
        
    
          

      

Back To TopPoints of Discussion
  • Points of Discussion
  • Can you accept Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo?
  • The return of Maul
  • Donald Glover’s Lando
  • How did new characters including Qi’ra, Beckett, and L3-37 turn out?
  • Pure escapist fun, a box ticking origin story, or both?
  • Chewbacca!
  • Han shooting first
External Links:
Added: May 27, 2018
Category: Theatrical Releases
Reviewer: Mike Taber
Score:
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