After a mountain of behind the scenes drama, the latest Star Wars spinoff, Solo, has arrived in theaters. Director Ron Howard came on board after Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were very publicly fired and extensive reshoots were made. Did Howard deliver a winner? Does this prequel live up to the iconic status of its titular character? Well, I did mention it’s a prequel, right?
Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is a hardscrabble kid off the streets of Corellia. When he and his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), attempt to escape from their criminal bosses, they are forcibly separated and Han vows to return for Qi’ra. Three years later, Han is serving in the Galactic Empire as a foot soldier, having washed out of the flight academy for “having a mind of [his] own.” While on a mission with no clear objective, he comes across criminal Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his fellow crewmembers, Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio (Jon Favreau). Han wants to desert the Empire and go along with Beckett, but the thief doesn’t need strays and he turns Han into the Empire officials, who throw Han into a mud pit where he meets his future best friend and first mate, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). The pair escape and Beckett is convinced to take them along into the criminal underworld. Along the way, Han ends up working for crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and meeting smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), owner of the Millennium Falcon and captain to first mate L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a droid that fights for equal rights for her kind. Will Han and Qi’ra fly off into the sunset together? Will we get to see every single little thing that Harrison Ford ever mentioned in the original Star Wars films played out on screen? Do you even know how these Star Wars prequels work?
After I saw The Force Awakens, I was completely on board for more Han Solo and Chewbacca movies. I would have loved to have seen several spinoff adventures of our heroes from the time before they met Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine, as Han and Chewie are my two favorite characters in Star Wars. What I didn’t want to see was a Han Solo origin movie that explained every little thing that the character ever mentioned about himself in the original films. Guess which film Solo is? Now, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy Solo – I did. It’s a very fun film with a great cast and a lot of action. But, I didn’t love it as much as I should have loved a Han Solo movie. The story is beyond predictable, with the exception of the fate of one character at the end of the film, and because three of the main people we meet – Han, Chewie, and Lando – all survive into future films in the timeline, there isn’t a whole lot of tension, which is the same problem that all prequels have, because they generally suck. The problem with this film is that everything Han ever mentioned in the original films is crammed into this one movie – I was shocked there wasn’t a scene of Han shopping for vests. It felt like the first fifteen minutes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade stretched out over two hours. Because screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan felt like we had to see everything all at once, there are a lot of characters and we never really get to develop an attachment to any of the side characters that may or may not make it to the end of the film. That’s the only way a prequel can work – if the filmmakers make you care as much about the supporting cast as you do about the main cast. Also, because every single major event in Han’s life is detailed here, there isn’t a whole lot of time to slow down and breathe.
One of Han Solo’s greatest strengths is his mystique and air of mystery. All of that is shattered in this film and through no fault of Alden Ehrenreich, who has the unenviable task of making millions of moviegoers try to forget Harrison Ford exists for a couple of hours. He does a fine job in making the role his own and I was happy to see Han and Chewie together again. I was able to divorce Ford from my mind, understanding that this was a younger Solo than we are used to. Ehrenreich’s chemistry with Suotamo, who has been playing Chewie since The Force Awakens, is great and I would love to see them team up again now that all this origin nonsense is out of the way. Emilia Clarke does a fine job playing Qi’ra, but her character is woefully underwritten and because the film keeps chugging along, it feels like she’s right back in the story not long after she left. I would have liked a few more quiet moments between Han and Qi’ra and Han and Beckett, who becomes a kind of father figure to our hero….over the course of literally three days or so. The compressed timeline is seriously ridiculous.
The rest of the cast does the best with what they’re given, as I mentioned, many of the supporting roles are shortchanged. I liked Harrelson as Beckett, but felt his storyline was predictable. I also liked Bettany as the crime boss. He gets to chew a little scenery and he does well with a slight role. Waller-Bridge is like a more self-aware K-2SO from Rogue One and she has some funny moments. However, the king of all the side characters is Glover as Lando. He manages to channel Billy Dee Williams, while still making the role his own, because let’s be honest, Lando wasn’t all that fleshed out in Empire and Jedi.
The action set pieces are very good, even if there’s a lack of tension due to the fact that we know what happens to the primaries down the road and we don’t care enough about the side characters to worry about them. That’s called Prequelitis, folks. The score, mainly by John Powell with an assist from the legendary John Williams, is light years better than the horrible score we got for Rogue One, so Lucasfilm is going in the right direction there. However, while the film is a fun watch for the most part and it’s great to see these old favorites re-imagined, it can’t be ignored that, as a film, Solo is wholly unnecessary. There was no need to explore all these events in such excruciating detail. We don’t need to see Han Solo come up with Chewie as a nickname for Chewbacca. Even saying all that, Solo doesn’t bludgeon the audience to death with fan service like Rogue One did, which was appreciated, because that film was obnoxious.
Overall, Solo is not a great film by any means, but it is a fun one that could lead to more adventures for this new Han Solo and Chewbacca team. I’d be perfectly happy to see those sequels as long as the stories are a bit better and not as predictable as this one. There’s no telling what Lord and Miller’s version would have looked like, but Howard did a serviceable job making a good, but not great, Star Wars film.