More than any other movie in the franchise, Solo: A Star Wars Story (hereby to be referred to just as Solo) had a particularly public set of issues with production with original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller being fired near the tail end of production and replaced with Academy Award winner Ron Howard to fill the void. Stories sprouted up left and right detailed how Lord & Miller were putting together a mess of a film and how Howard came in to piece it back together nearly from scratch. It’s even been reported that up to 80% of the film was reshot and pieced together in a rush to meet the Memorial Day release date. While those troubles could fill an entirely different piece (and often have, just Google “Solo production troubles”), it’s surprising to note that not a hint of issue has crept onto the screen. Solo is, for all intents and purposes, a rollicking ride that occasionally gets a little messy and convoluted, but winds up as a solid adventure film in the end.
Solo aims to fill in the blanks in the life of our favorite infamous smuggler, starting with his very early life on the streets of Corellia, moving to his introduction to a life of galactic crime and smuggling, and leading to his famous pairing with not only his pal Chewbacca, but also their beloved ship, the Millennium Falcon. Twists and turns are aplenty, from meeting various crews of criminals and marauders to the expected double and triple crosses that typically can be found in such crime infested organizations. The movie zips along, coasting on charm even if some of the introductory elements are rushed.
The film sets itself up as a heist movie, with Han’s new crew gunning to swipe some valuable hyperfuel for a dangerous intergalactic mobster. Things don’t go according to plan, and while that’s to be expected, it doesn’t make it any less entertaining to see Han and company try to wiggle their way out of numerous volatile situations. A good heist for a dangerous enemy is always a fun concept to me, especially because it doesn’t involve the fate of the galaxy, which I found to be refreshing. Instead, Solo has it’s focus more on the various crime syndicates, dirty underbellies, and shadowy characters that sprung up as Imperial Forces attempted to further solidify their hold in the universe.
Much of the internal talk focused on the casting of Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo, with concerns that he wasn’t up to filling the large shoes left by Harrison Ford. Fortunately, Ehrenreich holds his own as Solo, capably showing us a character that develops grand illusions of being a badass smuggler when in reality he can’t help but do the right thing. Likewise, Donald Glover fits perfectly into the cape(s) of Lando Calrissian, oozing the same charm that Billy Dee Williams did in the originals. It’s important to note that while much of their performances are dictated by the previous incarnations of their characters, they add enough of their own flair to rise above cheap imitations.
The rest of the cast works well, filling in as characters both new and old. Joonas Suotamo is a worthy successor to Peter Mayhew, giving us a Chewbacca that is in his powerful prime. Emilia Clarke is also intriguing as Qi’ra, a love from Han’s past that goes through a similar struggle of doing what is right or what comes best for her. Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany are effective as Han’s criminal mentor and a menacing mob boss, respectively. Some of the other cast unfortunately doesn’t get the time to shine, with Thandie Newton, Jon Favreau, and Erin Kellyman playing interesting characters who sadly get the short end of the screen time stick, despite being cool in their shorter appearances. It’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, however, who comes out the strongest as L3–37, Lando’s smartass droid first mate. Fortunately, her character, while still lacking the screen time, makes for more than just another sassy droid.
Bringing in Ron Howard to replace Lord & Miller is probably the savviest (but maybe not the most exciting) move that producer/Star Wars godmother Katherine Kennedy could’ve made. Howard is a respected, decorated Hollywood vet who’s been in the orbit of Lucas/Kennedy et al for a long time, and his Hollywood experience was no doubt what the cast and crew needed. What is perhaps the most impressive part about Solo is that it doesn’t show the seams of a production crisis as large as it had. Howard brings a steady hand to the action, allowing for little filmmaking flairs to pop up in both shot composition and style. Cinematographer Bradford Young adds some iconic shots and action, using effective lighting to convey everything from grimy alleyways on one planet to bright desert beaches on another.
The action scenes are thrilling, with an elevated armored train heist and the famed Kessel run being highlights. You have to be one heartless cynic not to get a little jazzed when Han and Chewie pilot together for the first time as a variation of the iconic Star Wars theme booms. John Powell, responsible for one of the most underrated scores of the past decade with his music from How to Train Your Dragon, makes for an excellent Star Wars composer. Aided with a new Han-centric theme conducted and written by series mainstay John Williams, Powell’s score fits the adventure perfectly, with sweeping motifs and memorable callbacks to other scores from both the original and prequel trilogies.
If I had to pick out the biggest negatives of Solo, I’d start particularly on the first act, one that flies by so quickly it’s hard to get a bearing on the performances or the tone of the film in general. Han jumps from Corellia to Imperial service to thievery all within a few quick, extended action sequences. It isn’t til a relatively quiet fireside chat that we start to get a feeling for our characters. Even then, some characters are so fascinating only to be short changed, robbing us of learning more about them.
For better or for worse, Solo is a film that doesn’t have anything of particular depth being communicated, which doesn’t necessarily effect the movie negatively, depending on what you’re looking to get out of it. We learn how Han gets his name, meets Chewie and Lando, gets through the Kessel run, so on and so on. It’s entertaining, thrilling, but doesn’t put any hard themes or questions on the audience. What the film does well in terms it depth, it does so with it’s characters, not with it’s themes or story. This is a movie about Han becoming Han, dealing with criminals, and focusing on living his life to the fullest in the universe.
Solo certainly isn’t the greatest Star Wars film ever made, but it is most definitely not the worst either. If anything, it shows that Lucasfilm, Disney, and Kathleen Kennedy have the ability to not only tell deeply emotional, resonate movies like The Last Jedi, while still being able to make fluffy, fun adventures films like Solo. Where The Last Jedi changed the way audiences view Star Wars moving forward, offshoots like Solo allow us to relax back into the warm hug of familiar characters, locations, and lighter stories. It’s a movie that doesn’t have a lot to say but just wants to have fun, and that fun is infectious. I’d be more than willing to go on more adventures with young Han and Chewie in the future.
The Final Pop
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fast-paced adventure that uses it’s strengths to effectively hide its weaknesses. While a bit jumbled and not particularly deep, it’s packed with fun performances, exciting action, and all the delightful creatures, music, and settings the Star Wars universe has brought us before.
Movie Theater Popcorn