By now everyone knows of the troubled production history of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which saw its directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord replaced halfway through the shoot by veteran Ron Howard. It supposedly was due to “creative differences,” but whatever happened in bringing the origin story of Han Solo to the screen doesn’t matter much once you consider the end product.
The film delivers a rip-roaring summer entertainment and perhaps the key entry in this long-standing series to truly deliver the equivalent of a Western space opera. This is a cowboy movie if ever there was one, but it’s more attuned to Maverick than something darker like Unforgiven. Whatever Howard did in order to keep this on track, it all works nicely and has the benefit of a smart script from Star Wars vet Lawrence Kasdan and son, Jonathan Kasdan.
Despite earlier concerns posted all over the Internet about the casting of Alden Ehrenreich as Solo, the young actor steps naturally into the role made iconic by Harrison Ford. Even if he doesn’t exactly look like a 20-year-old Ford might, he has the swagger and ability with a wisecrack to make him entirely believable as the young version of a character we know very well.
We meet him as a small-time criminal with ambitions to be a great pilot someday. At one point his goal is to get back to his planet to rescue his girlfriend Qi’ra (Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke) — who, it turns out, has her own set of issues. Along the way he also takes up with a group of rogue criminals including veteran mastermind Beckett (a terrific Woody Harrelson), his partner in crime Val (Thandie Newton) and the intriguing Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau).
Howard has crammed more action scenes into Solo than any Star Wars movie I can imagine, and you sometimes wish for a little more character development and a little less shooting. But fans likely won’t mind.
Fortunately the movie is filled with a number of ace set pieces that you would expect in a Solo origin movie, including first and foremost just how he got his name (not to be revealed here, but clever); the first meeting with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), who nearly chews up Han when they get together; and the entrance into the story of Lando Calrissian (scene stealer Donald Glover) as a swaggering gambler with a glint in his eye. Glover fit this role, well, like a glove — even if he doesn’t exactly resemble a young Billy Dee Williams. It’s no matter, and my only gripe is there isn’t enough of him in this installment which takes place about 10 years before the events in the original Star Wars. Equally delightful is his droid, the tart-tongued British L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who lights up the screen in the brief time she gets.
Although, as I say in my video review (click the link above), this film might not be on the epic level of recent Star Wars films The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, it stands nicely on its own as a movie that does justice to an iconic member of this particular universe and certainly proves the wisdom of Disney in widening out the series to focus on characters like Han Solo who we just can’t get enough of. In terms of technical achievement, it’s all there, including the interesting choice of the somewhat muted cinematography from Bradford Young, who delivers perhaps the least colorful of any film yet in the series but serves its purpose. Producers are Kathleen Kennedy, Simon Emanuel and the late Allison Shearmur to whom the film is dedicated. Disney opens it Friday.
Do you plan to see Solo: A Star Wars Story? Let us know what you think.