Solo: A Star Wars Story

Directed by Ron Howard Publishing House: Walt Disney Pictures Released: 05.25.18 Review by | May 15, 2018 at 5:00 PM
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by Ulysses E Campbell

Basically: Solo: A Star Wars Story does not disappoint.

George Lucas’ Star Wars changed movie-making forever. For those who saw the first trilogy as children this series is particularly special; one could even describe the relationship as intimate. (Or is the first trilogy now the second trilogy? Let’s go with episodes IV, V and VI.) In any case, those characters who were introduced in the original Star Wars, also known as Episode IV: A New Hope, belong to an entire generation—we feel as if each of them belongs to us. So it was a gamble of sorts when Disney opted to make a prequel film featuring young Han Solo. Solo’s death in The Force Awakens was a shattering moment for fans. The Harrison Ford originated character is beloved as few others in pop-culture. Even in the eyes of the less rabid fans the announcement of this movie was tantamount to heresy…and then there were the problems. Co-directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord were fired with only a few weeks of principal photography remaining. Everything pointed to this movie being a total disaster.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is not a disaster. In fact, it is a carefully crafted homage to the character that fleshes out the tapestry of his history.

Photo by Jonathan Olley - © 2018 - Lucasfilm Ltd.

I was thirteen when Star Wars was released in May of 1977. Although I didn’t actually see it until much later in the summer, the movie changed my life. I found many of my oldest and closest friends through Star Wars fandom, but because of my late introduction to the franchise I never embraced the extended universe that enthralled so many younger fans. Yet the extended universe is important, it proved there was more to the franchise than just three or six movies. This is where we find ourselves with SOLO.   

It’s still early in the game, as SOLO is only the fourth movie released since Disney acquired the Star Wars intellectual property, but according to fans it has been a bit of a mixed bag so far. All the movies have been financially successful but The Force Awakens and Rogue One were considerably better received than the most recent film, The Last Jedi. A lot is riding on SOLO.   

Han himself would likely say: No worries.

Photo by Jonathan Olley - © 2018 - Lucasfilm Ltd.

This feels like a Star Wars movie. idobi chief creative officer Sherin Nicole says, “Finally a Stars Wars prequel that brings back the joy of adventure and high stakes we love about our favorite long ago galaxy. I adore Rogue One but that’s a fringe story with a completely different style. You could call SOLO a swashbuckling deep space Indie film (and by “Indie” I mean of the Jones variety). Not only is this a fun one, we care about where these characters are going and how they’ll end up. By starting the story back when Han was a young hothead on the streets—with as much swagger as he had talent—we get to fall in love with the character for new reasons. More than that, we’re given the seeds of mayhem and revolution that made Han a hero.”    

To follow up those thoughts, SOLO plays out as a caper movie in which he embarks on his career as a smuggler, gambler, and grifter. A likable scoundrel is born. As I mentioned previously, the movie has the feel of Star Wars. It’s long at two hours and fifteen minutes but it is well paced and doesn’t drag. There are plenty of Easter Eggs for fans too. Perhaps three too many references to previous films for my tastes, but there are moments that had me screaming such as the first time Han and Chewie took their familiar places in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Longtime fans won’t be disappointed, screenwriters and co-producers Lawrence Kasdan (writer of Return of the Jedi) and son Jonathan Kasdan have done a bang up job with the characters’ backstory—it makes sense. Director Ron Howard, who was the choice of producer Kathleen Kennedy to oversee the completion of the film, has done a yeoman’s job—and is credited as the only director despite having come onboard so late in production. Lord and Miller are listed as executive producers.

Despite the behind-the-scenes challenges, this movie ultimately begins and ends with the actors on the screen. Alden Ehrenreich is the main face as young Han and channels Harrison Ford in recreating a version of Solo that is learning, seeking, and finding himself. This is a talented guy and he delivers an exceptional performance that should satisfy the most discriminating Star Wars fans.

Photo by Jonathan Olley - © 2018 - Lucasfilm Ltd.

Ehrenreich isn’t alone. While he is surrounded by a cast of experienced actors and actresses who put in quality work, there are two other actors who are also faced with the daunting prospect of recreating roles. Joonas Suotamo continues in the role of Chewbacca he started in The Force Awakens. Donald Glover builds on the foundation created by Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian. Glover’s performance is every bit as good as that of Alden Ehrenreich. The two actors feed off one another in making the Solo/Calrissian chemistry seamless from the earlier movies. Other standout performers are Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, and Paul Bettany. One thing about modern movies is that actors are frequently called upon to provide vocal performances for computer generated characters. Phoebe Waller-Bridge (as the revolutionary droid L3), Jon Favreau (as Rico Durant), and Linda Hunt (wait for it) are terrific.

Star Wars movies are consistent in their wonderful orchestral soundtracks. You’ll hear the strains of many of your favorite themes here including “The Asteroid Field” and “TIE Fighter Attack”. John Powell is credited with a composed and adapted score.

I hope SOLO does well as I’d like to see Ehrenreich play Han again. There is plenty of history left for this beloved hero, and the measure of immortality for a fictional character is how well they outlive the actor who first plays them—I’ve got a good feeling about this.

In the end: See it. SOLO plays out as a caper movie that launches the lovable scoundrel well, and we’re looking forward to more.