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It’s Han Solo’s first time piloting the Millenium Falcon. Pursued by imperial TIE fighters, he and his companions are stuck between their enemy’s blasters and a ticking time bomb threatening to destroy their ship. Their only hope is a plan everyone except Han is opposed to — flying into an expansive nebula full of debris, meteors, and unfathomably large space monsters. “I have a really good feeling about this,” says Han as he guides the ship into the dangers of the unknown.
If any one line truly captures the difference in tone between Solo: A Star Wars Story and virtually every other entry in the franchise, there it is.
This is probably not the Star Wars you’re used to. There’s no looming threat waiting to destroy all hope and light. Sure, the Empire rules the galaxy with an iron fist, and there’s poverty, slavery, and corruption aplenty. But no one’s really trying to solve any of that here.
The characters aren’t on a crusade to fight evil or save the world. They're a crew of likeable yet morally questionable individuals trying to get rich.
The characters aren’t on a crusade to fight evil or save the world. They’re a crew of likeable yet morally questionable individuals trying to get rich as they evade the law and competing gangs. The stakes are lower here than in any previous Star Wars, which leaves a lot more room to have fun.
And there is plenty of fun.
Solo: A Star Wars Story takes place 10 years before the events of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. It starts with a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) escaping from the life of a street urchin on his home planet of Corellia by joining the Imperial Navy, which he quickly deserts to join up with Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his colorful crew of outlaws to pull heists and cons across the galaxy. Basic scoundrel stuff.
This is, at least in theory, the story of how Han becomes the man we meet in A New Hope. It’s where he meets characters like Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).
It’s also one of the most straightforward Star Wars movies ever.
There’s banter. There’s jokes. There’s fun and elaborate capers. Even the film’s villain, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), gets in on the fun.
A colorful cast
The supporting cast of Solo is the highlight of the film. Beckett’s crew brims with personality. As soon as you meet them, they’re cracking jokes and trading barbs with each other. Characters like prickly and sarcastic Val (Thandie Newton) and the lighthearted, many-limbed Ardennian Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau) play off Han’s cheerful optimism in some really fun ways. Beckett himself alternates between grave and wryly humorous in a way only Woody Harrelson can.
Dryden Vos was particularly fun to watch. In a lot ways it felt like Paul Bettany took inspiration from the other large, Disney-owned cinematic universe he works on. In most circumstances, I’d mean that as a negative — some of Marvel’s most consistent problems lie with its inability to introduce really compelling villains in most of its films. Here it’s rather refreshing. This villain is sinister, but not a grandiose shadowy figure like Emperor Palpatine or Supreme Leader Snoke. He’s a gangster looking to make money. He’s dangerous, but has a lighter side. He jokes around (albeit sometimes while trying to kill people).
But the man who really steals the show is Lando. Donald Glover’s rendition of the character perfectly cribs elements of Lando from the original trilogy. This Lando is younger (duh). He’s a preening (wait till you see his capes), larger than life figure, and he steals every scene he’s in. The way Lando plays off not only Han, but also his robot companion L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), makes for some of the most consistently entertaining dialogue in the movie.
Alden Ehrenreich is good as Han Solo, just not as good as a lot of the other actors in the movie.
You may be wondering in all this “what about Han?” After all this isn’t Solo’s Friends: A Star Wars Story. Alden Ehrenreich is good as Han Solo, just not as good as a lot of the other actors in the movie. He’s got some great scenes. On top of every terrific interaction with Lando, his scenes with Chewbacca are particularly good. The only real problem I had with Han in this movie is, for all the screen time and narrative focus he hogs, there’s remarkably little character development.
In an interview, director Ron Howard described Solo as the story of how Han goes from a young, naive kid to the cynical rogue we see in A New Hope. Frankly, I don’t buy it. The movie starts with Han as a wisecracking rogue eager to make a name for himself, and it ends with Han as a wisecracking, more capable rogue eager to make a name for himself.
Most of the emotional growth or development happens in the supporting cast. Beckett, Lando, and Chewbacca have much more compelling, or at least visible arcs. Even love interest Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke) changes and develops in a more dynamic way, despite otherwise not having much to do for a lot of the movie.
There’s nothing wrong with Ehrenreich’s Han. His take on the character doesn’t feel like an imitation of Harrison Ford, and sometimes he’s really funny. He just doesn’t stand out in a cast so crowded with interesting and engaging people.
A visual treat
The special effects in Solo are as good as you’ll find any Star Wars outing. The different sweeping sci-fi landscapes to which the characters journey throughout the film are varied and detailed. The streets of Corellia, where the film starts, are particularly interesting. This is one of very few examples of an urban setting in Star Wars, and it’s dark, cramped, dirty, and fascinating to look at.
The film balances practical and CGI effects well, creating scenes rich in detail, from the slums of Corellia to Dryden Vos’ space yacht, to the slave-filled mines on Kessel (yes That Kessel).
For a story about a pilot, it didn’t feel like there was very much space flight in the film, but what’s there is a lot of fun, and it’s visually really exciting, particularly in one scene that sees the Falcon navigate around a black hole.
All about the details
Much like the previous Star Wars Anthology film, Rogue One, Solo is littered with details big and small tying it into the wider Star Wars universe. And these often offer answers to lingering questions audiences may still have about the galaxy’s favourite puckish rogue.
Some of the details are pretty innocuous, but others get more meaningful. Ever wonder how Han started calling Chewbacca “Chewy,” of if Solo’s his real last name? What about the fateful Sabacc game where Han wins the Millenium Falcon?
For those of you who still get tripped up by how a parsec is a unit of distance, not time, Solo’s got you covered.
Whether you love or hate the idea of a multi-million dollar project to fill in plot holes and explain things maybe you only thought were errors, I want to stress how much better this film handles the task than Rogue One.
The previous Anthology film completely derailed its already very strange pace to painstakingly explain a detail no one really needed explained (how could a single torpedo down a ventilation shaft really destroy a moon-sized space station, anyway?). Solo suffers from no such problem. The added details and knowing asides are weaved expertly into the narrative of the film. There’s no B-plot or side story to drag things out. In fact, there isn’t really much of a B-plot at all.
Solo: A Star Wars Story has great pacing, is light, fun, and a refreshing change of pace.
All the consequential characters more or less stay together until they’re no longer consequential, or until the movie ends. The result is a much more evenly paced film than most other Star Wars titles, and especially when compared to the ones released under Disney. It’s a tight, focused story that never feels dragged or rushed. Say what you will about the decision to bring in Ron Howard to direct the film at a late stage — the man clearly knows how to string a movie together.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is the best paced Disney Star Wars movie yet. It’s one of the lightest and most fun entries in the franchise. This is a romp, through and through, and a refreshing one at that. There’s no grand crusade or desperate rebellion.
The film features a colorful cast of compelling characters and delivers a consistent, well-paced, often very funny story about how Han got his start in intergalactic crime and banditry. Han’s a little younger, a little dumber, and a little blander in this outing, but watching him interact with the other characters was a treat.
Here’s hoping we get a Lando movie some day soon.