Solo: A Star Wars Story | Ron Howard | May 25, 2018
I don’t need to go into the troubled production history of Solo: A Star Wars Story that saw the film change hands from the tag-team directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to the safe and steady veteran hand of Ron Howard. It seems that in the many months leading up to its May 25 release date that many fans – both casual and the most feverish diehards – had little hope that this was A Star Wars Story worth seeing. While by no means is this an instant classic in the ever-expanding Star Wars cinematic universe, it’s a solid enough entry that most fans will have fun with.
Beginning on the lowly world of Corellia, we meet a much younger version of a hungry aspiring pilot named Han (Alden Ehrenreich) who is ready to escape the troublesome lifestyle on his planet with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Things don’t quite go according to plan and only Han is able to break out and makes a vow to Qi’ra and himself that he will do whatever it takes to come back for her. This journey leads him on various adventures, from having a quick bout with the Imperial Flight Academy, fighting as an infantryman for the Imperial Army, and soon getting involved with a ragtag gang of criminals led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who soon welcomes Han into the gang and reluctantly takes him under his wing as a mentor.
Han’s plan is to work alongside Beckett and prove himself worthy to help them on a big job for the threatening crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), after which he’ll get paid and rescue Qi’ra. Naturally, it’s not quite that easy. He’s constantly up against new testy situations which show a bit about how modern Solo started to become the man that we first meet during Episode 4. Of course, this includes seeing how Solo first meets his two pals, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).
The film starts off a little uneven and takes some time to really find its groove and feel, possibly because of the shifting hands between Lord & Miller and Howard. But towards the middle, it does seem to find a bit of mojo, and by the third act, it really gets cooking and seems to know what it is with a confidence that the early scenes were lacking. It may be too little too late for some, but this was much more preferable to a film that begins fine and soon derails every step of the way.
While it’s admittedly fun to see these interactions for the first time as a fan, it also begs the question if it’s really necessary. While sure, seeing them all board the pristine Millennium Falcon for the first time does make you smile, you also realize that a lot, if not all that Solo: A Star Wars Story relies upon is fan service. Now, arguments can be made that all of the new Disney-produced Star Wars entries certainly gravitate in that zone, but there’s something about this standalone anthology film that really stands out in particular.
The reason I want to see a film about Han Solo is to dive deeper into the lore and history of the character and really unravel something we didn’t know was there before and help shape our perspective on the character in a new and exciting way. The script, written by Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan, does give us glimpses of some critical moments in Solo’s life to help us see how he slowly becomes the character that we know and love, but some of it felt superficial and not quite deep enough on a level that would totally warrant them dedicating an entire movie to him. While it’s fine that we didn’t get a trope-filled kid-to-troubled-teen origin story, the time that we spent with him just felt like a brief snapshot of some fun vignettes and not a totally deep character study that a mighty character like Han Solo deserves.
That’s not to say that I didn’t have a fun time with the film; there were plenty of big sequences that kept me in awe and tons of funny bits that definitely had the spirit of Lord and Miller, if not directly from them. Ron Howard doesn’t pull off any amazing new tricks, but his steady hand and vision seem to be the one that producer Kathleen Kennedy and the rest of the Mighty Mouse wanted so desperately like. Like with Edgar Wright and Ant-Man, a part of me still wonders what could’ve been if Lord and Miller were able to stick it out, but at the same time, it seems like Howard did the job that was needed from him, especially under such a tight schedule.
Alden Ehrenreich is in the unfavorable position of bringing something new to an iconic role that was played in an equally iconic fashion by a legendary actor. He had a tough task at hand and, despite the early reports that people were worried about his acting chops (clearly people who didn’t see his scene-stealing turn in Hail, Caesar!), Ehrenreich does fine in the role. No, he doesn’t come close to Harrison Ford, but come on, did you really expect him to? He brings some of the charm and spirit of the character in his own way without just cheaply imitating Ford’s version or offering an impression. He does have chemistry with Chewbecca, Lando and Qi’ra, which was definitely something crucial to its success.
Emilia Clarke is fine as Qi’ra, not quite as good as she can be given the right moments of Game Of Thrones but nowhere near her flat turn in Terminator: Genisys. The real stars of the show are Donald Glover who is literally perfect as Lando Calrissian, as well as the always reliable Woody Harrelson who gives a multi-layered performance as Tobias Beckett, giving Han many crucial lessons of the trade. Paul Bettany isn’t given all that much to work with as the villainous Dryden Vos (a role originally meant for Michael K. Williams), but certainly has fun with the role and does the best he can.
Ultimately, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fun, somewhat harmless, and brief glimpse at the early days of Han Solo. But the fact that is the most praise I can give a Han Solo standalone film makes this feel like a missed opportunity that could’ve been so much more.
Even if you didn’t like all the choices made with The Last Jedi, at least you can argue that it tried to change things up and challenge what fans think they want. While fans may come to an agreement that they feel more favorable about this film for now and less so about The Last Jedi, something tells me that in the long-run, the film that changes the status quo is the one that will really stand the test of time and bring on dedicated rewatches and reevaluations.