Nutshell: A fast paced rock ’em, sock ’em actioner that introduces a young Han Solo to the Star Wars universe. While folks who are looking for lots of links to cannon may be disappointed, moviegoers who don’t mind a cursory peek at young Han (AND LANDO!!!11!) will definitely be entertained. Grade: B
Story: Some guy grows up on the streets, stealing and conning to get by. Meets a tall fuzzy bloke, a guy who really digs capes, and a crew of smugglers. But one big score – with a woman from the past – could put them all on easy street. I’m sure it’ll be a piece of cake.
Genre I’d put it in: Fun But Fluffy Origin Tale
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the Star Wars universe. An origin story for Han Solo. Obviously. Second in a planned Star Wars anthology series.
Gotta say: I’m a movieverse Star Wars fan. I’ve seen all the movies, got ’em all on DVD. Even the crappy ones. *cough1through3cough* But I’ve only read one or two of the huge library of novels set in this universe. So while I love Star Wars, I can’t be called a super-fan. But that’s okay here; Solo doesn’t require an extensive knowledge of backstory. For casual moviegoers, you can dig in without worrying that things may not make sense. Think of Solo as the Oceans Eleven (give or take a few members) of the Star Wars universe. A groovy heist film that brings together a gang of talented misfits for a big score. Oh, and along the way you’ll get to see how Han, Chewie, and Lando met. Cool? Cool.
Economic disparity is the name of the game in Solo; the haves live in mind-boggling opulence, and the have-nots have to do whatever it takes not to die in the street. The opening scene with Han and his ladylove Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke) is set in a dirty steampunk-meets-landfill world where if you don’t steal enough, you’re toast. The set design and lighting paint a picture of extreme desperation, with blues and grays predominating. Outside is no better, with the yellow/white/browns The Force Awakens used to a similar inauspicious effect. Cinematographer Bradford Young (Arrival) makes sure everything is crisp and clear, so folks won’t miss a second due to shuffling stuttercam.
There’s action aplenty in Solo. A whole lot. A really whole lot. So much that I’ve lost my will to grammar. From the get-go, Alden Ehrenreich’s Han is running, jumping, maneuvering, hitting, shooting…and getting the crap beat out of him. A few scenes go on for a touch too long, but action fans will lap it up. Me? I liked the slower scenes, where the characters (and actors) show their stuff. But the action bits pulled me into the melees, thanks to excellent editing and shots that let me see exactly what was going on. With FX this great, wide shots are our friend, letting viewers sink into the experience.
Ron Howard – stepping into the director’s chair after Phil Lord and Christopher Miller bailed due to creative differences with Lucas – puts his stamp on the story by letting the characters dictate the tension. Yes, there’s a lovely film score, but it’s the way the characters interact that drives this film. And as the cast is stocked with performers that can convey a whole lot with just a shrug or an eye twinkle, it makes for many a compelling scene.
In particular, Donald Glover as a young Lando Calrissian is an absolute delight. He’s just as smooth and cocky as Billy Dee Williams. Seeing Lando as the pilot of the Millennium Falcon was cool too, though his co-pilot L3-37 (voiced bu Phebe Waller-Bridge) steals every scene she has with anyone else. It’s a great character, and I give a tip of the hat to screenwriters Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan for making me forget about C-3P0 and R2-D2. Well, for a minute or two.
As with her role on Game of Thrones, Clarke gives good face. Her ability to hold a poker face while letting tiny bits of Real Emotions™ almost imperceptibly flash through is perfect for her role as mysterious (and possibly duplicitous?) Qi’ra. Though I didn’t wholly buy the chemistry between Han and Qi’ra, the period the two characters spent apart lends a believability to the sturm-und-drang that often pops up between the two.
Okay here ’tis; my thoughts on Ehrenreich as Han. He’s…actually pretty damn good. He’s got Ford’s cocky way with the character down pat, with a heaping helping of naïveté and, dare I say it, a hopefullness that the Original Trilogy Han doesn’t have. Hey, this is an origin story, with a requisite character arc. This Han is a wide-eyed Han, one who is sure that everything will work out just fine, and helping people is something that’s possible. He’s a smuggler, but hasn’t yet become the scoundrel. While I adore anti-hero Han, this Solo works. Ehrenreich combines hope and a wary edge nicely.
I’d like to get into more character descriptions, but I don’t want to spoil things. Fine; Paul Bettany is fantastic, and I want to live on his ship. That’s all I’ll say. A tiny, wafer-thin bit of real spoilerage? Okay. Highlight the invisotext if you’re so inclined:
HOLY CRAP THEY DOUBLE DOWN ON THE “HAN SHOT FIRST” ARGUMENT. And as someone who’s firmly in that camp, I absolutely freakin’ loved every second of it.
So there you have it. Hardcore fans who read all the books and know all the things? You might be miffed at the way Solo plays fast-and-loose with cannon. But for viewers like me who just want to see my favorites on screen? Like the Millennium Falcon, Solo may be a bit clunky in spots, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.
#Protip: Let’s not forget that a young Ron Howard starred in George Lucas’ American Graffiti. Now Howard’s directing for Lucas. Cool.