Solo: A Star Wars Story hits all the expected Han Solo origin story beats, delivering a solidly entertaining experience with few surprises.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is the second of Lucasfilm's anthology movies, released as part of the reinvigorated franchise since the studio was acquired by Disney in 2012. The first standalone film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, loosely connected to the episodic Skywalker Saga, but introduced a whole ensemble of new characters. For Solo, Lucasfilm took a different route, instead depicting the origin story of one of Star Wars' most beloved characters: Han Solo. Though originated by Harrison Ford in 1977's Star Wars: A New Hope, who played Han through to 2015's The Force Awakens, Lucasfilm hired a new actor to portray a younger take on the iconic smuggler in their latest anthology movie. Solo: A Star Wars Story hits all the expected Han Solo origin story beats, delivering a solidly entertaining experience with few surprises.
After surviving a childhood of running scams on the streets of Corellia, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) makes it off planet in search of the freedom of having his own ship and serving no masters. While he does make it out, his escape has certain consequences for someone he loves. In an effort to make it right, Han does what he can to make the money to buy a ship and return to Corellia. Along the way, he meets a Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and they join a crew of thieves led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Along with Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio (Jon Favreau), Tobias leads Han and Chewie on the heist of a freight train carrying valuable hyperfuel.
When the heist goes sideways, though, Tobias' crew finds themselves with a debt to pay to Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the leader of a crime syndicate called Crimson Dawn. While meeting with Vos, Han runs into someone from his childhood, his old friend Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke). With her help, Han is able to negotiate a way for him and Tobias to make things square with Vos, but they'll have to pull another job. In order to pull it off, they'll need a fast ship, and the crew turns to an old contact of Qi'ra's, none other than Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). With Lando and his co-pilot, the droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Han sets off on another heist. However, though Han Solo may be a skilled pilot, it remains to be seen if he has what it takes to navigate the criminal underworld in which he finds himself.
With a script written by Star Wars franchise veteran Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan Kasdan, Solo: A Star Wars Story delivers every single story beat fans of the iconic smuggler would expect in a prequel film - almost exhaustively so. The first act of Solo hits each major aspect of Han's character as if working through a checklist, depicting everything from the origin of his name to how he met his furry co-pilot. As a result, some of these moments feel like the Kasdans injected ham-fisted explanations into the film simply for the sake of answering questions fans have pondered since Han's original introduction (though it's debatable whether those questions really needed to be answered). Still, though some of these details are clunky and slow down the first act of Solo, certain aspects of Han's origin offer fun insights into his character, and his relationship with Chewbacca, that fans may appreciate.
Further, Solo does manage to bring a slightly different tone to the Star Wars adventure. Though the movie is firmly rooted in the galaxy far, far away - and there are plenty of Easter eggs that connect it to other properties - the nature of Han Solo's life takes viewers into a much seedier, and more grounded, side of the Star Wars franchise. With crime syndicates posing a much larger day-to-day threat than the Empire to Han and those he grew up with on Corellia, it's a much different side of the universe. As such, Solo is one of the darker entries in the franchise overall, but in a way that still fits the character since it takes inspirations from westerns and heist films. These inspirations are evident throughout Solo and make sure the movie stands slightly apart from the rest of the franchise, even as it fits neatly into the Star Wars brand.
That distinctive tone is drawn out by director Ron Howard, who was brought in midway through production after Lucasfilm parted ways with original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. The filmmaker brings a much more grounded feel to the movie, which is helped by cinematographer Bradford Young, who paints the Han Solo origin movie in predominantly earthy, muddy colors; the major exception is the Millennium Falcon, but that foreshadows Han's future involvement in the galactic fight against the Empire later in his life. Further, Howard demonstrates a skilled hand in bringing a range of emotion to Solo, evoking humor when the moment calls for it. But, much more often, Howard brings real emotional and physical stakes to the movie, a difficult feat for an origin story in which three of the core characters are known to survive.
As for the cast of Solo, it may take longtime Star Wars fans some time to get used to seeing Ehrenreich in the role of Han, but he undoubtedly brings the right charm and depth to the character. Ehrenreich doesn't try to do an impression of Ford's Han, instead putting his own spin on the younger version of the smuggler - but one that honors the original trilogy character. Harrelson also excels as Beckett, playing off Ehrenreich's Han well for a complex mentor-mentee dynamic. Further, Glover is a standout as Lando Calrissian, and fans will be calling for more of his character in additional Star Wars anthology films. His droid, L3, as voiced by Waller-Bridge, is sure to be another favorite, though her character is often played for laughs in ways that may not sit well with all viewers. All in all, the ensemble cast of Solo is strong - if not always used effectively - but it's truly Ehrenreich's show, and he gives a solid lead performance.
Ultimately, Solo: A Star Wars Story delivers on what was promised: an entertaining enough origin story for Han Solo that explains how he became the smuggler introduced in A New Hope. Beyond that, the movie takes very few risks and offers very few surprises. (Though, arguably, casting someone new in a role as iconic as Han Solo and attempting to deliver a prequel film that pleases fans both new and old is risky enough.) Certainly, Solo will be an exciting romp for fans of Han, Chewie and Lando, but offers little reason to care about the goings on of the movie beyond seeing these three come full circle to the original trilogy. As such, Solo: A Star Wars Story will be entertaining viewing for longtime fans of the franchise, or those whose interest was piqued by the marketing, but may not be necessary viewing for those with only a casual interest in Star Wars.
Solo: A Star Wars Story starts playing in U.S. theaters Thursday evening May 24th. It runs 135 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
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