Considering that it’s a movie nobody needed and few may have wanted, Solo: A Star Wars Story is an unexpected treat. I walked into it with little desire to see it and even fewer expectations for enjoying it, so I was thoroughly rewarded by every one of its 135 minutes. I not only hope there’s a second chapter, but will be disappointed if there’s not. Luckily, if the positive reaction of the audience at the screening is any indication, there should be good news about an ongoing franchise.
For me, the movie’s success hinges on the young actor hired to play Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich. To be honest, the trailers portrayed him as a pale representation of the dynamic character portrayed by Harrison’s Ford. He didn’t come across to me as anything like Han Solo or Harrison Ford… not that he necessarily should. This was Ehrenreich’s opportunity to do something new with the role. I told myself going in that if he at least had some charisma that suggested Solo/Ford, but somehow made Solo his own, I would be satisfied.
I was therefore thrilled that he did just that. It takes a while… the movie starts very dark with a big action scene and it’s hard to get an immediate grasp on the character. But he grows on you. By the time the movie ended, I not only accepted Ehrenreich as Han Solo, but embraced him. This is in large part due to small moments and reactions that add layers to what we already know about the character; for example, when he sees the Millennium Falcon for the first time or experiences the sheer joy and wonder of piloting it.
Solo is a different kind of Star Wars movie. For the first time, we’re not dropped into the middle of a battle between the Rebellion and the Empire. Nobody is trying to destroy a weapon of mass destruction. There’s nary a lightsabre in sight. Nevertheless, small details sparingly appear that foreshadow the future. Most interesting for me is the idea of the Empire recruiting for the military in an effort to “unite the galaxy.” In fact, that’s how Han initially escapes from the planet on which he’s suffered oppression.
None of this is to say that Solo doesn’t utilize a familiar formula. Instead of a big rescue or sabotage mission, though, there’s a big heist, the perfect set-up for the future rogue, scoundrel and smuggler. Three years after his initial escape, Han is ready for another, this time from his post in the Imperial military. In a convoluted way, he manages to convince Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Val (Thandie Newton) that he’s vital to the success of their current mission. He doesn’t realize, or care, that this will put him in an adversarial position with the movie’s villian…
…crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Vos is after a hot commodity: the fuel that powers starships. Everyone wants some, because whoever owns it has power… and wealth. Beckett and crew want it for the latter; Vos wants it for the former and hires them to get it for him. Han wants the money for a singular purpose that’s maintained throughout the movie and is his emotional motivation. He simply wants to buy his own ship so he can return home to the woman, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), he left behind.
Along the way, we witness adventures we’ve only heard about, but never seen. Han meets and befriends Chewbacca. He makes the “Kessel Run” in what he once claimed was “less than 12 parsecs.” He gambles with Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) for the fate of the Millennium Falcon. It really plays in Solo‘s favor that new adventures outnumber “familiar” ones by at least two-to-one. Like The Last Jedi, Solo feels like we’re finally experiencing something original in the Star Wars universe. It’s now safe to stretch and do something new.
My only complaints are the cinematography (dark, as mentioned) and the music. Some may consider a movie full of characters you can never trust to be dark, figuratively; but, it doesn’t need to look dark, physically. Then, considering the legacy of scores and themes from the legendary John Williams, the semi-original music used here by John Powell feels watered-down. It could have been more effective to use an entirely original score rather than familiar themes that hover in the background without really feeling integrated into the action.
These are minor quibbles in a fun, exciting movie. A couple of the action set pieces are spectacular. I was on the edge of my seat for the train sequence… you’ll know the one I mean. If Ehrenreich is successful as Han Solo, Glover is a revelation as Lando Calrissian. My favorite character, though, is a new addition, a droid named L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). She perhaps best represents the evolution of not only droids in the Star Wars saga, but of the saga itself. She/it are brave, funny and fearless, paving a fresh path to the future.