Looking back now it seems inevitable that with Disney owning the Star Wars franchise, Han Solo would one day get his own movie. With Disney looking to cash in on their investment, they chose to go with the tried and true expansion of their side characters stories, and the dashing smuggler is a perfect choice to bring in the bucks. When the original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller moved on from the film there were some concerns that Solo would be choppy and Ron Howard was a good choice to allay those fears. Thankfully Solo does feel all of a piece and is definitely a Ron Howard film, with all the good and bad that entails.
It’s long been established that Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) grew up on the industrial planet of Corellia and was forced into a criminal way of life from a young age. The film opens by showing his attempt to escape the planet with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), but when they are caught by the Empire’s enforcers he is forced to go on without her. On his travels, he is forced into battle with a certain Wookie, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and they end up joining a mercenary group in need of a few warm bodies to pull a large heist. When things inevitably go sideways, Han and Chewbacca along with Beckett (Woody Harrelson) the leader of the gang, must make amends to their employer Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).
Upon arriving at their boss’s lair, Han finds out that Qi’ra is one of Dryden’s lieutenants and after she vouches for Han, the two find themselves forced into a risky heist in order to pay back the ruthless overlord. All of this is just the first act of the film. From there Solo takes us on a dizzying journey through Han’s introduction to Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his rebellious droid co-pilot L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and their furiously paced journey with the Millennium Falcon on a dangerous mission into hostile territory. By the end of the film, it becomes clear that the story is there to fill in the gaps of Han Solo’s history rather than to tell a new and exciting story.
As the focus of the film, Alden Ehrenreich had a challenge ahead of him, Harrison Ford is an iconic actor and Ehrenreich’s solution is to do his very best impression of Ford playing Han Solo. Unfortunately, it always feels like an impression, he never slips into the role and takes on the cocky, deliberate attitude that made Han so interesting. Donald Glover on the other hand, brings a cool sensuality to Lando that feels fresh and unique. He sports an impressive wardrobe to match his boundless confidence and although he is in a third of the film, it doesn’t feel like enough. Continuing its tradition of giving its droid characters big personalities, Solo’s L3-37 is a snarky and delightful character who demands droid equality and manages to be one of the highlights of the film.
Solo tries very hard to bring another genre into the Star Wars universe, the crime film. When its exploring that genre the film is at its most interesting but all too often it tries to tie itself into the existing universe which drags the story down. Solo ’s biggest problem was always going to be its prequel status as it’s hard to generate tension when the audience already knows the outcome of the story. But Solo does its damndest to generate tension, mostly by cramming every second of screen time with action and plot advancement. This works for the most part, as it doesn’t leave the viewer even a moment to consider the previous events before the film has moved on. The stakes of the story are almost non-existent, as the only people in any danger are underdeveloped side characters. Despite the films purported romance, the most interesting relationship in the film is between Han and Chewbacca, who quickly develop a friendship that we know will last a lifetime.
Unlike more recent additions to the franchise, Solo is a decidedly simplistic film. It follows all the beats one would expect from a Star Wars film and nothing more. It’s a fun ride that gives us the details of a beloved character’s backstory, but because we know so much about this event it doesn’t get a chance to really engage the viewer. Despite that fact, the film has a few great scenes and is by far the most comedic of the Star Wars films. In a rare change from this summer’s blockbuster fare, Solo is a film that rewards those who know little about the franchise, but for avid Star Wars fans, it may feel a bit trite.