In preparation for the release of The Rise of Skywalker, I am rewatching all of the previous Star Wars films in episode order.
Here is my review of Solo, originally published on May 19, 2009.
Title: Solo: A Star Wars Story
Release Date: May 25, 2018
Director: Ron Howard
Production Company:Walt Disney Studios
Han Solo is one of the most beloved characters in movie history and in 4 movies (and a holiday special), he was portrayed by Harrison Ford, arguably the most popular actor of the past five decades. A Han Solo movie without Harrison Ford is missing an essential element. Not that Alden Ehrenreich can be blamed as he does an excellent job performing as a young Han, it’s just not possible for him to be the same character.
As one might expect from an origin story, a lot of familiar aspects of the Han Solo character are introduced here. We see Han get his last name, meet Chewbacca(Joonas Suotamo) for the first time, get his blaster, meet Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), and acquire the Millenium Falcon. The notorious Kessel Run is even part of the plot. Many of the movies set pieces are generic or derivative action-adventure tropes. Early on, landspeeders are used in a classic car chase, then there’s a railroad heist, and finally scenes of the Falcon dodging asteroids and a space creature reminiscent of Empire Strikes Back.
Where Solo works best is around the edges, where we see the people and events that shape Han Solo into becoming both cynical and self-interested and having a big heart with a weakness for the underdog. The former is demonstrated by Han’s mentor/antagonist Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who repeatedly instructs Han to not trust anyone. Another important figure is Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), Han’s childhood sweetheart. At the start of the film, we see them both trying to escape their home planet of Corellia, but Qi’ra is captured at a checkpoint. Han serves in the Imperial Navy for three years with plans to go back to rescue her, but when they meet again, she has found her own way out, and it’s strongly implied that she’s done some unsavory things in the process.
Han’s heart is shown again and again. He’s placed in a pit to fight Chewbacca to the death, but realizes that they are both prisoners and finds a way for both of them to escape. A big twist in the film involves another antagonist Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman), and Han’s response to new knowledge is very telling. Even Han’s final confrontation with Tobias is one that’s filled with tears, rather than celebration.
Solo has a lot in common with the other Star Wars Story, Rogue One, in that it shows the People’s perspective of the galaxy rather than one of royals, knights, and generals. Imperial officers are typically unquestionably evil, but the one who recruits Han has a tender moment where he calls Han “son.” Of course he also promises Han that he’ll be flying starships, so it’s very telling when the movie jumps ahead three years to show Han in a battle, on foot. Deconstructing the myth of Imperial efficiency, the battle is depicted as a mess with no clear objectives and the officers having nothing more to offer than catchphrases. Also like Rogue One, one of the best characters is a droid. In this case Lando’s companion Elthree (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) who speaks the truth that has been evident through all the Star Wars movies: droids are treated as slaves and need to be liberated.
The movie never seems to decide whether it wants to be a romp or to delve into the more serious undertones of poverty in the Empire and what that drives people to do. As a result the movie is a bit uneven and not as good as it could be. Nevertheless, the acting is strong, the humor is sharp, and Solo is generally an entertaining movie. It’s a worthy addition to the Star Wars saga (and certainly better than any of the prequels).
Some Stray Post-Rewatch Thoughts:
- We see Lando dictating his memoirs as “The Calrissian Chronicles,” and we need a spinoff movie with this title starring Donald Glover NOW!
- Speaking of Lando, I never mentioned how much I laughed the running gag about his capes.
- Elthree successfully frees everyone enslaved in the Kessel mine on a whim. Qui-Gon never even tried.
- Chewbacca is 190 years old when he meets Han. We need a spinoff movie from earlier in his life too! Perhaps with an all-Wookiee cast speaking entirely in Shyriiwook with no subtitles. Ok, I’m joking about that last part.