Solo: A Star Wars Story is the surprise of the summer. It’s a miracle that the final product turned out the way that it did. I wasn’t expecting much because of the behind the scenes chaos the film production had (in short, original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired by LucasFilm with a few weeks left in production due to disagreements between them, Lawrence Kasdan, the screenwriter, and LucasFilm over the direction that the film should take and Ron Howard stepped in as their replacement). Since this happened, I thought this was going to be another Justice League situation where you could tell which director shot each scene, and the trailers didn’t do much to gain my confidence. Truth be told, since this had the most publicized troubles of all the Disney Star Wars films, I thought this was going to be a disaster, but much to my surprise, I was wrong on that. And this is the most fun film that Howard has directed in a very long time, and it’s up there with 2013’s Rush as one of the best films he has made during this decade.
The film covers the early days of Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), how he came to be the character we all came to love, and how he crosses path with his future co-pilot and loyal companion Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). In short, after a job goes south, Han, Chewie, and Han’s mentor Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrleson) need to repay the debt that Beckett has with gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). In order to complete their mission, with Vos’ top lieutenant Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), someone from Han’s past in tow, they will need Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and what he considers to be the best ship in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon.
The first thing on everyone’s mind will be, how is Ehrenreich as Han? Well, he’s a little clunky at first and somewhat stiff, but then he finds his rhythm about 30 minutes in, and makes the character his own. I enjoyed that he doesn’t try to amp up or imitate Harrison Ford’s Han, yet you can still see hints of who Han will become in the future. Glover puts in an amazing performance as Lando. Glover absolutely kills it! Whenever he’s on screen, he basically steals the film. Lando is charming as ever, showing how much he’s full of himself, while still possessing the charisma to win you over. Harrleson seems like he’s having fun playing Beckett, and it’s a nice change of pace from some of the serious roles he has taken on for the last few years. In the tradition of scene-stealing droids throughout the series, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Lando’s droid companion, gets the job done and provides some laughs. Clarke as Qi’ra was fine in this, certainly better than some of her film roles she has taken on outside of Game of Thrones. Chewie finally gets to do something in this one unlike in the past few episodic films, and I enjoyed the chemistry that Suotamo and Ehrenreich exhibited between one another.
For the story itself, credited to Kasdan (who previously co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens) and his son Jonathan, it is serviceable enough. They pay some nice homage to the original films, and there are some fun Easter Eggs along the way. Since this is basically an origin story, the Kasdans for the most part, provide some fun answers about Han’s background. If anyone knows Han inside and out, Lawrence would be your guy. Story and directing wise, you can see the western influence that the Kasdans and Howard were going for with this film. Howard does a good job in visually depicting each of the planets that we go to throughout the film, with some help from his DP, Bradford Young (this is his first big budget film he shot after films like Selma and getting an Oscar nomination for his work on Arrival). Howard keeps the fun up, and for the cynic like me going into the screening; I will admit that I had a smile on my face from time to time. If you didn’t know about the BTS problems, you wouldn’t be able to tell which directors shot what scenes, and it felt seamless enough that nothing felt out of place. As expected, the creature and set designs were on point. For a 135-minute runtime that Solo displays, the pacing was good and it kept right along (it did seem to go by faster than Star Wars: The Last Jedi), and some of scenes were nicely edited that they had a fun rhythm to it. Finally, the music from John Powell, with some help from John Williams, might be the best-composed music yet for a Disney Wars film. Powell does a nice job in paying tribute to what we heard before, or in this case what we will hear later on, and putting a new spin to some of the classic tracks.
If there were any problems that Solo exhibited, it’s that some of the plotting felt a little too convenient at times, in that you can probably figure out what’s going to happen. The first 15-20 minutes or so are a little clunky and rough around the edges, with the first few scenes so darkly lit that it’s a little hard to see what’s going on. The villain of the film, Vos, isn’t particularly interesting and didn’t grab me, but I wonder if this was one of the casualties of the reshoots and the switching of directors (Michael K. Williams had originally played Vos as a motion capture alien, but when he couldn’t come back, they brought in Bettany and reconfigured the character as a human). For being featured in the marketing, Thandie Newton’s Val was wasted and basically had nothing to do whenever she was on screen. Lastly, the love story that they hint at in the film between Han and Qi’ra is nothing special. Unlike Han and Leia, you never really feel it with Han and Qi’ra, even though we hear throughout the film that there’s something between them.
Overall, and I know that I said this word a few times over the course of this review, but Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fun film. It starts off rocky, but once it finds its rhythm, it gets good. If you were one of those people who were disappointed with The Last Jedi, I think you will have some fun with this. This won’t change the game, but if you’re looking for something to sit back and relax for a few hours, this is a good choice. I would be open to see more Star Wars Stories in the future, since I thought this was going to be the last film in this series, after the problems that this and Rogue One had. I wouldn’t even mind seeing more films with Ehrenreich as Han, but get me that Lando spinoff film ASAP! On that note, I would recommend checking this out in the theater. If you were a skeptic like me, you might be surprised with the outcome of this.