I have a bad feeling about this.
Such was my sentiment entering the cinema to see the newest Star Wars prequel, Solo: A Star Wars Story. Having heard the buzz and still bitter from my disappointment in Rogue One, I nevertheless am a fan of the ongoing Star Wars saga, enjoying J.J. Abrams’ nostalgia-inducing The Force Awakens and truly loving the innovative greatness of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. So I’m pleased to say that, following Solo, I exited the theater with the same sense of delight and surprise that Han Solo expresses after a successful escapade through danger: well, I’m glad that somehow worked out.
Director Ron Howard (In the Heart of the Sea, Edtv) finishes what previous directors (now producers, two of the *fifteen* this film boasts) Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The LEGO Movie) were never allowed to complete. Some of the humor and wit of the two auteurs shine through in flickers, but Howard and DP Bradford Young (Arrival, Selma) keep the tone and visuals surprisingly muted and dusky. Absent of the signature opening crawl, Solo dives into the story of a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) driving a speeder breakneck through an industrial urban landscape a sort of Blade Runner meets Rebel Without a Cause, though lacking the imagination and emotion of both cinematic inspirations. Han is all alone on the road, which is the point. Solo exists to answer the questions we might have had about the scruffy nerfherder of a flyboy: How did he and Chewbacca meet? How did they get the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian? What about that boasted Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs? Solo serves up the answers to these (as well as ones we were never asking, like the origin of his last name) with a sense of verve and gusto.
Still, the stakes are extremely low here. This is both the major flaw and a unique strength about prequels in general. We already know Han and Chewbacca will live to meet Luke and Obi-Wan in a cantina on Tatooine. We know they’ll obtain the Millennium Falcon and make some “special modifications.” We know the Kessel Run will occur, presumably in less than 12 parsecs (whatever that really means, since a parsec is a measure of distance, not time). What matters in prequels is how, and Solo makes the how a thrilling, adventurous heist film in the vein of The Italian Job or Ocean’s 11 set in the Star Wars universe. There are also elements of the Western genre, like bandits and crime lords and a gripping train robbery sequence. With such low stakes and high action, Solo becomes classic popcorn excitement with a lot of flash and speed, with relatively few quiet moments shared between characters or a sense of mythos. It’s a trifle of a film: totally unnecessary but nevertheless scrumptious.
Ehrenreich gives a good Harrison Ford impression with his smirk and swagger, imbuing the character with a balance between cocksure arrogance and insecurity. For those wondering about Han’s lack of civility and emotional awareness regarding his romance with Leia, Solo reveals Han’s first lost love as the capable Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who alongside Han lives enslaved by a local centipede-like crime boss on Corellia. In an attempt to escape the two end up separated, with Han joining then deserting the Imperial military and tagging along with some thieves led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Meanwhile, Qi’ra finds herself employed by Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, in a scenery-chewing role), leader of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate. Unlike Rogue One, Solo does have memorable character arcs and motivations, and the chemistry between these rogues far outshines the previous “Star Wars story” effort. Clarke and Harrelson are quite good, but it’s Donald Glover as a charming young Lando and his liberative droid partner L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) who are the true scene-stealers. Perhaps the strongest performance in Solo is Joonas Suotamo as the “young” Chewbacca, taking up the role and Peter Mayhew’s mannerisms with perfection. Suotamo communicates so much through simply his posture, and his bravery in the midst of the action sequences make Chewie the best part of Solo. It’s worth seeing for the partnership and camaraderie which form between Chewbacca and Han over the course of their adventures. I even got bit choked up when the pair find themselves sitting side by side finally piloting the Millennium Falcon. There’s a not-too-subtle message about isolation vs. community here, with Solo landing squarely in the camp of the latter, despite its title.
What Solo lacks in mythology, visual flair, and wonder, it makes up for in…well…fun. I laughed, I cried, I was never bored, and left thoroughly entertained. There are gun duels and interstellar chase scenes, high-stakes card games and so many double-crosses it’s hard to keep count. A few cameos were notable, although a bit confusing (a friend explained a character’s late reveal and how it fits in the Star Wars timeline). I think understand why this is a summer film instead of the typical Christmas date of recent Star Wars (although The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were summer releases). I don’t think the Disney/Lucasfilm/Marvel empire managed to exorcise all of the vivacious spirit of Lord and Miller. I had a good feeling about this.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3778644