Instead of being universally praised for featuring 2 of the most beloved characters in the galaxy, Solo: A Star Wars Story just exists. It comes during a time when its titular character dies on screen 3 years prior in the first of a Disney planned sequel trilogy and right on the heels of one of the most divisive films the galaxy has seen – dividing fans jaggedly down the middle, making the future of the franchise questionable to continue on. Given the reputation the characters are held in, Solo plays it safe, no rules are broken, adding very little impact to an established galaxy we are already familiar with. What takes place has been mentioned by name, which when plays out, isn’t nearly as impressive as its shown to be.
The second of 2 “Star Wars Stories” that would break up the trilogy to cover isolated events, Solo provides an ambitious origin for a character that didn’t need one told. The enigma behind Han’s past when he’s introduced in A New Hope and sprinkled in throughout that trilogy is enough to go on while supporting characters can fill in the gaps and add to the legend of the smuggler turned rebel alliance hero.
Chronologically taking place before the events of A New Hope and right after Revenge of the Sith, Solo’s narrative promise banks on the untapped potential during this transition period establishing a darker tone when the empire is in full control and the once heralded peacekeepers known as the Jedi are in hiding. It’s a lawless time where thieves, smugglers and criminals have a firm grip on the galaxy, carving out their portion from the empire. Living on planet Corellia, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) looks for his purpose in the galaxy with plans to leave the planet with Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), break free from Lady Promixa’s (voiced by Linda Hunt) protection and become the best pilot in the galaxy.
Along the way, Han becomes a gimmick. The first act revolves around the escape of Han and Qi’ra off of Corellia and to avoid detection from stormtroopers and Lady Proxima’s henchmen, Han joins the imperial army. Not having a last name, Han is gifted the surname ‘Solo’ by a guard who would rather do anything else for the empire than to sign up recruits. Right off the bat screenwriters Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan treat Han as a secondary character in his own origin. Han Solo is a name that’s synonymous with Star Wars, so the thought of his name’s origin becomes a disservice to the character.
Much of what Han is known for gets explored by the Kasdan’s script. What made Han, Han is given room to breathe but after playing out in sequential order, the accomplishments are visually less impressive than hearing the story in conversation and letting the imagination run wild. Playing Han, Alden Ehrenreich has massive shoes to fill, and he fits snugly into the role after Harrison Ford brought the character to life and his tenure with the role ended with The Force Awakens. Ehrenreich plays a different version of the Han Solo we already know. This Han is ambitious and hungry to prove himself – he’s naïve and compassionate to help those he cares about. Besides the jarring sensation of a recast, Ehrenreich nails the look and feel for Han Solo without committing a Harrison Ford impersonation. It’s Ehrenreich’s chance to prove himself and he handles the pressure as best anyone can that comes with the expectation.
Following in Rogue One’s path, Solo opens to the familial “Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away” but doesn’t feature the crawl that an episode would start off with but an exposition dump to catch us up to where Han is at in his life. Like Rogue One the experiment lands for the most part however the expectation is too much for this film to handle. Being a Star Wars story doesn’t guarantee instant success and Solo stumbles its way to the finish line where Han learns some life lessons and begins transforming into the cynic we meet him as in episode 4.
Pushing the story forward, Han and his new friend Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) join a crew of thieves led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Val (Thandiwe Newton) to steal refined coaxium for the crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) working for the Crimson Dawn syndicate. It’s within the basic plot that Solo relies on the familiar, introducing the Millennium Falcon, the current owner Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his humanoid droid L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge).
For the most part, the saga has stayed well within its own sandbox, decreasing the size of the galaxy instead of exploring new worlds, different species and addressing more mature themes. Since the release of A New Hope, the Skywalker name has ruled the galaxy and any spin-off that comes with it. Somehow an expansive untapped galaxy feels small and self-contained. It’s the achilles heel of the franchise. How much longer can the Skywalker name and any well-known associates like Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian stay relevant before the fanbase gives up and moves on. The galaxy is ripe with potential but somehow stories have stayed stagnant when there is so much more to tell.
As impressive as Ehrenreich is stepping into fill the Harrison Ford sized hole of Han Solo, Donald Glover as Lando eclipses Ehrenreich immediately with his swagger. The two meet during an intense game of Sabacc where the arrogance fills the room. Glover and Ehrenreich within seconds of appearing on screen together steal the show. Their dialogue is quick and fierce, and the charm of Solo is funneled through their performances. What Ford and Billy Dee Williams deliver in Empire Strikes Back and beyondis magnified by the pairings first encounter. The constant gamesmanship is well established, giving nuance to their complicated relationship.
Within its modest runtime, Solo explores some mature themes the saga has barely touched upon previously. Themes of discrimination and equal rights for droids are hinted at by L3, but as quick as it’s mentioned, the thought of it is extinguished for the dazzling set piece that would rather play out to keep the viewers’ attention. Droid’s have highly been regarded as 2nd class citizens which makes L3’s brief time on screen poignant and interesting. I hope as the saga moves beyond the shackles of the Skywalker’s it finds a way to explore classism and discrimination further as its part of Solo is an unsung victory for the self-contained story.
Despite its necessity, Solo provides a fun distraction during a new era for the galaxy. Unfortunately for Solo, writers Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan write the film with the expectation the rest of the galaxy and the different installments have been explored. To watch Solo and understand the full scope of where the galaxy is at currently, the Clone Wars series is needed as a pre-requisite watch, which instantly alienates newer fans to the saga or those who don’t consume every installment Star Wars has to offer. Beside Ehrenreich and Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge does wonders with her droid, giving a refreshing attitude to L3. Disney era droids have reigned supreme and along with K-2SO voiced by Alan Tudyk, the droids almost become more interesting than their human companions.
Screenplay By: Jonathan & Lawrence Kasdan
Directed By: Ron Howard
Music By: John Powell & John Williams
Cinematography: Bradford Young
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandiwe Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany, Erin Kellyman
Where to Watch: Disney Plus
Release Date: May 25, 2018
Running Time: 2 Hours 15 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%
Based On: Characters by George Lucas