While I may not be the biggest Star Wars fan around, I can honestly say that my favorite character in this universe has always been Han Solo. In a world full of mysticism and larger-than life beliefs about the force and Jedis, Han Solo seems to be the only character grounded in reality. He’s not out to save the universe or conquer it, he’s just trying to make a living and doing it the only way he knows how. But at the same time, he’s not so grounded in his beliefs to the point of being a buffoon, he is willing to change and admit his own faults, making him the most flexible and human character in this series.
So when it was announced that we’d be getting a Han Solo origin story, I was onboard with the idea. While I know that most of the Star Wars audience was thrown off by Harrison Ford not being in the lead role, I knew going in there was no way the grizzled old Ford couldn’t play the young buck he’s meant to be.
Honestly, I think the production problems “Solo: A Star Wars Story” experienced, especially with director Ron Howard coming into the project late in the game, made me realize early on that this wasn’t trying to be anything more than a fun summer blockbuster. And if you go into “Solo” with that mindset, foregoing any Star Wars expectations and experiences, then you’ll have a fun time just like I did.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” feels less like a Star Wars tale and more like a standalone space western, complete with two clever heists and some enjoyable acting from Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca, and even Alden Ehrenreich, who takes the character in a more upbeat way than Ford normally would. It doesn’t try to be anything more than a fun distraction, unlike “Rogue One,” while still giving us some fresh faces in this ever-expanding universe.
On the planet of Corellia, children are forced to steal or work for gangsters to survive on the streets of this scrap planet. Two of these kids are Han (Ehrenreich) and his lover Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), but after a deal goes just the right way for them, Han manages to leave the planet while Qi’ra gets reluctantly left behind. Han makes a promise that he’ll become the greatest pilot in the galaxy, get his own ship and come back for Qi’ra. After a series of rather unfortunate events, Han ends up meeting with a wookie named Chewbacca and a small group of criminals, led by Tobias Beckett (Harrelson), as they attempt to make the biggest score of their lives.
While it is nice to see characters like Han Solo, Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca on the big screen once again, the fun in “Solo’ is seeing how these new actors take these classic characters in their own direction, especially Donald Glover as Lando. Glover plays the character as a pompous and smug bastard that isn’t afraid to rob you blind, while doing so with as much charisma and wit as possible. He is the definition of egotistical, but he doesn’t see it as ego if he can back it up.
Chewie is a bit more snarky and quick to point out when something is a bad idea, but given where he begins this film that’s understandable.
But the real crux of the film is Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. You’ll either love or hate this film depending on how you react to his performance, which is different enough from Ford’s take on the cynical smuggler. While Ford played Solo as a man trying to overcome his own cold-heartedness and view on the corrupted universe he lives in, Ehrenreich plays it as if he were a hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – quick with the wise-cracks and cool moves, while still having a realistic edge given his backstory. It takes some getting used to, but as a young Han Solo that is still learning how nasty the universe can be, Ehrenreich does a fine job at making you believe this is Han Solo.
The biggest complain with “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is its pacing. While the two Western-style heists are the best scenes in the film, it takes a while before we get to those heists with not much going on in between. Once Han leaves Corellia, nothing interesting happens until the first heist begins, which is unfortunate since the strength of Star Wars has always been its world building.
The planets in this film feel rather generic and forgettable, nor are there any intriguing politics or devices to keep our interest. This is a bit of a disappointment, but once we get to the high octane action sequences and chases through space storms that have never been navigated, the film picks up again.
Overall though, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a fine distraction. Nothing too special about this film other than some fun performances from Donald Glover and Ehrenreich. That’s not to say this film does a bad job, because it does deliver exactly what I expected – an enjoyable summer blockbuster. I’d say check your expectations at the door, and you’ll have a blast with this one.
Final Grade: B-