He has long been one the favourite and most beloved characters of the Star Wars universe, so it was no surprise that Disney and Lucasfilm’s second venture into a stand-alone Star Wars story would focus on the Corellian smuggler Han Solo. Cocksure, reckless, a loner with a heart of gold, Solo wanted you to believe he was only in it for the money, he very quickly found a home and family within the Rebel Alliance becoming one of their heroes and leaders. However, just who is Solo and what were the circumstances that led to the down-on-his-luck smuggler with a price on his head cruising the Mos Eisley Cantina looking to make a quick buck in order to pay off his debt to Jabba the Hut in A New Hope? Solo: A Star Wars Story attempts to answer just that and succeeds to a certain extent.
Set an indeterminate time before A New Hope, the film’s action opens on Corellia where a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is just one of the many orphans that slaves away for Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt) – a kind of galactic Fagin – along with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke). The pair plot their escape with Han dreaming of becoming a pilot, however, circumstances intervene and they are separated, with Han getting away and Qi’ra recaptured. Han signs up to the Imperial Academy, gaining his now-infamous surname.
We jump three years forward and a disillusioned Solo is fighting in some far-flung war zone still dreaming of escaping, owning his own spaceship and returning to Corellia to rescue Qi’ra. Enter Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his criminal crew (including Thandie Newton’s Val) who happen to be working a job in the area and Solo sees as his ticket out of the Imperial Military.
Using his charm and dogged determination, he is able to get himself and the Wookiee Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) into Beckett’s crew, joining their mission to seize a large quantity of Coaxium, a powerful, highly explosive substance that serves as both a universal energy source and a kind of high-pressure currency. This mission brings them into the path of ruthless gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and fellow pilot and gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) as well as Qi’ra.
Though touted as a space western, what follows is more a space heist film with the majority of the action centred around trying to steal the Coaxium, and it succeeds to varying amounts. Slightly disjointed, the first half of the film feels clunky and like it is searching for its reason for being. The film really only finds its footing once the heist begins and from then on out it is a swashbuckling adventure that doesn’t quite reach the heights of Episodes IV-VII or the recent Rogue One, but certainly is a lot better than the prequels and the hour or so left of the film flies by. Could this be partly due to the change in directors and having to reshoot about 75% of the movie? (Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired last year and replaced by Ron Howard). It’s possible or maybe it is just that the first half contains a lot of information that fans already know before we get into the real action of the movie. Whatever the case, definitely stick with the film through the first half as the second half is worth it, especially the big twist at the end and the surprise cameo appearance of a former Star Wars character that had me running to google following the movie to see if it was indeed possible for this character to appear.
Having had this character a part of our pop cultural story for over forty years, there were certain scenes/encounters that fans wanted to see in the film, and they largely delivered. We got the origin of his name, the first meeting of Han and Chewie and Han and Lando, the Sabacc games, his first time flying the Falcon (I did get goosebumps having Han and Chewie in the pilot and co-pilot seats for the first time), and the Kessel Run. No doubt if any of these beats did not feature, fans would have been up in arms, however, none of the events seemed too contrived or thrown in solely to please the fans. While Star Wars films are littered with humour and brilliant one-liners, Solo was a lot lighter and funnier than the ones that have gone before it. This could be leftover from Lord and Miller or simply the sarcastic nature of Solo. However, L3-37 (voiced brilliantly by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) has some of the best lines in the film.
The film obviously ends with room to have sequels if the public demand it. There are a few questions left unanswered and still plenty of time between this film and A New Hope for more stories to legitimately be told. Would I want a sequel? I would have to say not really. The film didn’t really bring anything new to the character of Solo, but I can guarantee if they did make one I would be at the midnight screening of it.
I need to state up front that I am a massive Harrison Ford fan and that his Han Solo was my first crush. Saying that, it was going to be extremely hard for Ehrenreich to live up to expectations, though I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Did he succeed? Well no, but then when you are taking on such an iconic role that has been forged into our consciousness’s for the past four decades that’s a tough call. He certainly put his own spin on Solo and gave us a Solo that was youthful, idealistic and romantic. There were glimpses of Ford’s Solo at times in Ehrenreich’s stance, mannerism or classic Solo quirks (unbuckling his blaster holster, his smirk, aspects of flying the Millennium Falcon), but there was just an energy that was missing that Ford brings so effortlessly to the character.
Unusual for a Star Wars film, it was the relationships that were the highlight of the film: Han and Chewie, Lando and L3-37, Han and Qi’ra, and Qi’ra and Dryden Vos in particular. All were very nuanced and interesting to watch develop. I just wish we could have had more Glover as Lando, who completely stole every scene he was in and is perfectly cast as a younger Billy Dee Williams.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is in cinemas now.
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