After Disney bought the rights to the Star Wars franchise and reinvigorated fan interest in it, it was only a matter of time until they expanded the universe. As successful as The Force Awakens was, there was no way they would settle for just one of these every couple of years. The solution? Spinoffs! The first was 2016’s Rogue One. It filled in some gaps in the setup to the original trilogy and, most importantly, told its own story that was interesting regardless of its connection to the earlier films. Now comes the first of what is sure to be many spinoffs filling in the background of a beloved character. Solo, which offers a look into Han Solo’s life before he met Luke Skywalker, is a reasonably entertaining movie that never makes itself feel completely necessary.
Solo (127 minutes without the end credits) focuses on Han figuring out what kind of man he is as he attempts to make some big money so he can buy a spaceship and prove himself as a pilot. It brings several important new characters into Han’s world, most notably Woody Harrelson as the brilliant thief Beckett and Emilia Clarke as an old friend of Han’s. It also features a couple of fan favorites in Han’s loyal sidekick, Chewbacca, and smuggler/con-man Lando Calrissian. Lando (whose own spinoff was recently announced) is played by Donald Glover as a cunning survivor who uses his charm to stay one step ahead of everyone else. Although he is not fully developed here, there is enough of him to make you wish there was more.
This is a world where nobody can be trusted. That is an idea that certainly helps mold Han into the man introduced in A New Hope. Here, Han is a little more naïve. He is a good guy playacting at being a bad guy. He is having fun going on adventures, as long as the stakes are low. The movie does not exactly shake him of that mentality, though there are hints of what led him to become the cynical older Han. Perhaps the reason for his change in outlook will be made clearer in the inevitable sequels.
One of the major questions fans had during Solo’s production was what would the tone be? It was originally directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller of The Lego Movie fame. During production, they were fired due to differences in creative vision and Ron Howard was hired to replace them. One of the many rumors is that Lord and Miller were making a slapstick action/comedy, far removed from the normal style of the Star Wars franchise. Producer/Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy was very unhappy about it.
In the end, the Solo that has made it to theaters (roughly 70% of which is said to have been directed by Howard) falls in line with what you would expect from this universe of films. It is a little on the lighter side because the stakes are not as high. It is still a serious action/adventure story, with touches of humor. When you have a property this successful, there is no need to take a risk with it while the formula is working.
Another rumor was that the star, Alden Ehrenreich, was so bad that an acting coach was brought on set to help him through his scenes. Though Ehrenreich is not going to win any awards for the role, he does a pretty good approximation of Han Solo as he was becoming Han Solo. It is a tricky performance because he cannot just ape what Harrison Ford did. That persona is in its formative stages at this point in his life. Yet it is still easy to contextualize this version of the character with the one still to come. Ehrenreich does about as well in the role as anyone else could have done.
No, the biggest issue with Solo is neither its tone nor its acting. It is a distinct lack of purpose. While the film is mostly enjoyable, it never feels like the filmmakers figured out why it needed to exist (beyond the obvious monetary reasons). Why tell Han Solo’s story? What can it add to the Star Wars Universe, either story-wise or from an artistic perspective? I still do not know the answers to those questions. The movie is fine (sometimes slightly more than that), but it seems to only exist so Disney could create more Star Wars product.
Solo is a perfectly acceptable film, especially considering its troubled production history. It has solid action and performances, some amusing moments and an occasionally clever screenplay by father-son writing team Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan. However, nothing about it makes it must-see. It is a thoroughly forgettable, if decent enough, use of a couple of hours. If you happen to see it, you will likely be at least mildly entertained. But it does not contain the wonder or originality of the best of the franchise.
3¼ out of 5
Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo
Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra
Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett
Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca
Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian
Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3
Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos
Directed by Ron Howard
Written by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan