After narrowly escaping from under the thumb of a criminal overlord in the scummy sewers of Corellia, a young Han Solo joins the Imperial Naval Academy in the hopes of being the best pilot in the galaxy. However, three years later he is an infantry soldier on some backwater planet trying to get back to Corellia to save a friend, Qi’ra, he’d left behind. There he runs into a group of criminals trying to steal valuable cargo for a big shot gangster. It is then that Han Solo and a newly freed Wookie set themselves on the paths of being the best smugglers in the galaxy.
So we all know about Solo: A Star Wars Story‘s troubled production from the hiring of an acting coach for Alden Ehrenreich, our leading man, to the firing of the original directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who were replaced by Ron Howard. When we heard about it, we were worried, was this leading to a dud film? Well, worry no more because Solo is good … yo..? (sorry)
So obviously the set design, creature design and visual effects are going to be great. Outside of that Solo is full of tense action and wonderful characters that we remember and some that we don’t; the scene in the gambling den is full of inventive creations that we barely even see. I know that nearly every Star Wars film has had a Cantina scene, but these are some of the best parts of any Star Wars film, sitting observing the world. Similarly, Solo continues Rogue One‘s use of 70’s sci-fi aesthetics. Cinematographer Bradford Young envokes the classic feel of original movies, using depth of focus and the brown, white and black colour palette and a tactile celluloid texture to the film, which is backed up by the steller set and production design. There were times when the scenes were a little muddy, for instance, an action scene involving an escape from a mining planet had shaky cam, dust and flashing lights leaving a slightly muddled frame. However, these little errors do not distract from the overall care that has gone into the look of the film.
Now the cast, the ones powering the film and the ones with a great deal of pressure, stepping into some pretty iconic shoes. Well, Ehrenreich knocks it out of the park as Solo, adding a youthful exuberance that will believably turn into Harrison Ford’s deadpan arrogance. Though you might have heard grumbling springing mainly from the rumours of acting coaches and the like, his charm and easy demeanour hint toward the Han we know but allow him to explore the character in his own way without resorting to a Harrison Ford impression. Donald Glover naturally shines even if he is underused as Lando Calrissian. Though there are times when you can see Glover himself in dress-up rather than Lando, unlike Ehrenreich who disappears into his role. Emilia Clark provides decent support as a detailed and vibrant character in her own right. One assumes that Qi’ra would be a pointless character as we all know who Han ultimately ends up with, but Emilia, though at times wooden, gives a perfect counterbalance to Ehrenreich’s Solo and the assertions of stilted delivery perhaps require another watch to really appreciate what she is doing. Finally, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton and Paul Bettany provide incredible support as wonderful characters that I personally want to see again, from Han Solo’s criminal mentor, Tobias Beckett, his partner and wife Val and a ruthless criminal lieutenant.
Strip all the Star Wars stuff away, and you still have a pretty decent action crime caper. The action is tense and there are tons of twists and turns in the story that always hints at more significant things going on in the galaxy. This is evident from the structure of Crimson Dawn, the gang that hires Solo and Chewie to steal the valuable cargo, the other job that Beckett, Val and Rio have been on, their stories and that of Enfys Nest. However, this really stands out in one of the best action sequences I have ever seen in a Star Wars film.
So the gang is escaping from a rebellion on a slave mining community caused by a socially conscious droid and Lando’s co-pilot, L3. They are flying through a space storm when an Imperial star destroyer blocks their path. In an act that can only be described as Soloesque, Han, who is at this point piloting the Millennium Falcon, dives headlong into the maelstrom. Hiding in the broiling dust clouds is a massive Lovecraftian horror that then chases the ship through the storm till they find something even weirder, a technicolour gravity well. The reason I bring this up is that this, coupled with the other odd creatures, hints at more substantial things in play and get us to believe that this is a living, breathing universe, one that does not revolve around Jedi and the rebellion. But also because it is a hair-raising section of the film that I reacted to like a kid on their first roller coaster. It is a statement that Solo does not only have one moment like this but several ones that make you want to punch the air and holler in relief and adulation.
The film has its faults of course. The stakes are low because we know that Solo, Chewie and Lando are still around, but the other characters are so well acted that we begin to worry about their well being, so that makes up for that flaw a little. I mean there were a few deaths that we were supposed to care about but, due to their lack of mention in any of the other films, these feel cheap and lacking. We only meet these characters for 10-20 minutes, and they are shuffled off, leaving no real impact, well apart from how the other characters react, and that is actually quite powerful especially in regards to one of them, and it isn’t the one that you think it is.
There is also a need for the film to continually reference things, like the Kessel Run and the card game that won Han the Millennium Falcon etc, which are probably important to some fans, but it almost feels like a drinking game as you can see every little thing that was mentioned during A New Hope. During the prologue, when Han escapes from Corellia, we have a moment where he is given his name by some random Imperil recruitment officer. When Han meets Chewbacca and when he first sees the Millenium Falcon we get a musical sting that tells us, “hey do you remember this, this thing from the original trilogy? Cause we do”. This constant need to connect everything to what has come before feels more like the same pandering that happened in Force Awakens and Rogue One. Solo feels like a reaction to the dismantling of the franchise that took place during The Last Jedi as it seeks to recreate and reference every little thing that came before, wrapping it up in a cute little bow.
However, despite these issues, Solo: A Star Wars Story is still a strong outing to the Star Wars universe. It is an excellent mix of sci-fi and crime drama that could probably stand on its own as its own thing without the Star Wars name attached to it. It is full of vibrant characters and worlds that you could get lost in and, despite the flaws that come with being a prequel to one of the most well-known film franchises in cinematic history, it is still a fun ride that I would happily go on again.
You can watch Solo: A Star Wars Story in cinemas now