Our yearly dose of a new helping of Star Wars is back, and thankfully, it still doesn’t yet feel like a portion too many. Solo: A Star Wars Story hits theaters May 25 and is a movie worth seeing — especially in IMAX if you have the leisure. After a notoriously troubled production including the booting of the directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller in favor of safer Ron Howard, is the result an equally troubled movie? Not at all!
Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) are desperate to escape their hellish upbringing on planet Corellia and explore the galaxy. When a mercenary team led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson) comes calling, he tags along for the ride. But when they get tangled up with dangerous crime boss Dryden (Paul Bettany), it becomes do or die. They also run into some friends not familiar to them (Donald Glover), but maybe familiar to fans like you and me…
One of the aspects of the movie that strikes me is that the plot mostly revolves around everyone pursuing a resource called coaxium, essentially the fuel used by the Falcon to jump to light-speed. There are also frequent occurrences where the characters spout technobabble about how it works and there’s even a climactic scene where they overly explain about how to get out of a certain jam before engineering their escape. It just reminded me so much of Star TREK that I was taken aback at how the roles have switched. The JJ Abrams ‘Star Trek’ film from 2009 felt like Star Wars, and Abrams later directed ‘The Force Awakens,’ and now this Star Wars felt like good old fashioned Trek. Fascinating.
The casting moves for the characters we already know were pretty on point. Glover is impeccable as the smooth Lando and Joonas Suotamo fits the costume of Chewbacca well. His physical presence is felt but he still gets the emotive side of the character by, too. Ehrenreich is an enigma. He mostly embodies the rogue, scruffy, and devilish handsomeness one would require for the role of Han, but there’s something slightly annoying about his performance. He seems to constantly have this smug, stupid looking grin on his face and it gets grating. Since this is a prequel it makes sense that it’s part of his character to be a little cocky and self assure, but I think a little subtlety could have gone a long way.
However, the rest of the actors fill out the cast nicely. Woody Harrelson is memorable as Han’s mentor smuggler, and Clarke is suitably vague and mysterious in her role, where you never know if she’s in the good guys side or not. Bettany is appropriately British and menacing, but unfortunately in limited screen time. Incidentally, when he first appeared I almost thought he was Domhnall Gleeson, aka General Hux from the new Star Wars trilogy before I recognized him correctly. Could their characters be RELATED????! Dun dun dun…
The special effects are top notch here. We not only get transported to fabulous locales across the galaxy, but also deeply involved in the numerous action sequences that keep you on the edge of your seat. Some of these are placed a little disproportionately, the infamous Kessel Run feels like it should be the climax when it’s actually followed by thirty more minutes of the movie. Still, it’s exciting when it needs to be, and tense in the right places.
The look of the film is a gritty, lived in universe that’s totally in visual sync with the original trilogy, a positive it shares with ‘Rogue One.’ The costumes reflect this style and it makes it easy to believe this story is in the same setting as the originals we know and love. The score by John Powell also surpasses that of ‘Rogue One,’ providing better underscoring music than any of the new Star Wars films of late. It was refreshing to finally hear new memorable musical themes in this new series, after the fairly pedestrian John Williams efforts of the main films and the blandness of Michael Giacchino in ‘Rogue One.’
You wouldn’t know it by watching that this film started with a different director than the one it finished with. Ron Howard managed the transfer seamlessly and gives his own stamp of well crafted action as well as appropriate light-hearted humor. However there are some odd choices, especially in the beginning chase sequence on Corellia. Close up shots intercut with the action reveal actors with detached, bored expressions that completely don’t match with the things they do, and it was very jarring. Stranger still, it never seemed to happen again in the movie. I don’t know if it was a reshoot and they were tired, or it was something they figured they would fix in post and never did, but it didn’t start the movie off well from the perspective of a filmmaker. It also makes one wistful at what Phil Lord and Christopher Miller could have made of the material, given their unique comedic voices well established in ’21 Jump Street’ and ‘The Lego Movie.’ However, on the whole, the result is a film that feels like Star Wars, which is half the battle.
The other half, the story, is a tad cliche. Han is set up appropriately but with some predictability. His girlfriend and upbringing in a bad area are quickly spit out in an early dialogue scene and one can’t help but feel a little rushed. The same can be said of his subsequent actions of getting separated from said girlfriend, joining the Empire army, meeting Chewbacca, deserting the army, and heading off on a robbery mission with Harrelson’s crew. It feels like the writers, the Kasdans, were trying to squeeze in as much as they could and only had a few minutes screen time to make it happen. That being said, it’s never boring, and the presentation and story is simple enough that it isn’t difficult to follow along.
That’s part of why the film is held back too, the story and characters feel locked down to the Star Wars mythos and that limits its potential. There’s a few too many winks to the audience and references in plot beats, characters, and lines to make it feel like it could stand on its own as its own movie. The more familiar you are with Star Wars, the more repeating elements you will recognize, and that may hamper your overall enjoyment. The other new Star Wars films suffer from the same adherence to excessive fanservice, and I wonder if Star Wars is getting too big for its own good.
The writers and directors of these films would likely insist such lines as “I’ve got a good feeling about this” and “You can’t make the Kessel Run in less than 20 parsecs” or “I’m headed to Tatooine, I’ve got a job for a big shot gangster” are necessary. Or meticulously showing events like Han meeting Chewbacca and Lando and winning the Millenium Falcon in a card game are crucial in developing Han as a character. I would say this film could have benefited hugely from trying something different and putting Han on a completely independent adventure from the rest of the larger Star Wars universe, but the suits might feel that’s too great a risk. This was the safe film to make, and it does just fine, I just thought it could have been better. I’m honestly surprised there wasn’t a Boba Fett or Greedo cameo shoved in somewhere, but I didn’t catch every detail so I could have missed it!
Drenched in references to the previous films, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” fits right in with the rest of the Star Wars canon as a fine action space adventure fantasy the whole family can enjoy. It occasionally gets bogged down with the connections it feels it has to make with the franchise it’s a part of, but on the whole gives you a good feeling, and you’ll leave with a smile on your face.