Starring: Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!), Woody Harrelson (Zombieland), Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), Donald Glover (Community), Thandie Newton (Westworld), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), Joonas Suotamo (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Paul Bettany (Avengers: Infinity War)
Director: Ron Howard (Rush)
Writers: Jonathan Kasdan (In the Land of Women) & Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back)
Runtime: 2 hour 15 minutes
Release Date: 24 May (UK), 25 May (US)
Up front: this movie does not need to exist. Origin films, especially for characters who work precisely because we don’t know that much about them, are inherently flawed from the get-go, especially so in the Star Wars universe where the fact it feels lived in is negated if we know where all the scratches and grooves came from. So from even the mere concept stage, Solo: A Star Wars Story shouldn’t be a good movie, and that’s what had me far more worried than all of the behind-the-scenes trouble with the change in directors. But somehow, against all odds, it is good. Actually, it’s really good. Funny that.
Getting the bad out of the way, the worst parts of Solo are the parts you’d expect to be bad: all the callbacks and unnecessary explanations for innocuous details about Han Solo. Some of the more character-based elements do provide some fun and illuminating depths, like the beginnings of his relationships with Chewbacca and Lando, but did anybody really need to know where Han got his gun? I didn’t think so. Solo is at its worst when it is actively trying to be a prequel, as most prequels are. However, when the film puts that aside and is just its own thing, it improves exponentially. The film gets off to a rough start with some cringe-worthy character exposition and wonky pacing, but by the time Han is off on his adventure all the fat has been dropped and the film moves at a solid clip from there. The story balances a lot of genres from mafia movie to heist flick to western, but they all blend together fairly seamlessly. What gives Solo an extra kick is the hidden depths to its story and characters; themes of trust, optimism vs. pessimism, and the blurry morality of crime are constantly discussed. Heck, there’s even something of a subplot about the autonomy and discrimination of droids in the Star Wars universe! None of it is exactly as deep as some of the stuff The Last Jedi discussed, but its those little details that give Solo something more to say than just “this is why Han is Han”.
Harrison Ford is Han Solo and forever will be but, if anyone is worthy enough to captain the Falcon in his stead, Alden Ehrenreich gives it his best shot. He avoids outright imitating Ford, giving the character a more buoyant outlook and affect, but he definitely captures the confidence and conceitedness that define the character. Woody Harrelson does what he does best and blends surprisingly well into the Star Wars universe as Solo’s mentor Beckett, whilst Emilia Clarke brings a tragic and fascinating femme fatale edge to Qi’ra. Joonas Suotamo has been doing great standing in for Peter Mayhew on the sequel trilogy so far, and now given full reign of Chewbacca here he delivers a physically impressive performance worthy of the legendary Wookie. There’s also some great smaller turns from the likes of Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau as Beckett’s crew, as well as a few surprising faces I won’t dare spoil. The only real sour note is Paul Bettany, who is interesting as the film’s gangster antagonist Dryden Vos, but his screen time is unfortunately cut short which diminishes him greatly as a threat. However, the real MVPs of the movie are Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37 respectively. Glover absolutely captures the suave magic of Billy Dee Williams’ performance but gives it a youthful edge that makes the character feel fresh again, whilst Waller-Bridge brings an interesting new take on the droid sidekick that’ll have you laughing, cheering, and perhaps even shed a tear. I know we don’t need more origin films, but if they ever do one about these two, I’m totally in just so I can see more of them interacting.
From the first frame, it’s clear that Solo is a Star Wars movie but it still brings its own distinctive twists to the aesthetics. The cinematography certainly sets it apart, with Bradford Young giving the film a distinct palette and wonderful camerawork that balances classic and modern filmmaking whenever the mood calls for one or the other. The design work from the sets to the costumes to the make-up is all top-notch as expected, and the pre-rustbucket Millennium Falcon is an especially nice touch. The visual effects work is fantastic, with CG characters like L3 and Favreau’s Rio Durant blending effortlessly in with the live-action elements, and John Powell’s compositions avoid the mistakes made by Michael Giacchino on Rogue One by being undoubtedly a Star Wars score whilst still being distinctive and memorable.
Solo never does make the case that it needs to exist but, in terms of quality of execution, it’s possibly the best movie one could hope for given the brief it has to fulfil. It accomplishes the base level of being an entertaining romp through the Star Wars universe, but sweetens the deal with some memorable new characters, great performances, and a surprising amount of profundity in its underlying themes. Your mileage may vary, but for me what this film got right was more than enough to outweigh the hereditary faults of the concept itself. I encourage Lucasfilm to expand their horizons with the spin-offs more rather than just making more origin stories, but if they’re going to do them anyway, Solo stands as a solid example of how to do them right.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10