Ultimate Review of Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo: A Star Wars Story is more than just a movie. For movie fans who love insider baseball, it’s one of the most gripping behind-the-scenes tales in recent memory. The Walt Disney Company replaced two well-known and proven directors in the middle of filming, replacing them with a Hollywood icon. Was Ron Howard able to save the origin story of Han Solo from a grim fate? Read on to find out…
You may not know who directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are, but you’ve seen their movies. The two men directed 21 Jump Street and its sequel, 22 Jump Street. They also have excelled with family films, helming the adorable Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and a bona fide blockbuster, The LEGO Movie.
When Disney announced that Lord and Miller would direct a spinoff movie about a young Han Solo, Star Wars fans were ecstatic. It seemed like a marriage made in Heaven, only to end in the divorce from Hell. Four and a half months into what was scheduled as a five-month shoot, Disney fired the two directors. Yes, they’d mostly completed work on the project, but their boss, the head of Lucasfilm, hated the dailies and felt that they’d made a bomb.
Enter Ron Howard.
Two days after Disney fired the team from The LEGO Movie, they hired a dear friend of George Lucas, Ron Howard. The man that the world will always know as Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show had almost helmed a previous Star Wars film. Before directing the project himself, Lucas had offered the film, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace to Howard. With Solo in jeopardy, Kathleen Kennedy, the head of Lucasfilm, called on Howard to ride in and heroically save the day.
What does all of this have to do with a review of Solo: A Star Wars Story? It’s important that you understand how long the odds were against this movie being watchable. Ron Howard had to use footage from directors he didn’t know well for a film that he signed on to direct at the last possible minute. By all reasonable expectations, Solo should be a debacle. It’s not.
To the contrary, Solo is a lot of fun. As I’ve previously mentioned here, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, but I’ve run movie websites for 20 years now. I’m reverential about Hollywood legends, and Han Solo is as iconic as any movie character created over the past 50 years. His importance in cinematic history is the main issue working against the movie bearing his name.
Harrison Ford IS Han Solo. Everyone knows it. The idea of anyone else claiming that title is entertainment sacrilege. It’s akin to someone showing up and pretending like they’re Rick Blaine in a Casablanca origin story. To cinephiles, it’s the purest form of blasphemy. Judging from the movie’s disappointing box office to date, a lot of potential movie-goers never got past this stigma. That’s regrettable.
Let me state the obvious. Alden Ehrenreich is NOT Harrison Ford. In Solo, he’s not even trying to be. When you watch this movie, you will see only small flashes of the Han Solo that you know and love. As for Ehrenreich, he won’t remind you of Ford at any point. And that’s okay!
The Han Solo of 1977 is more than 40 years old. That character wouldn’t work as effectively in modern times anyway. Ehrenreich is more of a Captain Kirk…and I mean Chris Pine’s version, not William Shatner’s. You might even see a bit of Nathan Fillion’s Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly. As a 28-year-old, Erhenreich is influenced by more modern science-fiction icons than someone from the 1970s, and his style works well enough on its own anyway.
The unavoidable discussion about Solo is whether Ehrenreich is worthy in the role. Oddly, it’s less important than you might expect. While I quite like him as Han Solo, it’s the other pieces in the film that elevate the proceedings. And one of them steals the movie.
Emilia Clarke plays Qi’ra, Han’s young love who gets separated from him for a time. When they reunite, their confusion about the personality changes in one another resonates for anyone who meets an ex a few years down the line. Clarke is the moral center of Game of Thrones, and she’s more than up to the task of a morally complex character. In this particular category, however, someone else tops her.
Donald Glover is a star. As Childish Gambino, his song, This Is America, was just number one on the Billboard 100. Now, he’s a co-star in the number one film in the world. He, too, portrays a beloved character made famous by another actor. For whatever reason, Glover’s casting as Lando Calrissian didn’t set off the same pop culture sirens that Ehrenreich’s did.
Glover more than justifies the support of the masses by totally killing it as Calrissian. From the moment he appears on screen, the smuggler elevates every scene that he’s in. As I say that, I note that it’s unfortunate that he doesn’t appear in the first half hour of the film. It’s not a coincidence that this is slowest section of Solo.
Glover’s excellence is so readily apparent that Kathleen Kennedy has hinted at a Calrissian standalone movie one day soon. He has particularly good chemistry with Ehrenreich. They share a couple of intergalactic poker scenes that are better than any gambling sequence the James Bond franchise has done in the 21st century.
Glover also has some terrific interactions with a droid named L3-37. This robot is Calrissian’s answer to Chewbacca. The two of them may or may not be lovers. They certainly quarrel like an unhappy couple. L3-37 provides quite a bit of comic relief, but she (?) also underscores the complex politics of the Empire.
The droid understands that she’s capable of more than the basic roles assigned to those with her programming. She questions the defined, subservient limitations of her place in the pecking order. Oddly, this leads to several rather mature storylines within the film. It’s a stark change from the one-dimensional nature of most droids in the Star Wars universe.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Paul Bettany and Woody Harrelson. Bettany’s become a reliable player in Disney films thanks to his work as Jarvis/Vision in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He clearly relishes this opportunity to play a more malevolent character for a change. He gives good Big Bad.
As for Harrelson, his role is similar to his work in the Hunger Games franchise, but that’s not a complaint. He anchored those four films with his wisdom and bitterness. Those traits are on display in Solo, as his Tobias Beckett is a bad man who is instantly drawn to Han Solo. The combination of an innate hero and his mentor, a hardened criminal, works quite well. It’s also the strongest compliment that I can give Ehrenreich. His affable charm plays well with literally everyone in Solo.
When I talk about Ehrenreich’s chemistry, I especially mean his interactions with Chewbacca. The young Chewie signifies Howard’s strongest accomplishment with the film. No matter what Star Wars diehards think of the rest of Solo, they’ll love the believable dynamic between the two pilots of the Millennium Falcon. It feels just like a plausible backstory for the characters from the Holy Trilogy.
Chewie has always claimed the title of most moral character in the Star Wars universe. That trait shines through here. While the Solo story may not satisfy everyone, Chewie’s journey will.
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned any tangible element of the plot thus far. I’ve avoided it for a couple of reasons. One is that the plot is rather threadbare at its core. The film is a series of action scenes held together by a loose premise that Han Solo was once young and unfocused. His journey is a lot like him: messy but fun.
The other reason is that if I did describe any of the plot, it would give away a lot of the purpose of the film. Solo spends two hours getting from the start of Solo’s journey of self-discovery to a viable end point. It’s a story that lends well to a sequel, although I’m not confident it will get one based on the box office results to date. As a standalone origin movie, it succeeds in delving into the previously unknown history of everyone’s favorite rebel pilot.
While no one will claim that Solo is the best Star Wars movie ever made, I do think it’s in the conversation for best Disney Star Wars movie to date.
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