I am happy to report that Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fun and entertaining chapter in the Star Wars saga. Unfortunately, the Star Wars films also need to be memorable and I found that walking out of this film, I felt indifferent.
The plot of the film focuses on the origins of Han and how he became the scoundrel, smuggler and quick-witted pilot that we have grown to love and adore. Solo: A Star Wars Story gets off to a shaky start with a rushed prologue where Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke) are trying to escape from the planet Corellia. The audience is thrust into the action right away as the film opens with Han running away from some people/creatures that were not that interesting or memorable. The only interesting thing in the opening 10-15 minutes in my opinion was finding out how Han got his last name.
As soon as the film says, “Three years later…” things pick up. Han meets Chewbacca for the first time and he runs into a gang of criminals led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who becomes a mentor/father figure to Han. The action sequence that soon follows where Han, Beckett and his crew are trying to steal a substance called coaxium from a double sided train that can rotate 180 degrees is inspired. Once that action sequence finishes, we get to meet the big bad of the film, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who sets in motion a series of events that leads Han to Lando Calrission, which in turn leads them to the Millennium Falcon, which takes us to the climatic showpiece of the film (no spoilers!) So what did I like and not like about the film? Here are my thoughts:
The supporting cast is incredibly strong with Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany doing absolutely fantastic work. They own their characters and seem to be having a ton of fun playing them. Glover completely captures the charm and charisma that Billy Dee Williams exuded in The Empire Strikes Back. I loved watching Woody Harrelson’s work in this film because I never knew if he was a good guy or bad guy and it came across that he enjoyed playing a morally ambiguous character. Paul Bettany must have relished the opportunity of playing the villain, because his portrayal of Dryden Vos is filled with sadistic glee as he threatens, toys, outwits and kills anyone who fails any task that he assigns. He played against type and was an inspired casting choice. I hope he takes on more interesting villain parts in the future.
The cinematography of the film is great. For the most part, Solo: A Star Wars Story has a very sandy and dirty feel to it, which makes you want to take a shower after watching it. I think the poster for the film captures the look of the film very well, which is brownish-orange. A weird comparison to make is that the sandy colour of the film reminded me of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic and all the sequences in that film that took place in Mexico. Solo contrasts this sandy feel with scenes on planets that take place during winter, giving the film a cold, bluish feel on screen. My favourite shot in Solo is near scene near the end of the film, where light and shadow are used very effectively on a close-up of one of the characters to help give the scene an extra bit of importance for the reveal that happens. I really thought that cinematographer Bradford Young did a terrific job and that he should be praised for his work.
Emilia Clarke also deserves a lot of credit because she does a tremendous job with her character Qi’Ra. I was reading an interview that Clarke did with Vanity Fair (which you can read by clicking here) about the problems the film shoot had. In the interview, Clarke talks about her frustration with her character early in production (presumably with the original directors) as she was told that her character was “film noir” and that was it. When Ron Howard came on board to direct Solo, she talks about how he really saved the film and I get the sense that it also re-energized Clarke. Her character gets small reveals throughout the film and she seems to be taking delight in playing a character that is coy. She is as tough as any other character in the film, she won’t back down from a fight and she still has a thing for Han (or does she?). If there is a sequel to Solo, I would love to see where she takes her character next.
The final thing I would like to commend are the little touches the film added to tie things into the Star Wars canon. The musical cues when familiar characters appear on the screen for the first time and even the inclusion of an actor, who played an Ewok in Return of the Jedi, in the film were all great flourishes that fans and non-fans will enjoy.
Earlier in my review, I praised the work of Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany. The characters that those actors portray are not the focal point of the film and if they are more interesting than your lead character, then that is a problem. I won’t say that I was disappointed, but I didn’t think that the Alden Ehrenreich really embodied the character of Han Solo. It is almost impossible not to compare Ehrenreich with Harrison Ford, but Ford played Han as an arrogant know-at-all, who can talk and fight his way out of anything. Ehrenreich gets to talk his way out of situations and for the most part fight his way out of them as well, but I never felt that he achieved the level of confidence and self-assuredness that the character of Han Solo demands. Ford’s Han was filled with sarcasm and world-weary. Ehrenreich’s portrayal is more innocent and naive. You could argue with me that this is an origin story and because of that, he had not developed into the character that we remember from Episodes IV-VII. Fair point. I just felt that Ehrenreich didn’t have the X factor that the character of Han Solo should have. I can’t quite figure out if he was miscast or if the script didn’t develop his character enough, but when the name of the film is your character, you have to hit it out of the park and I didn’t feel that Ehrenreich did. Having said that, it was recently revealed that Ehrenreich signed on for three films, so I want to see him on the screen again as Solo and see what he can do with a non-origin story to develop his character.
Solo: A Star Wars Story has a lot going for it. Strong supporting characters, great action sequences and a great look to it, but because I was ultimately underwhelmed by Han Solo’s origin story, it brought the film down for me. Solo: A Star Wars Story is best seen on a movie screen for an enjoyable couple of hours, but once the end credits come up, you will most likely not think about it again. I give the film 2.5 out of 4 stars but I really do hope that we see another Han Solo adventure down the road.