The second standalone Star Wars story details Han Solo’s first adventures in which he escapes from the slums by joining the Empire. He quickly deserts to join a band of adventurers in search of fortune and redemption.
As with all great Star Wars movies the strength here is in character. Alden Ehrenreich’s Solo is just as cocky and charming as the character ever was but with an added naivety that brings a welcome humility to the role. It’s easy to imagine him growing to become the cynic he is at the beginning of the first film.
Woody Harrelson plays Tobias Beckett, a sort of role model for Han. His story continues the new Star Wars trilogy’s obsession with heroes and it’s interesting to consider the impact of his example on the young smuggler. Harrelson brings his usual energy and spark.
Another standout performance is Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos who oozes manipulative bon ami but has a definite sense of threat that recalls his work in Gangster Number One. There’s a chilling cruelty behind his amicable smile. He’s a fabulous villain.
Emilia Clark is Qi’ra and gives a very convincing performance as the slave who is willing to do whatever it takes to survive. Along with Donald Glover’s note perfect Lando Calrissian (convincingly the most charming man in the galaxy), there’s a wonderful duplicity to Han’s first gang. The plot twists and it’s difficult to know who to trust. This is far from Luke’s experience of the galaxy.
One constant Han is able to find early on in the film is the friendship of everybody’s favourite wookie, Chewbacca. His introduction is one of the smoother uses of the original trilogies iconography. Their bond is immediate and affecting. It’s nice to see Chewie being given things to do in this film, even if his storyline concludes rather abruptly and unsatisfactorily.
Near the end there is an attempt to salvage something iconic but criminally misused from the Star Wars cannon. I would suggest this attempt is successful as I really wish to see more of this character in their new position. It’s a crowd pleasing reveal and one it’s hard not to feel a little excited about.
Otherwise references to the original trilogy are few but slightly clunky. The pregnant pause before Han is given his surname is perhaps a little too self-satisfied. Similar moments include the Falcon’s chessboard and a fairly amusing subversion of a classic line. As with Rogue One, there’s a bit of a frantic push to get things to a certain point by the end of the film, which is particularly confusing here as there’s definitely scope for at least one more film before connecting these two particular dots.
The story is full of action and for the most part it is genuinely engaging. Ron Howard knows how to move through an action scene in a compelling way. The film is also not afraid to kill off a promising character to raise the stakes. This is sometimes a little jarring with the spirit of adventure the film cultivates. Howard is a little unsure of how dark he wants the film to be. The action does also sag a little in the middle when the big heist is entering it’s final stage, but the finale is reassuringly personal and contained.
The production is gorgeous. Practical effects and bold production design flesh out previously unseen or only hinted at aspect of the Star Wars universe. We explore a world of shadowy syndicates and pirates that exist outside of the Empire and the rebellion. It’s a fascinating world to explore. Action and Fantasy movie veteran John Powell’s score is also fantastic.
There are only trace hints of the messy production. Some clumsy exposition and curt scenes that smack of rewrites and reshoots. But the focus on Han and his development as a loveable scoundrel makes this one of the most cohesive Star Wars stories ever told.
Solo is a space adventure with plenty of thrills and a reassuring focus on character. It explores a new side to the Star Wars universe and broadens the scope of the kind of story that can be told in this franchise.
4 / 5