If adventure has a name it must be…Han Solo? As it turns out, that’s truly the case with Solo: A Star Wars Story, the newest entry in the now sprawling Star Wars franchise, and now second standalone entry in a galaxy far, far away. Prequel stories are always a hard gamble, especially when you’re doing one based on one of the popular characters in pop culture. If anything, Star Wars fans have very mixed emotions towards anything that could potentially take the mystique away from characters they love, but writers Lawrence and Jake Kasdan, along with filmmaker Ron Howard, worked tirelessly to give fans a story worthy of Han Solo without spoiling the character. It’s not an easy feat by any stretch, but Solo ends up being a really great addition to the Star Wars canon.
Picking up in the unexplored years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Solo: A Star Wars Story explores the origins of infamous smuggler Han Solo, in a very uncertain time for those across galaxy. As the Empire continues to slowly dominate the universe with an iron grip, it pushes many planets to their brink. People are struggling to survive, and a rather seedy underbelly begins to emerge, especially on Corellia, where the Empire has set up shop to build many of their vehicles of war. But a young man has his eyes set on leaving the mean streets of Corellia behind, so with his street smarts at his side, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) embarks on a journey that will change his life forever.
As mentioned before, prequel stories are not an easy balancing act, because you have to find a line where you don’t over explain a character’s past, but also playing to things we’ve heard before. You also can’t fundamentally alter a character to the point that they aren’t recognizable to the character we know, and thankfully Lawrence and Jake Kasdan have written a script that is a love letter to the character, that pieces together things you may know about Han Solo, but leaving much more up to the imagination of where the character could go. All this is helped by the fact that Alden Ehrenreich finds a sweet balance of playing Han as his own character, while leaning slowly into the character Ford made so iconic over the last forty years. There’s a real spark in the script, mixed with Ehrenreich’s performance, that truly makes Han come to life in a way we haven’t quite seen before.
One of the most interesting aspects of Solo is the throwback feel to films of a bygone area, in particular the pulp western mixed with the adventure serials of old. The film doesn’t look to reinvent the wheel of the Star Wars universe, so much as it wants to shine a new light on the galaxy we know, but through a new prism. Ron Howard has crafted a film that feels like Silverado meets Ocean’s Eleven, with a full ensemble to surround Alden’s Han, and all the adventure aspects of the Indiana Jones franchise. It’s no secret that the film faced a rather uphill battle behind the scenes before Howard came on board, but the film clearly feels like it belongs to the seasoned director, as he has put his own stamp on the material. There’s just a cool energy infused into the film, similar to his 2013 film Rush, that really makes the film pop in its own unique way.
There is something to be said about the fact that Solo, which is a film very much about Han Solo, also hosts an ensemble featuring Joonas Suotamo, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, each playing a character that very specifically shapes Han as a character in their own way. For many, Donald Glover will no doubt steal the show as Lando Calrissan, originally made famous by the great Billy Dee Williams. Glover just exudes the cool, charming charisma that we expect from the character, while also maybe not quite being as cool as he thinks he is. He’s still young, and has a lot to learn, and the dynamic he shares with Erenreich’s Han is just undeniable and fun. But, in a lot of ways, the unsung hero of the film is without a doubt Joonas Suotamo’s Chewbacca. Suotamo has big Wookie sized shoes to fill that were left by Peter Mayhew, but Suotamo is only up to the task, he excels it. Chewbacca is as lively as we’ve ever seen him, and honestly it doesn’t even feel like a different person underneath that fur. Even his eyes have that same soulful look that Mayhew gave Chewie, and it’s exciting seeing it so accurately replicated, while also letting the character grow in new directions as well. The bond that Suotamo and Erenreich have feels just as real as the bond between Ford and Mayhew, and that isn’t an easy thing to convey on-screen. But without missing a beat, Suotamo crushes in the role, truly showing that you always let the Wookie win.
There’s definitely a bit of a downside to the film in the fact that we already know who Han is, and we don’t really need it explained where he came from, or how he became who he is. The film tries to sidestep over explaining too much, but inherently you’re always going to fall into that trap. Some things in the film may leave some fans may wish they’d left it to our imagination as it always has been, while others may like some of the explanations and moments explored from Han’s history. The other criticism really just falls on Emilia Clarke, who isn’t all that interesting in the film. She’s fine, but there’s nothing overly memorable about her character, and she just doesn’t really leave a lasting impression. Her character is an important one, so it’s a bummer there isn’t someone more dynamic in the role.
If you’re just looking for a throwback adventure film, it’s hard not to fall in love with what Ron Howard has done with Solo: A Star Wars Story. There’s just so much fun to be had in this side of the Star Wars universe, and the movie leaves the audience in a perfect place for a follow-up. As the film cut to credits, it was hard to not immediately want the next adventure with Han and Chewbacca, and wondering where we’ll catch up with them next. Erenreich, Glover, and Suotamo have all done the impossible, fitting snugly into the roles made famous by such iconic actors before them. There’s a whole universe out there for the characters to explore, and now that Han’s origin is out of the way, there’s unlimited potential of where to go next. With these anthology films, each gives us the chance to spend more time with characters outside of the main saga films, and Solo shows why that’s not only necessary, but how much fun it can be too. Here’s hoping the galaxy far, far away has more adventures on the big screen to offer us with this merry band of smugglers.