(2018—Director: Ron Howard)
— by Renard N. Bansale —
(out of 5 stars)
Potential spoilers below
A ubiquitous media franchise, like any creative endeavor, does not come without friction.
Of the Star Wars projects conceived (as of this review) after Disney purchased Lucasfilm from George Lucas in 2012, one could argue that Solo: A Star Wars Story (henceforth shortened to Solo) boasts the most tumultuous pre-release history. To start, the project necessitated recasting the iconic role of Han Solo, portrayed by Harrison Ford in the original trilogy (1977-1983) and 2015’s Episode VII—The Force Awakens. Solo’s most controversial development involved the departure, due to creative differences, of original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (of 2014’s The Lego Movie fame). Oscar-winning director Ron Howard then stepped into the director’s chair and reshot around 70% of the script, co-penned by franchise veteran Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan.
These obstacles, coupled with the blistering fan reception of last December’s Episode VIII—The Last Jedi (which ended up as my second favorite film of 2017), have resulted in low expectations surrounding the Han Solo-centered, second Star Wars Anthology entry (2016’s Rogue One was the first). Yet Solo manages to fly past most of these bad odds. Despite its somewhat inessential narrative, the movie bolsters a sturdy cast, especially Alden Ehrenreich in the titular role. It also features excellent-as-usual technical crafts, most notably Bradford Young’s dark and often monochrome-leaning cinematography, to deliver western- and heist-inspired thrills.
A decade has passed since the birth of the Galactic Empire. As imperial forces continue to conquer the galaxy, organized crime syndicates thrive amid rampant lawlessness in the mid and outer rim worlds. Precious coaxium hyperfuel in particular has become the latest commodity. A young Corellian orphan named Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) believes he can become a great pilot if he helps steal a large quantity of the volatile resource from the spice mining planet of Kessel for Crimson Dawn leader Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Even with the hairy and towering Wookiee named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) by his side and seasoned criminal Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) leading the way, Han knows that they first need a fast ship to complete the mission in time. Vos’ first lieutenant and Han’s childhood sweetheart Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) suggests the modified Corellian light freighter of one notorious but charismatic smuggler named Lando Calrissian (a silky-smooth Donald Glover, taking on the role originally portrayed by Billy Dee Williams).
Between the cards at the gambling table to entice Lando to bet his beloved Millennium Falcon, the dense and treacherous celestial maelstrom that surrounds Kessel, the ruthless marauders hot on their tail, and an ever-present air of suspicion and betrayal, an impossible list of stars must align for Han to, at the very least, survive.
Those against the idea of another actor playing Han Solo other than Harrison Ford will find it difficult to outright reject Alden Ehrenreich’s effective take on the iconic pilot-smuggler. I rooted for Tom Holland taking over as Peter Parker/Spider-Man from Andrew Garfield due to previously marveling at Holland’s Best Actor award-worthy turn in the heavily-underrated, 2012 disaster drama The Impossible. Likewise, I rooted for Alden Ehrenreich from the moment I saw his name in the list of potential Han Solos due to previously roaring in laughter as he stole this scene and others in the 2016 Coen brothers period comedy Hail, Caesar! Ehrenreich evokes the rugged charm of Harrison Ford in Solo, but the 28-year-old actor also retains the right amount of cocky youthfulness. In short, Ehrenreich plays someone who, one decade later, will have become Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, and that more than validates his casting.
The two-decade transition from the Galactic Republic (prequel trilogy) to the Galactic Empire (original trilogy) provides a compelling and fertile backdrop for newer Star Wars tales. Solo highlights how gangsters, from lowlifes in the street to wealthy and organized syndicates, adjust to the galaxy’s new political power—one whose secret, planet-destroying battle station remains under construction until the events of 2016’s Rogue One, the first Star Wars Anthology movie. The environments here lack the artificial CGI glossiness of the prequel trilogy, yet have many years ahead before they take on the original trilogy’s more worn-in aesthetics. Solo’s pristine and clean Millennium Falcon serves as one major example of this.
A particular narrative dilemma is at hand, however: Most viewers know the galaxy’s future here. This awareness sets practical story limits for the two decades between Episode III—Revenge of the Sith and the original 1977 film. The temptation to introduce new characters and factions carries with it the obligation, at least in my mind, to resolve all of them before the next big story—in this case, the original 1977 Star Wars, which already exists.
Such is my pressing concern and takeaway from Solo, apart from the relief that Alden Ehrenreich ended up as a great fit for the younger pilot-smuggler. Star Wars began as a film franchise that has expanded far beyond George Lucas, and Disney has since established greater supervision over expanded works. Still, I find it improper for more ardent fans to point to the acclaimed and canon animated series The Clone Wars (2008-2015) and Rebels (2014-2018) as obligatory watches to explain certain story elements towards the end of Solo. These elements are few, yet I still hope for Disney to resolve them in future Star Wars Anthology installments. The next ones, likely centering on Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi, provide suitable opportunities to address the questions with which Solo leaves its audience.
Until then, onward to 2019 and Episode IX, as well as everything the rest of cinema will offer along the way.
(Parental Note: Solo: A Star Wars Story has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA “for sequences of sci-fi action/violence”. It has also been rated 12A by the BBFC for “moderate violence”, and rated A-III (Adults and older adolescents) by the Catholic News Service for containing “much stylized violence, occasional innuendo, a few mild oaths, and a couple of crass terms.”)
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.