Let’s get right to the point. Alden Ehrenreich is not Harrison Ford. With that out of the way, we can move on.
No matter your opinion on whether the three newest Star Wars movies from Disney are good or bad, it is clear they are all emotional roller coasters. There were a lot of tough things to process, Han Solo’s death, the entirety of the Rogue One team dying, and watching the Resistance whittled down to just a handful of rebels. So the idea of a light hearted fun Star Wars movie makes sense. After seeing Solo, it also makes sense why Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (22 Jump Street, The Lego Movie) were originally tapped to direct the film, but later fired when it was almost complete. The tone of the movie is definitely fun, but there are some serious moments that take a special touch to achieve. From what I understand Miller and Lord took the comedy a bit too far. I’m sure they created moments that would make audiences laugh, but I’m not sure they could keep those moments in check when compared to the tough emotional scenes.
Enter filmmaker extraordinaire, and student to George Lucas, Ron Howard. He has a proven track record with big budgets, comedies, dramas, science fiction and Lucasfilm. In short, he’s got it all.
That being said, it’s been a while since he’s made a must see movie for me. That’s not a comment on the quality of Inferno, In the Heart of the Sea, or Rush, but rather topics that I wasn’t terribly interested in seeing. But I am a huge fan of Parenthood, Cocoon, Splash, Backdraft, Gung Ho, Apollo 13, and of course Willow to name a few. Needless to say, I was excited to see what Mr. Howard could do.
Now you may be asking yourself, who first expressed concern over the tone of the film being shot by Lord and Miller. Good question. Rumor has it that screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan disagreed with the duo’s filming style. Why would anyone listen to a screenwriter when it comes to directing a film? Probably because it’s Lawrence Kasdan, writer of such Star Wars classics as Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and more recently, The Force Awakens. Oh yeah, he’s also an accomplished director himself with films like The Big Chill, Silverado, and Dreamcather.
I’m not casting any shade on Lord and Miller. I actually like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street a lot. I’m just very happy that Ron Howard finally made a Star Wars film.
Anywho, let’s get to the film itself.
We start on Han’s home world of Corellia. It’s a planet dedicated to growing the Empire, whether with production of Star Destroyers or recruiting of soldiers and pilots. Enter Han. He’s a street rat desperately trying to escape his designated lot in life at the bottom. Just like with the more mature character we know and love, young Han doesn’t necessarily work from a plan, but rather shoots from the hip and adjusts on the run. This is exactly how he makes it off planet and ends up in the Imperial Navy. We also meet the love of his young life, Qi’ra, played by Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones, Terminator Genisys).
I’ve stated several times before that my knowledge of the new Star Wars canon became limited when Disney jettisoned just about everything. I do, however, know the old history through and through. I was hoping they would keep the backstory that Han joined the Imperial Navy. But it’s cool to see how that played out in the new canon. But that’s nothing compared to finally seeing how Han meets up with his best friend for life Chewbacca, played by Joonas Suotamo. It’s not how I imagined it, but it’s close and still very powerful. Up until his death in The Force Awakens, Han needs Chewie and Chewie needs Han. It’s one of my favorite parts of the franchise.
It’s about this time we’re introduced to the rag tag band of criminals that begrudgingly accept Han and Chewie. First we have the leader of the gang and Han’s mentor, Tobias Beckett, played by Woody Harrelson (War for the Planet of the Apes, Zombieland). There’s also Beckett’s girlfriend and right hand lady, Val, played by Thandie Newton (Westworld, Crash), and the CGI character and captain of the ship, Rio Durant, voiced by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Swingers). We’re all aware that Han doesn’t believe in hokey religions, i.e. the Force, but there is definitely something at work to bring these scoundrels together.
Their first heist is a good old train robbery, Star Wars style!
And once again, whenever Han is involved, things do not go according to plan. This really presents the film with the classic hero’s journey as Solo is forced to commit. Literally he’s presented with an option to walk away from the all odds against situation, or run head first into the fire. In typical fashion, he smiles at danger and charges forward. There is no turning back at this point.
There are several key highlights to the film, but one of my favorites is Lando Calrissian played by Donald Glover, (Atlanta, The Martian). When he first spoke, I literally thought they dubbed the legendary Billy Dee Williams’s voice. Thankfully they didn’t. Glover is just that talented. He captures the essence of a young Lando. It was beautiful. I also thoroughly enjoyed his love interest (more on that later), L3-37, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Goodbye Christopher Robin, Crashing). Her need to advocate freedom for all her robotic counterparts was hilarious, touching, and annoying depending on the situation our heroes find themselves.
Despite thoroughly enjoying Lando and L3-37, I did not understand the love connection. I’m not talking about a mild affection or light flirting. Lando has a flat out hardcore crush on the mechanical looking robot. And she’s the one turning away his advances. I found it weird. If we were talking about Cherry 2000 or an Austin Powers fembot, maybe I can see that. But an old hobbled together robot? I guess I’m just old fashioned.
I also found little interest in the “big baddie”, crime lord Dryden Vos, played by Paul Bettany. I put no blame on Bettany. I think he’s a fine actor. I just don’t think his character stood out. And he certainly didn’t strike fear in me like so many other villains in the Star Wars universe. I’d be curious to see how Michael K. Williams, who was originally cast, would have played it (he couldn’t return once the almost complete reshoot was announced). But I’m really not sure it would have made a difference. Then again, if he was the half mountain lion, half human motion capture character that Williams once described, maybe I’d feel different.
On the flip side, the Cloud-Riders, led by Enfys Nest, prove to be incredibly mysterious and intriguing. They are a constant burr in team Beckett’s side. Their big confrontation at the end of the movie was incredibly satisfying, not just for this movie, but for the whole of Han’s character in the franchise.
Let’s not forget, this is a Star Wars movie. And a smuggler/scoundrel/thief one at that. The action sequences are fantastic. The scenes with the Millennium Falcon (yes they give a viable reason for the different appearance) outflying Star Destroyers and TIE Fighters is beautiful. And we finally see sabacc played by two of the best in the galaxy!
I don’t want to give too much away, but since these cameos are listed on IMBD, I think it’s pretty safe. BUT if you don’t want to know about them. Skip ahead to the next paragraph. Okay, so we were treated to the likes of Warwick Davis, Anthony Daniels (not as C-3PO), and of course the ever present in Ron Howard flicks, his younger brother Clint. There was also a very surprising appearance that I will not ruin. I have no clue why or what it will lead to, but it was incredibly shocking to see.
Okay, back to Alden Ehrenreich. There was a lot of talk during the production that he needed acting classes and that there was serious concern he couldn’t pull off the role. Like I said in the beginning, he’s not Harrison Ford. But that’s okay. He captures the essences of a young, inexperienced Han Solo extremely accurately. He executes the scoundrel smile perfectly and his wise cracks are on point. And he defends his claim to the Kessel Run record like the Solo we all know and love. I look forward to seeing more adventures from Han and Chewie.
At the end of the day, this is not the best film in the Star Wars franchise. But given the problems with the production and the low expectations, not to mention the dark tones of the previous three films, I found this movie thoroughly entertaining and exactly what I needed from the franchise.
I give Solo: A Star Wars Story three and half out of five Nerdskulls.
Check out the trailer below:
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