Solo: A Star Wars Story Flies Higher Than Expected
by Ben Martin
I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I was seven years old. Over the years, my fandom only grew and remains. This persistent fandom of course despite the various issues I’ve found with The Special Editions and the prequels. Upon the release of Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005); I had accepted that there wouldn’t be any more cinematic adventures, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” In the intervening time, one would occasionally hear rumors of George Lucas bandying about doing Episodes VII, VIII, and IX. However, those rumors only ended up being partially correct once Disney purchased Lucasfilm, Ltd from its founder for the astronomical sum of $4 billion! That’s right, go ahead and throw up your pinky. Such a development was bitter-sweet for me. It was exciting to know there would be more Star Wars. Alas, I was saddened to hear that Lucas himself was washing his hands of it all. Say what you will about the guy, but you can’t hate on him too much. After all, we wouldn’t have Star Wars without him.
However, I took comfort in the fact that longtime producer and collaborator of Steven Spielberg (Ready Player One) and Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy was assuming creative control over Lucasfilm and its properties. Surely she could foster Star Wars adequately. Of course, not long after I had that bode of confidence, it was announced that we would get a new war in the stars annually starting in 2015. Since the release of Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) my reactions to the films have mixed. While I enjoyed The Force Awakens; I’m in the minority as I find Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) to be mediocre. Then there’s last year’s Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. A divisive installment which I loathe; so much so that I didn’t even attempt to write about it after its release.
Thus, the idea of a young Han Solo spin-off, sans Harrison Ford (Blade Runner 2049) of course, was of little interest to me. Throughout the production of Solo: A Star Wars Story my initial disinterest developed into a morbid curiosity. As you’ve no doubt heard, this film had a troubled production. Initially, writer/director Josh Trank (Chronicle) was to helm the picture; but quickly exited due to the disappointing financial and critical reception of Fantastic 4 (2015). Furthermore, Trank felt overwhelmed by the pressure of doing A Star Wars Story. Following this, Kennedy and company made an inspired decision in hiring directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The LEGO Movie). The idea was that Lord and Miller could inject a little humor into Solo’s script by Star Wars regular Lawrence Kasdan and son Jake Kasdan. Alas, after shooting a large chunk of the film, the director’s were dismissed due to “Irreconcilable creative differences,” with Kennedy and The Kasdans. At this point, Ron Howard (Inferno) was brought in to finish the film; which included extensive reshoots and recasting. Between keeping up with the contentious production and the mismanaged marketing for Solo, I didn’t have high hopes when the lights of the theater went dark.
For the first twenty minutes or so, my apprehension remained as Solo unfolded. The film follows a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenrech) as he and his love interest, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) as they attempt to escape a planet on which they’re enslaved. However, the two star-crossed lovers get separated, and only Han manages to escape. Racked with guilt, he makes it his mission to make money, get his own ship and return to save Qi’ra. Shortly after his escape our hero crews up with a group of thieves led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). As if by destiny, this crew is soon tasked with a job that will have them crossing paths with not only Qi’ra; but also Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo).
I won’t bury lead any longer; Solo is better than has any right to be. As such, it exceeded my expectations. The best thing this film has going for it though is that it’s fun! After the previous two dower Star Wars entries; I felt a smidge of childlike joy as I was able to get caught up in the fun being presented on screen. Moreover my greatest fear was alleviated in that I found Ehrenrech was not merely doing a Harrison Ford impression. Yes, there are moments when he slips into such territory. However, for the most part, the actor does a decent job of taking on this iconic character. Not that he entirely succeeds in capturing the signature smug charisma of Han Solo as I believe only Ford can. Surprisingly, I found the character Beckett and Glover’s take on Lando to be more interesting than the film’s titular hero. Beyond the acting, Solo is pretty well-crafted, particularly considering its production history. Furthermore, it’s a terrific looking film. Cinematographer Bradford Young (Arrival) creates a dark, rich visual palate which homages not only Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope (1977); but also The Godfather (1972). In other words, if dig 70s style cinematography, Solo will be a real treat for your eyes.
Alas, you can’t be an intergalactic smuggler without having a few issues, as does this film does. For one, while Solo moves at a decent clip, it’s over two hours. And while for the majority of its runtime, it’s entertaining, this movie could easily be cut down to under two hours without losing anything. In fact, I believe that the whole romantic subplot could be conceivably excised without consequence. Overcrowded pacing aside, the film in review has one other problem that I found a bit grating. Frankly, Solo is packed with so much fan service that I’m surprised we weren’t asked to pay a subscription fee. Even as a fan the movie in review was so overwrought with references to its own universe to the point where it became tiring.
Despite those issues, I think it’s a near miracle that Howard managed to turn in a watchable picture. Solo is the most fun I’ve had watching a Star Wars flick in a while. Now mind you, this movie is like dessert. You don’t need it, but it’s fun to have, and it’s good while you’re consuming it; as such Solo doesn’t really add anything to the mythology of this franchise. However, it’s fun to watch and goes down smooth. I know many fans have chosen to pass on this picture, due to lack of interest; as evidenced in the film’s current box-office total. If you’re one of the folks who chose to skip-out on Solo; I urge you to give it a chance.
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY IS NOW PLAYING IN THEATERS!