Solo: A Star Wars Story, rated PG-13
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany
Austin Family Critical Rating: 3 ½ of 5 stars
Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story is a mostly enjoyable and pleasant ride, chiefly due to the strength and charm of its actors. Of course, looming over the film is a major question – what would this movie have been like if the original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie), had not been fired mid-shoot and replaced by Howard? However, I think it’s a disservice to the film to question what might have been, and it’s probably wise to instead focus on what works and doesn’t work in the final picture. Above all, the film cements Alden Ehrenreich as a genuine star. People will hold his performance here to immense scrutiny, given that Ehrenreich is playing a younger version of Harrison Ford’s iconic Star Wars character. For my money, though, the young actor makes the character his own creation and adds to the impressive body of work Ehrenreich has under his belt (after his great performances in Hail, Caesar! and Rules Don’t Apply).
The central story revolves around Solo and the Millennium Falcon making the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs – a throwaway line from A New Hope (1977) that’s now become part of Star Wars lore. Early in the film, Han joins a crew of space smugglers, led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who are attempting to steal a load of coaxium for Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). However, when the heist goes awry, the crew is forced to find another way to obtain the coaxium – this time, from the planet Kessel. To ensure nothing goes wrong, Vos asks his associate Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who happens to be Han’s past girlfriend from his home planet of Corellia, to join them on their mission. Along the way, we’re introduced to Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and, of course, the Millennium Falcon.
I’m not a particular fan of the look of this film. The first third in particular is rather dreary-looking (not to mention a bit weak story-wise) – and even as I came around to enjoying myself more once the central heist was in motion, I still missed the colors and vibrancy of past Star Wars films (Rogue One, in my mind, had the same color issue – it was as if the entire film had one monotone palette). After all, this is a film about Han Solo, the mischievous space pirate – I don’t think such a bleak look is really warranted.
That aside, I did enjoy watching a Star Wars story in which the fate of the galaxy isn’t at stake – Solo hints at a world of weird creatures and interesting characters throughout the galaxy with stories of their own. The cast is uniformly great – Harrelson, Glover, Clarke and Waller-Bridge each add something special to the proceedings.
Even still, part of me feels like a stand-alone Han Solo movie should be just a bit more fun than this. I could have gone for more hang-out scenes in the Millennium Falcon – or at least a poker game between Han and Lando, where they give some information about how the game is played and everything isn’t simply indicated (think of a film like The Sting, where there’s real tension in the poker scenes, because we understand not only the stakes, but the rules of the game, as well). Far too often, Solo feels like it’s just trying to get from A to B, and the journey between those points is often indicated and not felt. As it stands, we get glimpses of fun – Beckett and Chewbacca playing the hologram game on the Falcon is a nice moment – but they’re not really mined or explored.
I was a big fan of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) because I thought it took some real chances and got kind of weird, and Solo plays things a bit too safe. Now that the origin story, so to speak, is out of the way for the Han Solo character, I’d like to see this character (and lead actor) come back for another episode in which we get to better experience Solo’s freewheeling sense of adventure. Can you imagine if Richard Linklater directed a sequel in which Han and Chewie just cruised around the galaxy and hung out with Lando? I don’t expect Disney to make that film, but I think it’d be closer to the spirit of this character if they did.
Jack Kyser is a graduate of Austin High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.