Did we need a Han Solo origin story? The obvious answer is no – we learned everything we needed to know about the character in Star Wars: A New Hope – but with Disney hell-bent on making the Star Wars brand as big a money-maker as the Marvel movies, we can expect to see a lot more of this sort of thing. That said I will start off this review by saying that Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t all that bad – I’d compare it to a big budget version of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles – and the entire assembled cast all put in solid work here. Where the film kind of lets us down is in how safe they are playing with the story – though to be fair they can’t really throw in big surprises in a prequel – and as narrative, the movie doesn’t so much as have a plot as it does a sequence of action set pieces.
In this prequel we learn that Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) grew up on the shipbuilding world of Corellia – where he lived as a sort of Artful Dodger to some weird-ass alien Fagan type – and along with him, we meet the beautiful Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who is kind of the film’s love interest, but as she’s not Princess Leia we know this relationship isn’t going to work out in the long run. This is a key problem when making a prequel, as the viewer has already seen the future of this universe – when a character from the original trilogy makes an appearance, we certainly know they’re not going to die – and that kind of places all the other characters we meet into the disposable category.
We meet Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who becomes a sort of mentor figure to Han, then there is Val (Thandie Newton), Beckett’s wife and part of his criminal crew, and they – along with a four armed alien pilots – take Han in when he tries to flee Imperial Service. We also have a ruthless crime lord named Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) – and Bettany does nice work as the villain, but as the movie spends so much time racing from one location to another we don’t get to spend enough time with him – and rounding out the criminals in this corner of the galaxy is Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman), a leader of a band of space pirates and a personal thorn in Beckett’s side, and who also may have an agenda beyond making a quick buck. All these new characters are quite fun – I especially loved robot L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) who kind of highlights the question that I’ve wondered about for some time, “Are droids just machines built to serve or are they a slave class?” – Sadly we aren’t given too much time to get attached to any of them as the screenwriters had a check list of things that “must” happen, such as…
• How Chewbacca and Han Solo became friends.
• Meeting Lando Calrissian.
• Chewie losing at holochess.
• Han Solo getting the Millennium Falcon.
• The much-talked about Kessel Run.
I’ll also give credit to Alden Ehrenreich for not trying to do a Harrison Ford impression – taking on such an iconic role had to have been nerve wracking – and he managed to hold his own against Donald Glover‘s scene stealing performance as Lando Calrissian, which certainly couldn’t have been easy. We also get some nice moments with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) – lucky for us, Life Day on Kashyyyk is never referenced – and it’s safe to say if the plot had been streamlined to focus more on the relationships between Han, Qi’ra, Chewbacca and Lando – and not the half-dozen other characters – the film would have held together a little better. Where Rogue One: A Star Wars Story worked as a Guns of Navarone type war movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story would have been better off if they’d gone in the vein of a simple Kelly’s Heroes type war story, and not cluttered the field with a lot of extraneous stuff.
The film does have some amazing action set pieces – the train heist is especially gripping – but when it comes to extended chase sequences, they probably could have dropped one – or at least shaved a few minutes off a couple of them. The pacing could also have been improved, as after a while it all becomes a bit exhausting.
Who knows what jettisoned directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord had in mind for the story – according to many sources, the cast were not happy with the direction it was going – and if Ron Howard had been given a fresh start the end result may have been quite different. Alas, that is something we will never know – at least what we did get was better than the blended mess that was Justice League – still all in all, it was quite entertaining.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fun film – fans will have fun spotting references to the original films – and as it didn’t take any chances with the subject matter, it won’t be nearly as decisive as Star Wars: Last of the Jedi was to said Star Wars fans. See it on the big screen, you won’t be disappointed.
We get an origin story for Han Solo’s name, seriously.
If a person says, “Trust nobody” that person will betray you.
In fact betrayal is kind of this film’s theme.
Required Clint Howard cameo.
Han Solo shoots first.
The Kessel Run’s parsec goof is fixed.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
Ron Howard managed to cobble together an exciting thrill ride of a movie – fights scenes and chases abound – but a couple more passes on the script could have made this into a taught space caper flick instead of the cluttered fan service version we got.