You can count me among those who rolled their eyes and moaned “Why?” when Solo: A Star Wars Story was announced. I mean…it’s still a Star Wars film, but at that point, I was convinced Han had been done to death (literally). I wasn’t outright against it, but I just thought there was no need for a film dedicated to Han Solo when we already had a ton of content about him. Sure, in a few years after the sequel trilogy was complete and bigger stories had been told, throw that project in the mix. The timing just felt off to me. As we learned more and more about the film, my intrigue grew, and I started to get excited about this film. I’m happy to say, my initial trepidation was unfounded and my excitement was rewarded, because Solo: A Star Wars Story is a wonderful film. I might not talk about everything in the film, but it’s gonna get SPOILERY so just beware before clicking through.
The look of this film is like no other Star Wars film I’ve seen. I doubt I’m alone in saying that. Where The Last Jedi was vibrant and looked like an oil painting in motion, Solo is a film that plays in the gray and grit of the galaxy. This film stands apart from all it’s predecessors and that’s clear from the opening shot. The western-genre feel to Solo came on strong in the opening introduction, with ominous text letting us know that the galaxy far, far away was a tapestry of stars and planets filled with lawlessness. This would be the backdrop where the galaxy’s greatest scoundrel – as well as one of it’s heroes – would come into his own.
Right off the bat I’ll say I think fans owe Alden Ehrenreich an apology for the rampant negative speculation and comments that lead up to the premiere of this film. I understand this is a shaky time in the Star Wars community after The Last Jedi elicited so many extreme reactions among fans. It’s understandable to be skeptical and nervous about a film that was literally not even marketed until less than three months before it’s release. There were rumors about acting coaches and the onset drama, but Alden never seemed to have a chance in the fans eyes. I won’t claim I was rushing to his defense, but having seen Alden’s other work, I was very much in the ‘wait-and-see’ camp, but wish I and more people would have given him the benefit of the doubt. Alden’s performance is nearly flawless, as he captures the essence of Han without doing a Harrison Ford impersonation. This is Han Solo, and Alden’s portrayal adds such depth to a familiar character that I don’t see how fans couldn’t find themselves clapping by the end of this film. I’m not trying to scorn fans, just saying in the future perhaps we should trust the casting, since I can’t think of a recent Star Wars film with a bad ensemble cast, especially when it comes to the lead. Alden steps into the lead nicely, just as Daisey Ridley and Felicity Jones did before him.
Corellia – where the film opens – is everything I imagined it would be. It’s dark and industrial, but not in any kind of Blade Runner sense. This is dirty, gritty industry grinding out Star Destroyers and other ships for Empire, all well criminal syndicates turn the wheels of their own cruel machinations beneath the machine. We learn quickly that the children raised on this planet are tools of their criminal masters – pawns sent out to steal and scavenge. Han is looking for a way out, not only for himself, but for his love Qi’ra. The film opens with the two of them making a daring escape from the clutches of a crime lord. It’s a fun chase through the streets of a Corellian city that sets the pace for the rest of the film. Right away, director Ron Howard establishes that you better sit up and pay attention, because this film moves fast.
There’s so much to say about Emlia Clarke, but I’ll state the obvious – she’s a brilliantly gifted actor and a genuine star. Her performance as Qi’ra is up there with Alden’s show stealing portrayal of Han. Qi’ra is three very different people in this film from beginning, middle, and end. I’m not going to go that deep into spoiler territory with her, because the less you know about her, the better. I thought Qi’ra brought a great grounding presence to the story, keeping the over-the-top traits of each character she interacts with in check. Qi’ra is a force to be reckoned with and I’ve no doubt we’ll be hearing more about her in the future. Emilia brought her to life as a strong force, not just in the events that shape Han, but in the galaxy overall. By the end of this film, you’re going to want to know more about her. I guarantee that.
Han and Qi’ra don’t make it off Corellia. Just as Han makes it through an Imperial checkpoint, Qi’ra is detained and Han can’t get to her. As he’s trying to escape from local security and thugs, he lines up into the Imperial Naval Academy. It’s his only escape, though three years later, we find the disgraced cadet on the frontlines of an Imperial invasion. He’s washed out of the academy for having a mind of his own and is now Imperial cannon fodder. This is where he meets a crew that will change his life.
First on that list of life changing characters, Chewbacca. Those of you who’ve read my reviews know that I’m no Chewbacca fan, but he won me over in Solo. Joonas Suotamo gives his best performance as the Wookiee co-pilot yet. Chewie’s dialogue had the potential to be laughably bad, but it comes off without a hitch. Every scene he’s in he plays an integral part of the story and is just as much a full character with a great story as everyone else. I wouldn’t go handing him his own movie anytime soon, but Joonas as Chewbacca is great in Solo. His first meeting with Han is especially good.
I liked the character Tobias Beckett, but I think Woody Harrelson was miscast. No disrespect to Harrelson as an actor, but I didn’t think he conveyed the wisdom and experience the Kasdans seem to repeatedly imply the character is supposed to have. There wasn’t a lot of nuance to the character. He was either annoyed, defeated, or wise-cracking. By the end of the film, it wasn’t really clear to me how this character had such a profound impact on Han. His morality is malleable and his intelligence seems to stop at street-smarts, but maybe they are implying Han learned from Beckett’s mistakes, as he does make many miscalculations throughout the film.
Someone who disappeared far too soon from Solo was Val. Thandie Newton excels at playing badasses, in case you haven’t been watching Westworld. There’s no difference here. Val has no interest in working with Han , as he pleads with his new Wookiee friend to be let aboard the ship she and Beckett are spiriting away from the ferocious battle where they all met. She warms up to him later when she finds out why Han’s so desperate to be part of their heist – so he can raise funds to purchase a ship, return to Corellia, and find Qi’ra. It’s revealed that Beckett and Val are partners in more ways than just being part of a crew – they are lovers and care deeply for one another. This dynamic is underscored when Val is killed in the heist, sacrificing herself to save Beckett and allow him to complete the heist. I was very disappointed with this and it’s perhaps my biggest problem with Solo. I felt Val’s character was much more interesting than Beckett and would have served as a much stronger mentor for Han. I can only hope we will get more stories that feature Val, live-action preferred because Thandie owns this character in my mind. It was really surprising to me how little she was in the film, especially since Thandie delivers such an exceptional performance.
The heist was easily the funniest scene of the film for me. There’s a lot of great action sequences in Solo, but none compare to the scope and setting of the first heist on Vandor-1. It’s like something out of a great old gangster film or a western. The railcrawler is hauling a valuable ore called coaxium, which once refined, powers hyperdrives so it is very valuable in the galaxy. Beckett and company are retrieving this for Dryden Vos, but they aren’t the only ones who see the vulnerability of railcrawler haul. The heist undergoes a hijacking by Enfys Nest and her Cloud Riders, who seemingly have a history of stealing whatever loot Beckett and his team are stealing, just as they are about to finish the job.
I’ll get to Enfys Nest more in a bit, but for the purposes of continuing this review without it turning into a major gush session, let’s just say I’m a fan. Her band of Cloud Riders are known as marauders that loot the galaxy of precious resources like coaxium. Beckett seems to think the gang has it out for him, and they royally screw-up the heist, as well as cost Val and Rio Durant (forgettable pilot that works with Beckett and Val) their lives. At this point in the story, Enfys Nest goes her separate way, but we are well aware she and the Cloud Riders are keeping a close eye on what Beckett is up to for the rest of the film.
It turns out Beckett was not out to steal the heist for himself, he was under contract by a person named Dryden Vos, who is a boss in the criminal syndicate Crimson Dawn. Dryden arrives in a very vertical space yacht to pick up his coaxium delivery. Beckett lets Han know they are as good as dead. He gives Han the option to run, but Han insists on coming along. It’s not for the prospect of fortune, just enough so he can buy a ship and return to Corellia to find Qi’ra. Beckett warns Han that once he steps foot onboard the yacht he’s thrust himself into the underworld of the galaxy forever. It’s worth it to Han, who now has Chewie with him. Paul Bettany does a decent job, especially since he replaced Michael Kenneth Williams late in production, but damn I would have loved to see Michael Kenneth Williams in this role. Anyone who has seen his work on The Wire or Boardwalk Empire knows he would have made a fantastic villain. There’s nothing particularly sinister about Vos, especially since he seems to be terrified of the elusive head of Crimson Dawn, so as far as bad guys go he’s pretty middle-of-the-road.
Han reunites with Qi’ra, who he soon learns found her own way off of Corellia by rising through the ranks of Crimson Dawn and is now Dryden Vos’ most trusted lieutenant. Qi’ra definitely brushes aside Han’s naivety when he proposes they hop a ship and see the galaxy like they dreamt of when they were kids. Dryden expresses his disappointment with Beckett and prepares to execute him and Han unless they can convince him there’s a reason not to. Han proposes the Kessel Run, only not for spice, but for massive quantities of unrefined coaxium. This proposition is risky, mostly because unrefined coaxium is extremely unstable and explosive. Vos decides to give them a chance after Qi’ra vouches for Han, but he sends her with them to ensure the job is done properly. First thing though, they need a ship and a fast one at that. Qi’ra knows a ship and a pilot
Donald Glover’s performance as Lando is equally distinctive, yet familiar, as Alden’s Han. Donald brings his own take from Billy Dee Williams, while you don’t think twice that the person you are watching onscreen is Lando Calrissian. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Lando, but the character seemed out of place in some of the movie’s scenes. I was surprised how peripheral his role was at times, but I’m not complaining. If anything, this proves that Lando is a strong enough character that can help add cohesion to a story, but can stand well-enough on his own. Donald is the personification of suave or any other smooth synonym that runs parallel to those words. It’s a great performance and I’d say it wouldn’t be a surprise if Lando got his own movie or at least a much larger role in future films that follow down the line. What we learn about him in Solo could certainly fill out a film of it’s own.
Han loses a game of Sabacc to Lando, but manages to break the ice. It’s cool to finally see Sabacc played onscreen, since we’ve only read about it. This isn’t THE game we know in Star Wars lore between Han and Lando, but it’s a great way to introduce the character, and we see THAT game towards the end of the film. We also meet Lando’s partner, L3-37, or Elthree.
Elthree is another great character who disappears far too quickly from Solo. She’s a badass droid that doesn’t take crap from anyone. She’s all for droid empowerment and equal rights, so I would’ve loved to see her end up with the Rebel Alliance at some point. Phoebe Walker-Bridge performed and voiced Elthree and she pretty much steals every scene she’s in. She’s hilarious and definitely made me laugh more than anyone else in the film. The dynamic she has with Lando is great, as he’s constantly trying to encourage her to pick her fights, but still supportive of the causes she fights for. Elthree is nearly killed during the raid on Kessel’s spice mine, but Lando manages to upload her into the Millennium Falcon’s computer. Now we know why Threepio was having a tough time conversing with it in The Empire Strikes Back, as he was trying to find out about the hyperdrive motivator and she was probably arguing with him about droid rights. I’d love to hear that conversation someday.
Getting to and from Kessel is not easy, and we find out why it’s so impressive that Han was able to make the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs. Kessel is hidden in something called the Akkadese Maelstrom, which is that stormy environment you’ve seen Han piloting through in the trailers. There’s only one safe and guided route through the Maelstrom, and that gets closed off when it’s time for Han, Lando, Beckett, Qi’ra and Chewbacca to get the unrefined ore to a processing facility. A Star Destroyer forms a blockade, forcing Han, who has taken over for Lando as pilot while he deals with Elthree, to fly into the deadly Maelstrom. This scene of Han going against the odds is just gorgeously put together, with all the music cues you’d hope would be there, and gives him experience he’ll use later in life. Unfortunately for the Falcon, it goes from looking like pristine ceramic to the hunk of junk we meet in Mos Eisley by the time they are out of the Maelstrom.
Okay, buckle up. The gush fest is about to start because we are going to talk about Enfys Nest and why she’s been following and thwarting the activities of Beckett and his Crimson Dawn employer. Enfys Nest and her pirates are nothing of the sort. They are Rebels, but I’m not sure if I should capitalize that ‘r’, because this seems to be well before a formal Rebel Alliance is established. Enfys is revealed to be a young woman who has watched her people and countless other worlds be terrorized by the raids of Crimson Dawn. We know the galaxy is in a resource grab at this point in time, as the Empire is building up it’s monstrous fleet while struggling to feed the construction of the Death Star (James Luceno’s novel Catalyst does a great job explaining the resource grab), so it’s not entirely surprising the Empire would employ criminals to help it suck up valuable ore like coaxium. Enfys and her crew are trying to get those resources to the people forming the rebellion.
Erin Kellyman is the actor under the Enfys Nest mask. Her crew is composed of several different species that lost their worlds to the Empire or Crimson Dawn’s pillaging. Kellyman brings a youth and human sensibility to the Rebel struggle that feels fresh. She’s a young woman who’s taken up the mantle and become a matriarch for her people, while risking everything to get resources to a rebellion that is not fully formed yet. She doesn’t have a ton of screen time and is certainly an understated character, but all I left the theater thinking about is that I wanted to know more about Enfys Nest. That’s a huge credit to Erin’s abilities as an actor. She said so much in such a small amount of time. I want to know where she goes next and what her role in the Galactic Civil War that brought down the Empire was. Now that there’s an established connection to the Rebel Alliance, I think Enfys Nest deserves her own story. It’s such a cool introduction and is now my favorite for characters I want to see expanded upon. If you’re reading this, Story Group, please get to work on getting us more Enfys Nest and make sure she’s played by Erin Kellyman.
As great as the film was throughout, I found the finale of the film to be much more jarring than the rest of the smooth ride we got. I’m not going to go too deep into spoilers here, but it’s a series of double-crosses between multiple characters that by the time everything is said and done you kind of lose track. I actually tried to write it out here but gave up because it becomes so intertwined and seemed kind of silly. It doesn’t detract from the film, just a little bumpier than everything that lead up to it.
And that cameo! You will not believe that damn cameo. I’m not going to spoil it because I had no idea it was coming and that’s the best way to experience it. The Story Group seems to be making plans to bring a certain person back into the franchise. That’s the only way I can see it, as it is a character so far removed from the events of this film you’ll almost laugh out loud it’s so unbelievable. I’m not complaining, just…damn, never would have guessed that in a million years.
I understand why the Kasdans were so protective of their script amidst the whole production turmoil. The balance of humor here is very delicate. I could see how some scenes easily could have just been goofy instead of the dry, intelligent laughs that are provided amidst the action. Ron Howard shows that he’s a great filmmaker with how naturally he was able to lead the team of actors through this complex script. The film’s flow doesn’t skip a beat, other than the few instances toward the end I’ve mentioned earlier. I couldn’t believe how fast the two-hours and fifteen-minutes went by. I don’t know if I’d be rattling for an entire Han Solo trilogy, but there are plenty of characters here I’d like to get to know more. The characters of Solo are certainly it’s strongest points. If I could rate it on those alone, it’s nearly a perfect film. The story is pretty bland, to be honest, so it’s really the characters that give this film life.
There’s no doubt in my mind some fans will not enjoy this film. There are so many expectations and let’s face it, Rogue One set the bar pretty damn high for these stand alone films. I loved it, but I went in with an open mind and knowing pretty much nothing about the film other than what the trailers had shown (I avoided the fifty-million television spots and behind the scenes promotions, as well). As I’m writing this, there’s already rumblings of a less than stellar box office performance, but I hope fans can focus on the positive. It took a lot of love to bring Solo to life and there are far more things to enjoy about the film than to nitpick. This is film stands apart from all the others and should serve as a sure sign we should let go of our expectations when we step into a galaxy far, far away. There is a lot more Star Wars to look forward to, and if Solo is any indication, we should continue to be very excited and optimistic about where the franchise is headed.