SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (9.8 out of 10) Directed by Ron Howard; Written by Jon and Lawrence Kasdan; Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Pheobe Waller-Bridge, Thandie Newton; Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence; Running time 135 minutes; In wide release May 25, 2018.
This review aims to remain spoiler-free, but it will discuss broad strokes of the film in generalities. If you aim to go in completely cold, perhaps skipping this and all reviews until you’ve seen the film is the wiser course of action.
In the seminal behind-the-scenes documentary From Star Wars to Jedi, Mark Hamill describes Han Solo thusly, “Han Solo, hot pilot and cool adventurer was a man for all risks.”
But this is not the Han we’re treated to in Solo: A Star Wars Story. This Han is younger. Greener. Somehow, even more adorably stupid. And he was brought to life by Alden Ehrenreich. Questions swirled about whether or not he would be able to bring Harrison Ford’s Han Solo to life and the answer is that he does and he doesn’t. He brings Han to life beautifully, but he can’t bring Ford’s Han to life yet because he simply doesn’t yet exist. This is a much more naive and, yes, like I said, adorably stupid. At the press conference, Lawrence Kasdan cited Han’s stupidity as one of his favorite traits of the character and it’s on full display and if it doesn’t put a smile on your face, I’m not sure what will. He also brings a James Dean quality to the part, especially in the early parts of the film. Rebel Without a Cause indeed.
Donald Glover compliments him perfectly with this version of Lando as well. He’s cool, sure, but he’s an even bigger sleemo here than we’ve seen him. Though the Rebels episode with him trying to sell Hera to Azmorigan might run a close second. He sounds like Lando and gets so many of the funniest lines, but he’s almost overshadowed by his droid, L3-37, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She’s a different sort of droid than we’ve seen and adds an energy to the film that practically steals scenes from Donald Glover, if that can be believed.
Rounding out the trio of main characters is Emilia Clarke as the enigmatic Qi’ra. She’s great in the part and adds a mysterious quality to the role that I enjoyed. In fact, I enjoyed that about every character, from Paul Bettany’s fiendishly frightening Dryden Vos to Woody Harrelson’s father-like Beckett, you aren’t quite sure who is going to end up doing what. Every single character in the film thinks they’re the smartest of the bunch and have the upper hand on the others and as an audience member, you’re not quite sure who is actually correct and who underestimated the others. It gives the film an excitement that means it doesn’t really matter if Han’s life could possibly be at stake, the stakes they build are fun on their own.
Although Ron Howard is the director and Bradford Young is the cinematographer, there’s no doubt we see the thumbprint of Jon and Lawrence Kasdan all over this story. There are moments from classic westerns in the same mold as Silverado on display, Yojimbo has moments that could be seen in the film, and even old Spaghetti westerns as well. But the movie I’d describe it most like being would be Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kasdan has a way of imbuing so much dense backstory in character interactions in almost throwaway lines and the story turns every ten minutes or so with new complications, raising the stakes higher and higher.
The film itself is a breathless roller-coaster of fun. I would have a difficult time trusting anyone who left this film and said they didn’t enjoy it.
And there’s plenty to love for fans of the old expanded universe. There are Easter eggs, name drops, and all kinds of stuff that you wouldn’t believe crammed into this film in oblique ways. Even the fertility idol from Raiders makes an appearance. In my interview with Jon Kasdan, he talked about how they leaned on the original Han and Lando books from the ’70s and ’80s, and he wasn’t lying. In fact, that’s not a bad way to describe the movie. It’s exactly like one of those early EU books. If they filmed it, this is pretty much what it would look and sound like.
This film isn’t just disposable, though. Yes, it’s a stand-alone and works very well in that capacity, but the Kasdans were able to do something remarkable. Since Kasdan has been the chief architect of Han Solo’s life, he was able to take knowledge of his ending and offer us a beginning that adds dimension and context to every moment we see him in. From A New Hope to The Force Awakens, you will never see Han in the same way again. That’s what I love about Star Wars, it’s all one big story of the galaxy and this is no exception.
Overall, I think the tone of this film was perfect. It balanced the humor with the adventure and the suspense in equal measures and left me wanting more. That alone is something I wasn’t expecting either. I honestly didn’t think I’d leave the theatre wanting or needing to spend more time with these iterations of the characters, but I left with a powerful craving for just that. I want more heists and adorably stupid Han. I want more of his relationship with Lando. I want to know what happens to the other characters set on their trajectories. I hope we get it.
More than anything, this movie is fun. It’s a roller-coaster ride, thanks to that Indiana Jones structure, and it leaves you breathless. And I’d have a hard time trusting someone who said they didn’t have fun watching this. Because really, that’s its chief trait.
This film worked for me and helped expand my idea of what Star Wars films could be. If they have more Star Wars stories like this, I’d like more of them. And if they have more Han and Lando movies, I want them, too.
One thing you’ll notice that’s absent is the edges of where one set of directors left off and when Ron Howard began. This film looks and sounds exactly like a Star Wars movie with a unified voice behind it. Unlike the wildly uneven tone of Justice League, where two directors brought different visions together, Solo has none of those seams. Ron Howard really did move mountains to make the best movie he could and I would say this probably is the best movie he’s ever made. He should be proud.
This film, for me, was a near perfect Star Wars film. It avoided every single trap I thought it would fall into and exceeded every one of my expectations. 9.8 out of 10. I think this is better than The Force Awakens.
Next week, after the release of the film, I’ll be back with more detailed analysis of the film. You can listen to the spoiler-free reaction of the movie on the latest episode of the Full of Sith podcast, And, as ever, follow me on twitter for my in-depth analysis every day.