The famed smuggler, scoundrel and hero Han Solo once said long ago in a galaxy far away to, “Never tell me the odds.” I can only imagine that was the same thing director Ron Howard kept telling himself when he was brought on board for Solo: A Star Wars Story after Lucasfilm fired directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who had almost finished shooting the entire movie when Howard replaced them. With less than a year until the movie’s release and nearly three quarters of the movie scraped and needing reshoots, the task to deliver another entertaining (and successful) Star Wars movie seemed daunting. However, with veteran and acclaimed director Ron Howard steering the ship (or Millennium Falcon, in this case), the latest standalone Star Wars project is another mostly entertaining entry in the intergalactic saga. While Solo is far from perfect, this origin story about the original space cowboy is full of fun moments for both new and older audiences looking to whet their appetite during summer blockbuster season.
Through a series of daring escapades, young Han Solo meets his future co-pilot Chewbacca and encounters the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian.
Venturing into uncharted territory of the Star Wars universe, Solo does a fine job laying the foundation for the legend of Han Solo, though most of it is fairly predictable, with some of the winks towards other parts/characters in the Star Wars universe coming off a bit forced. Some might question the need of a standalone Han Solo movie once they see how the plot of Solo plays out, as the scale and stakes are smaller compared to other Star Wars movies. When Solo introduces us to new characters in connection to smuggling across the galaxy, it doesn’t take long to connect the dots and anticipate a twist or two coming at any moment of the movie; along with that, Solo experiences some pacing issues throughout the first half of the movie. All that being said, however, the execution by Ron Howard ultimately drives Solo to the entertaining heights audiences are accustomed to with each Star Wars movie, as the characters, humor, action sequences, and visual effects make up for any of the Solo’s shortcomings.
Taking the mantle of the iconic main character once portrayed by Harrison Ford, Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) is more than satisfactory as the young Han Solo. While it takes a minute for Alden to find his groove as the character in the middle of the always-debated, “Who shot first” discussion, Alden eventually fits the mold once made whole by Harrison Ford. Firing zippy, sarcastic lines to Chewbacca (some of the best moments in Solo include the interactions between Han and Chewie) and other colleagues, Alden is able to spark a majority of the movie’s humor. Carrying the weight of a standalone entry as the titular character is no easy feat, so it’s impressive to see a relatively unknown actor like Alden handle the reigns of this blockbuster standalone movie quite nicely.
Other than Alden, the rest of the main cast is exceptional as well. Donald Glover (Atlanta), who, by the way, is an early contender for Entertainer of the Year, plays Lando Calrissian collectively cool and intriguing as the famed, cape-wearing smuggler. While Lando is not in the movie as long as people might expect, we can only hope Glover’s take on the character is further expanded in his own standalone movie (which Lucasfilm confirmed the other day is in development). Woody Harrelson (War for the Planet of the Apes) and Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) are equally great as the mentor and love interest, especially Clarke, given that she will seemingly be doing blockbuster movies full-time once she’s done with Game of Thrones. If there is one particularly weak member of the cast, it’s Paul Bettany (Avengers: Age of Ultron) as Dryden Vos, a crime lord and antagonist. Bettany is not bad or cringe worthy; he just plays an average antagonist thanks to a bland script.
If there’s one thing the new Star Wars movies have gotten a good handle on, it’s the action sequences, and the streak continues in Solo. Close combat sequences (like the train heist scene shown in marketing) are intense, and the flight sequences in space are exhilarating to watch, especially one involving a monster, which is the highlight of the movie. And while it can take months on end to finish visual effects, it’s astonishing to see how good they look in Solo whenever characters are present on screen given how the movie only spent just a few months in post-production. Also, worth noting: John Powell’s (The Bourne Ultimatum) score breathes both old and new into the music we’re accustomed to hearing in the Star Wars movies, and some of cinematographer Bradford Young’s (Arrival) shots throughout Solo feel like something out of an old-time Western and help give the movie a distinct feel compared to the other Star Wars movies.
Almost a year ago, it seemed the writing on the wall hinted at the makings of a big-budget blockbuster destined to crash and burn on release. However, thanks to Ron Howard and the cast, Solo sticks the landing. While the road was certainly bumpy and full of trenches, Solo: A Star Wars Story is another mostly delightful intergalactic story with the potential makings of a new, exciting franchise. The pieces are in place, so, “let’s keep a little optimism here,” if Lucasfilm wants to take flight again.