Reviewed by Steve McGowan
When a Han Solo movie was first announced, I had my misgivings. Recasting one of Harrison Ford’s iconic roles with another actor playing a younger version of said character was always going to be a tricky proposition. It’s not that it hasn’t been done before; River Phoenix does a spot-on young Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, so it could work given the right actor. However, when Alden Ehrenreich was cast, I wasn’t convinced. He just didn’t look or sound like Han Solo. After the original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired by Lucasfilm halfway through production, this movie already felt like a train wreck without even having come out of the gate yet. Their replacement, Ron Howard, was a director I was fond of though, and thus I gave this movie a chance despite the lukewarm reception when it premiered. I was pleasantly surprised, both by the finished product and by Ehrenreich’s performance.
Some spoilers ahead so be warned!
The film begins with Han (Alden Ehrenreich) living the rough life as a streetwise small time criminal working against his will for a criminal syndicate on Corellia, his homeworld. He steals speeders and is a dangerous driver, but he doesn’t plan to be there forever. He’s looking to stash away enough contraband to buy his way offworld and run away with is girlfriend Qi’Ra (Emelia Clarke). One day he runs off with some valuable fuel, with Qi’Ra in tow, and tries to bribe his way through the security checkpoints where he plans to sign up as a pilot in the Imperial Navy, for a life of flying and adventure. Unfortunately, he is seperated from Qi’Ra who is apprehended, and while he does make it through the checkpoint and signs up for Imperial Pilot School, he vows he will return to save Qi’Ra.
Flash forward three years later, where Han has been kicked out of the Naval Academy for being undisciplined, and is now a grunt soldier for the Empire. He meets Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his wacky crew of thieves while on a mission, and decides he’s had enough of the Imperial life and wants to join up with the criminals so he can get a chance to fly off to find his Qi’Ra. Unfortunately he’s outed as a deserter and as punishment, is thrown in a cage with “a monster”. Expecting something like a rancor from Return of the Jedi, the monster is none other than Chewbacca, whom Han quickly gains the trust of after proving that he can speak Wookie. This bit was a bit too convenient, and before long Han and Chewie team up and escape with Beckett’s crew.
It is after meeting Beckett do Han and Chewie’s adventures together begin in earnest as they become swashbuckling space pirates. The interaction between Han and Chewie is one of the high points of the film, as they banter we see a friendship form between them. Inevitably at one point, they need help pulling a heist so they have to enlist the help of Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), a smooth-talking, gambling rogue who happens to own a shiny fast ship: the Millennium Falcon. Lando’s sidekick is an annoying droid named L4 (Phoebe Wallers-Bridge), a robot who strongly and vocally rants about robot rights. Throughout the film we see all the things alluded to in Star Wars mythos but not seen until now: the Kessel run, and Han winning the fabled ship from Lando in a game of Sabacc. Han and Qi’Ra do meet up again at one point, but she’s changed considerably and poor Han is still too in love with her to see it. This complicates things a lot for our hero, but the resolution to this was satisfying (albeit one I could see coming from a mile away).
This is a smaller Star Wars film than the ones we’ve been used to seeing. The stakes aren’t Galaxy-changing, it’s simply all about our lovable rogue Han and how he becomes the smirking, cynical rogue we know him to be. Ehrenreich’s performance was pretty darn good, and although he still doesn’t look like Han, he channels enough of Harrison Ford’s mannerisms that it doesn’t distract from the film. As for the rest of the cast, I was expecting Donald Glover’s Lando to steal the show, but he ends up being kind of just there. Emilia Clarke is delightful as the multi-faceted Qi’Ra, but Woody Harrelson just feels like he’s playing himself. At the very end of the film, we see a character cameo that feels completely shoehorned in, and will confuse the heck out of the audience if they are unfamiliar with the animated Star Wars series. In summary, I enjoyed the film way more than I expected to. It wasn’t breathtakingly spectacular, but it was fun enough that it’s worth the price of admission. The film has been described as “unnecessary” by some critics, and perhaps that is true in the grand scheme of things, but I am nevertheless glad it exists.
I give Solo: A Star Wars Story 3 out of 5 Millennium Falcons.