There is a moment in “Solo: A Star Wars Story” where we first meet Donald Glover’s take on Lando Calrissian, and he says, “Everything you’ve heard about me is true.” There’s a lot you’ve probably heard about this movie. It’s all true.
Despite all of that mess and controversy, Ron Howard, Kathleen Kennedy, and the folks at Lucasfilm have made a fun and entertaining Star Wars film. Is it the best Star Wars film you’ll ever see? No, but it’s full of enough great action, comedy, and deep-cut Wookieepedia references to make a great Star Wars film that just about anyone can love.
As a child of the 1980s I have always been a huge Star Wars fan, as are my children. My home office is mostly full of collectibles from a galaxy far, far away in one form or another.
As someone who doesn’t have magical Force powers, it was always easier for me to identify with Han Solo, that roguish scoundrel, than with Luke Skywalker. So when “Solo: A Star Wars Story” was announced, I was excited. Did we need a back story about young Han Solo? No, absolutely not, but in the hands of the right story tellers, and with the right actors, this could be a fun era of Star Wars to explore. That’s exactly what we get with “Solo.”
Han Solo Before He Was Harrison Ford’s Han Solo
It takes about ten minutes for your brain to register that the guy on the screen is playing Han Solo and it’s not Harrison Ford. That’s a tough mental adjustment at first, but once you get past it, Alden Ehrenreich’s portrayal of Solo is pretty good. This isn’t the Solo we know when we meet him in the cantina on Tatooine in “A New Hope,” and that’s the point. Ehrenreich isn’t doing a Ford impression, he’s showing you how we got to the Han who shot first.
We first meet Han on his home planet of Corellia, where he’s a young runaway trying to escape the clutches of a gang with his girl Qi’ra, played by Emilia Clarke, of “Game of Thrones” fame. It’s an uneven start to the story that eventually sees Han join the Empire in hopes of getting the training he wants to be “the best pilot in the galaxy.”
In the course of that story Han meets Chewie, played very well in this movie by Joonas Suotamo. We get to see the two speak Shryriiwook (the growls and gurgles that make up the Wookiee language) to each other, fly the Millennium Falcon for the first time, and even rescue some fellow Wookiees from slavery in the spice mines of Kessel. Chewbacca’s role in this movie is much more as “The Muscle” and Suotamo, a younger actor fully taking over the role from longtime Chewie actor Peter Mayhew, makes that possible.
Not long after Han and Chewie hook up, the plot really kicks into high gear. Star Wars is a big galaxy far, far away, and these anthology films have plenty of opportunities to explore different types of films. At its heart, this is a heist film. Howard’s “Solo” is about two heists, one that goes wrong at the beginning of the movie, then another that Han and company have to pull to make up for the one they screwed up.
Woody Harrelson’s character, Tobias Beckett, serves as Han’s mentor and the gang’s leader. He puts together the crew on both jobs, shows Han the ropes, even gives the scoundrel his famous gun. To satisfy an angry crime lord played by Paul Bettany, Han and company have to raid the spice mines of Kessel, steal valuable ship fuel, and get it to a remote outpost without the Empire catching them before it destabilizes and explodes in the hull of their ship.
That ship is of course the Millennium Falcon, which they get from Glover’s Lando, who is perhaps the best part of this cast. He steals every minute he’s on screen, and deserves a spin-off movie all his own. His independence-minded co-pilot droid is a hoot as well, and raises some interesting questions about how the folks in the Star Wars galaxy see their synthetic partners.
Pulling Off a Fun Summer Movie
This is a fun summer movie, and that’s exactly what Lucasfilm was looking to make. Putting the writing of the film in the hands of Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan was a smart move. Lawrence Kasdan is a Hollywood writing legend and was responsible for some of the best Star Wars: “The Empire Strikes Back” plus work on the most recent trilogy in “The Force Awakens.”
He also helped write the Indiana Jones movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and that’s where I think his talent really shines in this movie. The Kasdans successfully blend the two titular Harrison Ford adventures into one and turn “Solo” into an Indiana Jones movie set in the Star Wars universe.
This movie has been in the works longer than even the newer Disney Star Wars movies have. Before the Mouse House bought Lucasfilm, George Lucas and Kathleen Kennedy came to Lawrence Kasdan and asked if he would be willing to write another Star Wars movie. He said he wasn’t interested. Then they said it was about Han, and his interest changed immediately.
“[Han] was the magic word because he’s my favorite character,” Lawrence tells ET. “Right then, I thought, ‘Well, that’s the only one that sparks anything for me. That’s the one that I always wanted to hear talk more. He’s the one that I wondered where he came from when you first see him in the [Mos Eisley] Cantina.’ That was when [A New Hope], for me, just jumped to life.”
There’s a lot to like in this film, especially if you’re a lifelong Star Wars fan like everyone making this movie was. References in dialogue to obscure characters and locations will have you digging deep into Wookieepedia the moment you get home from the theater. I was up well into the night trying to make all the connections in my head between the cameos we see in this film, particularly the big ones at the end! If you’re a big Star Wars fan, you’ll be up doing mental math fitting in just where the big bad guy could have been at this point in the time line.
Much like 2016’s “Rogue One,” the production, design, music, costumes, and special effects just scream Star Wars, and will reward multiple viewings of this movie. Is it a flawless film? No. It’s predictable, sometimes hurt by the close shots we get between the main characters (which may have been part of the reshoot cost-saving plan), and it drags a bit, but all in all it’s a fun summer movie. If you’re even a casual Star Wars fan, book a seat to a galaxy far, far away this Memorial Day weekend for “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” and get ready to enjoy yourself.