Solo: A Star Wars Story is a rousing, fun origin story. Ron Howard’s direction serves Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan’s story of the adventures of Han, Chewie, Lando and the Millennium Falcon. The story is competently told, but is also “paint-by-the numbers.” Alden Eherenreich and Donald Glover steal the show.
“I have a good feeling about this.”
Much could be made out of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that saw the departure of Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the duo originally assigned to direct the latest Star Wars anthology film, Solo: A Star Wars Story which opens this weekend. I opined about the dismissal and the near-immediate hiring of Ron Howard, who reshot a large percentage of the film and still managed to keep it on track for release. The question on audience’s minds now is, why do we need this particular movie and does it work.
Lawrence Kasdan has been with the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Back then, he expanded the Star Wars universe introducing audiences to several new characters and background on the beloved character Han Solo, played here by newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, who made a splash in Hail, Caesar! gives his spin on the eponymous character played by Harrison Ford. The character, who died in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens can now be resurrected in our future past . . . in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.
The script by Kasdan and his son, Jonathan Kasdan features a young, desperate Han who is willing to do whatever it takes to become the legendary pilot we eventually fell in love with. There’s an early scene, which reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory in which the vagaries of war are depicted, leading Han, who shows an aptitude for leadership, to question authority. Ehrenreich displays many of the same mannerisms and qualities that we came to appreciate in Harrison Ford’s performances. Yet, there was something different with the way the character was written here; an idealism that we didn’t get to witness in Han’s later years.
Criticisms in social media about Ehrenreich’s performance have run rampant and I thought his take on the role was as it should be: he is young, brash, inexperienced and in need of some humbling. While a significant amount of the performance is attributable to Ehrenreich, a good deal of it has to do with the character the Kasdan’s wrote. Ron Howard, who is of the same school of thought as George Lucas also took this in to account. You can see some of the humor that Lord and Miller, who received an executive producer credit on the film, were going for especially in the interactions between the staple characters.
Lando Calrissian, played by Donald Glover whose trademark humor is completely on display, is such a joy to watch. A few think pieces surfaced about the pansexuality of the character. The inference is a non – event as far as the story is concerned, but it opened the character up to so many other possibilities. If you look at Billy Dee Williams’ performance in Empire, you can glimpse some of the same swagger in the character. This is a direct influence the Kasdan’s have over the character they created 38 years ago. Finn actor Joonas Suotamo inhabited the Chewbacca character for this film. At their respective ages, relative to the story, their interactions are every bit as special as their later adventures. (There’s a fine joke in the trailer and the film about Chewie’s age.)
The other supporting characters, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) were a joy to watch, especially as they evolved. Thandie Newton plays Val, a member of Beckett’s team along with Rio Durant (Jon Favreau). There’s a sequence early in the film featuring a heist, which felt a lot like Andrei Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train (1985). It is one of the more cohesive sequences in the film.
That’s not to say the rest of the film isn’t cohesive. In fact, Solo does not suffer from a lackluster second act that plagued Rogue One. However, the problem with Solo is that it feels like there was a checklist of “Han moments” that they wanted to achieve, instead of finding the natural moments that the characters were capable of doing. Part of the film involves bringing Han and Lando together. Neither actor’s performance crowded the other, but it also felt like this was more of Lando’s story and Han was an active participant. This is understandable because Lawrence Kasdan created the Calrissian character so many years ago; it’s natural to have this progression in this film so that they can explore the character further in his own anthology film.
Paul Bettany did a solid job as Dryden Vos. However, you could tell that his take on the character was an afterthought. He was recast when the original actor could not participate in the reshoots. Because Vos is a smaller villain, it minimalized the story’s stakes. It gives rise to a nice surprise, but I will let you discover that on your own.
Carrying on the tradition of excellence in the technical crafts, Academy Award – nominated cinematographer Bradford Young (Arrival) gives us stunning visuals from the Italian Dolomites to the Canary Islands, creating other worldly environments in between. A good number of the shoot is full of shadows followed by transitions to brighter lights and he is completely on point. John Powell adapted the swashbuckling theme that permeated Han and Chewies’ adventures. John Williams rescored his Han Solo theme as “The Adventures of Han”. Powell’s music swells at all the right moments and is a bold addition to the Star Wars lore. Pietro Scalia’s editing also helps to keep pacing tight, even if the film runs a bit long.
Despite these shortcomings, Solo: A Star Wars Story breathes life into the history of a beloved set of characters. The film, which premiered at Cannes in early May, has met with some criticism from other quarters. It is not the worst Star Wars movie I have seen. As I learned long ago, “never tell me the odds.” It’s an admirable, if flawed entry into the Star Wars lore.
Now in theaters, Solo: A Star Wars Story is rated PG-13 by the MPAA.