Solo: A Star Wars Story soared into theaters on Thursday night, a brilliant and enjoyable testament to one of the galaxy’s most beloved heroes.
It won’t go down as the best Star Wars film like Empire Strikes Back has, it won’t be as daring or contemplative as The Last Jedi was, and it’s not risk-taking like A New Hope, but Solo is tremendous in its own right.
This film was never going to be the groundbreaking, ‘change our understanding of the universe,’ but it was supposed to be a fun ride showing fans the origins of some moments fans have long wondered about. Ever wonder about Han and Chewie’s first meeting? Ever wonder how Han won the Millennium Falcon from Lando? Ever want explanation for some lines from the original trilogy like, “It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs;” “You’ve got a lot of guts coming here, after what you pulled;” or even, “Sir, I don’t know where your ship learned to communicate, but it has the most peculiar dialect”? All of those things (and more!) have much richer meaning now that we’ve seen them on screen.
The biggest challenge facing the film all along was going to be getting people to believe that these new, young guys were Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, and it is in that area – perhaps especially in that area – that the movie excels. Alden Ehrenreich may not be Harrison Ford, but he’s absolutely Han Solo, and he nails the part. There wasn’t a moment that I was distracted by thinking, “Eh, he’s not really Han.” Ehrenreich gives a very good performance that is very believable. The same can be said for Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian, though there wasn’t as much concern about that one going in. Ehrenreich and Glover (as well as Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca, though this was his third film in the role) are great representations of these iconic characters a decade before we meet them in the original trilogy. The movie is truly a character-centered movie, which was risky considering the skepticism over the new actors. But Ehrenreich can borrow a line from his character: “Never tell me the odds.” He pulled off the role really well.
And, of course, it helps to have people in charge who know what they’re doing. A Han Solo origin story was actually George Lucas’ idea, and he was interested in telling this story – so Lucasfilm continued on his vision for the project. Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm and one of the most successful producers in film history, took steps to ensure that the final product was in line with Lucasfilm’s vision, and therefore made a director change in the middle of production. Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard (who goes way back with Lucasfilm and George Lucas) was brought on to steady the project, and he wound up reshooting the majority of the film – presumably to bring it more in line with what was written in the script by Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan. Lawrence is, of course, something of a Star Wars legend for his work writing Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and more recently, The Force Awakens (not to mention the Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark, another Lucasfilm project). But it was really the character of Han Solo that intrigued Kasdan, and it was the idea of a Han Solo movie that first brought him back into the Star Wars world, though he would then be swept up into helping J.J. Abrams come up with the first chapter of the sequel trilogy. His son, Jon, is a Star Wars nerd, and that shows from the plethora of deep references, tidbits, and easter eggs from all over Star Wars lore. In many ways, the more into Star Wars nerdom you are, the richer it will be to hear these references: there are mentions of Aurra Sing and Bossk, there are mentions of Sharu and Scarif, and there are easter eggs in Dryden Vos’ office from both Star Wars and Indiana Jones – plus, of course, some other really cool appearances like the Pykes, the Maw, etc. And that’s just to name a few (and not even mentioning the most surprising and interesting cameo). The teamup of Lawrence (who gets Han Solo as well as anybody) and Jonathan (who is a Star Wars nerd) seemed to work really well.
The heartbeat of the film is the relationship between Han and Chewie, seeing how they meet and become friends who stick together. There isn’t as much of the life debt aspect in this movie (though I suppose you could infer it, if you want), but there’s a lot of the friendship part. But there’s plenty of other exciting moments, including (light spoilers) the conveyex heist, Han meeting Lando, the mine mission on Kessel, the Kessel Run, Han winning the Falcon from Lando, and more. There are interesting new characters, but it’s really the old ones who carry the film. And that’s exactly how it should be.
Solo is a soaring success, a testament to one of the saga’s greatest and most beloved characters. It is treated with care by Ron Howard and the Kasdans, and it’s filled with enough fan service and deep references to fill a book. It is, as others have said, in many ways a love letter to Star Wars fans. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s a really fun one that allows you to experience the origins of Han Solo in a tale filled with a surprising amount of heart and an expected amount of adventure. I absolutely loved it.