Updated: Jul 23, 2020
Director – Ron Howard
Writer – Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan
Cast – Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, and Paul Bettany.
Plot – Set prior to the events of the original Star Wars trilogy, a young Han is a street orphan on the ship-building planet Corellia. After escaping the clutches of his underworld crime boss and a brief stint as an Imperial cadet and then infantryman he deserts and joins a group of smugglers alongside his new companion Chewbacca as they try to make enough money to afford their own ship and freedom from the clutches of their former employers.
If the Star Wars prequels have taught us anything, it is that origin stories of iconic characters that we know and love can be ill-conceived, poorly executed, lore convoluting misfires with the potential to ruin the mystery or essence of the very character they are trying to explore (Vader, specifically in that example). So, it was with unsurprising audible groans and angry twitter rants from the Star Wars community after the news broke that Disney/ Lucasfilm were planning - as their second of the stand-alone ‘anthology’ films - to release an origin story focussing on that ‘stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerfherder’ of the original trilogy, one of the most beloved of Star Wars characters and played with natural charisma by Harrison Ford.
To make matters worse, as rumours spread of a difficult production and clashing of visions, the original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street) were removed from the project due to that old classic; creative differences. With a rushed timeframe to complete the film, long time producer Kathleen Kennedy settled on Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Rush) to not only guide the film to a safe landing but also to reshoot much of what was already completed. Yet, a bafflingly timed release of mid-year (seemingly to mark the 41st anniversary since the original Star Wars), leaving only five months from Episode VIII: The Last Jedi and – for many fans -it’s lingering disappointment coupled with a slight growing feeling of Star Wars fatigue, it is almost a requirement going into this one to reset and manage all expectations.
Now, expectations managed, there is actually a fair amount to enjoy in this latest entry, if seen from a certain point of view.
We are introduced to Han (Ehrenreich) as a rebellious street rat, planning his escape with girlfriend Qi’ra (Clarke) from the clutches of the local crime boss who uses orphans for criminal activity. Their escape is only half successful as Qi’ra is left behind, with Han vowing to return and save her. Han’s desire to learn to be a hotshot pilot sees him quickly enlist with the Imperial Academy (on signing up he is given his surname, Solo, in one of the worst examples of lazy screenwriting) however due to unseen insubordination he is kicked out and we find him fighting as an infantryman in a low level Imperial platoon.
Han’s wisecracks and his questioning of his superiors eventually lead him to being imprisoned with an enslaved Chewbacca (Suotamo) however his ability to reason with the wookiee marks the beginning of their friendship and they eventually team up with franchise newcomer Tobias Beckett (Harrelson) and his ragtag group of mercenaries on adventures. Han’s ambition is to buy his own ship and return to rescue Qi’ra, who is now involved with the ruthless crime boss Dryden Vos (a menacing facially scarred Bettany).
There are many twists and turns – some very predictable -in the third act that younger viewers may struggle to follow what is happening and there is one particular reveal which will leave some head-scratching but otherwise Howard’s story is a satisfactory piece which, like any Star Wars plot, is best not over analysed lest it slowly fall apart.
As for the character specifically, it is an unenviable task to try to fill the shoes of Harrison Ford. For the most part, Ehrenreich (lack of likeness aside) has given it a decent run. There are plenty moments when he channels the voice of Ford and whether through subtle hand gestures and facial movements he does strike a decent balance of imitation mixed with his character’s more youthful sensibilities. This Han is a little different from the sardonic rogue of whom we are more familiar; Ehrenreich’s version more an idealist, with big dreams and optimism unlike Ford’s version however over the course of the film we can see this being chipped away to form the character we all know.
Solo: ASWS thinks it needs to answer all the questions a Star Wars fan may have (but probably didn't) wonder about the character. How did he meet Chewbacca, for instance, or Lando (a brilliant Donald Glover who perfects the voice)? How did he win the Millennium Falcon from Lando? What leads Han to become so untrusting in later life? Even casual asides from the original trilogy – the famous Kessel run - make up entire sequences here. Although, the Kasdans’ showed some resolve by not including dialogue involving someone ‘telling him the odds.’
From a visual stand-point, the locations and sets are varied and interesting and Howard’s cinematography is beautiful (the opening Corellia shots filtered dark blue are suitably dark and bleak). John Powell’s score mixed with original music by John Williams works well and it will take a hard heart not to feel something when the classic theme plays as Han finally flies the Falcon.
Howard’s film is a safe, family adventure romp. There is no daring, Rogue One-like grey area introduced or even Rian Johnson’s Last Jedi visual/audio tricks. The tone is firmly light with the comedic touches sprinkled throughout but not enough to class it as a Thor: Ragnarok-style comedy. In fact, some of the comedy beats feel like they may have been hand-downs from the original scenes filmed with Lord and Miller (particularly the droid character L3 seems at times like she is in a different film).
Overall, it comes down to those managed expectations. Many fans will have already checked out with the redundant concept of the origin story. Fair enough. As well as that, anyone looking for a fresh and challenging side story in the Star Wars universe may be disappointed in the safeness of Howard’s film, as well as the predictable plot and its low-stakes nature. However, those that can embrace the idea of the film without it ruining their favourite character will enjoy this fairly exciting rollercoaster ride of pure Han Solo bingo.