Directed by Ron Howard
Written by Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan
When Disney acquired LucasFilm, and announced new Star Wars films, they were met with mixed emotions by many fans. Some were justifiably excited for new adventures within this cherished universe, while others were apprehensive about a company like Disney stepping on the hallowed ground of their beloved Star Wars franchise. I think it’s always important to remember that whatever has come before will always be what it always was. While the filmmakers may build upon what we already love, that content still exists. I can still go back and watch Empire Strikes Back and it will be the same film (well, except the stupid Special Edition version, but blame Lucas himself for those, not Disney). I guess what I’m trying to say is, why not give these new movies a chance? They may not all be great, or especially as good as those beloved films, but for me it’s another chance to spend time with the characters and live out another exciting adventure.
Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is one of the most beloved characters of the original trilogy, so it would make sense that he’s the first to get a spinoff movie all his own. Here, we get to see the development of the famed space pirate from his time as a young man on Corellia, a shipbuilding planet where he scrapes by with dreams of becoming a pilot. When he is separated from his sweetheart Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) after trying to get off the impoverished planet, he enlists in the Imperial military. Never one to follow orders, Han falls in with some criminals (Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton) and meets a new friend (Chewbacca) but his problems become more complicated after a job gone bad, putting him in a perilous position.
The production history of this film was tumultuous, and sadly it shows in the final product. Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were released from their obligation after creative difference (although their comedic touch is still seen sprinkled throughout). Enter veteran director Ron Howard, who certainly seems a surprising pick for a film like this one. Ron Howard is a fine director, and I have greatly enjoyed a number of his films, but Solo: A Star Wars Story turns out exactly like you would expect a Ron Howard Star Wars film to be, which is fine, but nothing special. This is doubly disappointing when you consider the moments that do stand out as Lord & Miller specific moments, because it made me wonder just how great that direction could have been. Alas, we can’t bemoan a film that never came to be, instead we must take and enjoy the film we do get, so maybe I’ll focus a little more on what I did like about the film.
The casting is superb, with Ehrenreich doing a great job at embodying the personality we know and love about Han. But it goes beyond Ehrenreich to the always reliable Woody Harrelson as his mentor, Emilia Clarke as his love interest, Paul Bettany as the baddie, and of course Donald Glover as his rival Lando. None of them overshadow Han in the film, which is important to let him shine in his own film, but this is a really strong ensemble which makes the overall experience all the more enjoyable. And this is an important point to make because the story is a little too standard and underwhelming to otherwise carry the film. We’ve had origin stories crammed down our throats as moviegoers in recent years and while this one isn’t particularly a bad one, it’s just chock full of tropes we’ve seen time and again, with not much other than the charisma of the cast to stand out.
Unfortunately, I would likely rate this as a bottom tier Star Wars movie. In terms of how it stacks up to the heightened drama and high flying action of those films, it doesn’t compare, but there is still plenty to enjoy in this film, much like there was with Rogue One, which I felt was unfairly ridiculed by some for not feeling like a true Star Wars film, whatever that means. At the end of the day, I am still glad to have gotten the opportunity to see a Han Solo movie, to spend time with Ehrenreich, Clarke, Harrelson and Glover in these roles because they’re truly a lot of fun and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them. Some fans will deride this film and what Disney is doing to their beloved franchise. I’m not one of those people because I found more than enough here to enjoy to justify its existence. I want more Star Wars movies, not less. I want more chances to spend time in this universe, with these characters. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of opportunity.