It took less than five minutes for me to just accept that Alden Ehrenreich is Han Solo. That is what’s known as an achievement.
With all the behind-the-scenes drama in the making of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the finished product is simultaneously better than I expected and not quite as much as I was hoping for.
The story of how Han became the cynical, world-weary scoundrel we met in Star Wars (I will not call it A New Hope – no matter how much you beg me!) isn’t quite unfolded here, though the most important bits are.
We meet Han on Corellia, where he and girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones) pull off jobs of various types to earn ‘protection’ from Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt, NCIS: Los Angeles) – a Fagin-like underworld figure – mostly from Lady Proxima (she’s a mean one…).
A job gone wrong finds the duo attempting to flee the planet, but luck is against Qi’ra – but Han swears to come back for her.
Han joins the Imperial Navy to become a pilot (a great pilot) but finds himself on the ground in a war zone – which leads to his meeting, in quick succession, a thief in Imperial clothing and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, Star Wars 7 & 8).
Shortly thereafter, Han and Chewy find themselves part a crew – headed by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wilson) – that has planned a train heist. Against the protests of his partner, Val (Thandie Newton, Westworld), Beckett agrees to let them join the caper.
This in turn leads to the events that leads Han to describe the Millennium Falcon as the ship that ‘made the Kessel run in under twelve parsecs’ – though it’s possible he may have misremembered that, later.
Solo: A Star Wars Story takes place in the dark days when the Empire was totally in control of most of the galaxy – there’s not even a whiff of resistance.
We meet a bunch of nifty new characters – like Beckett’s four-armed pilot Rio (voiced by Jon Favreau); the charismatic young Lando Calrissan’s (Donald Glover) navigator/partner L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag); a hideously scarred villain called Dryden Vos (Paul Bettanty (Avengers: Infinity War), and more.
Ehrenreich is so good as Han Solo that the fact that he’s a good six inches shorter than Harrison Ford doesn’t even register – and he nails Solo’s cocky bravado (and yes, Han shoots first!).
Clarke is quite delicious as Qi’ra, who we see as the girl Han left behind, and as someone almost completely different when she re-emerges years later – and she and Ehrenreich have combustible chemistry throughout.
Written by Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jake Kasdan – and officially directed by Ron Howard (who has acknowledged that the film includes more than a little of previous directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s work – they get an Executive Producers credit) has done an admirable job of patching together a great ride from what could have been a disaster.
Solo moves briskly through its paces, providing essential pieces of Han’s backstory while also cooking up some terrific thrills (this is not your usual train heist) and giving each of the major characters some great moments (Glover’s Lando is a wild ride all by himself).
Look for a couple of sweet cameos that place the film sometime before the events of the Star Wars Rebels animated series.
The CGI are mostly incredible, but they have more weight/presence because the film was shot – as much as possible – in camera, so there’s always something real to add to the overall impact.
The one thing that Solo lacks is actual character development for Han – young Han is almost indistinguishable from older, wiser, more cynical Han.
In a way, that’s for the best (though I was hoping for more). One of things that makes Han Solo such a great character is that he’s just a bit on the enigmatic side. We get to see his swagger; we get to see his becoming a swashbuckling anti-hero; we even get to see him love someone – but the nuances that turn him from inexperienced kid to scoundrel with a heart of gold?
That happened before Solo: A Star Wars Story opens – but it doesn’t keep the film from being a terrific ride (which it most definitely is).
Final Grade: B+