When Ron Howard replaced Phil Lord and Chris Miller as director of Solo, speculation swirled that the film was a doomed project. Lord and Miller had previously co-directed the reboot and sequel of the 21 Jump Street franchise. They had also delivered a gold mine with more family oriented fare with excellent films like Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs and the original Lego Movie. Their vision was a more comedic and light-hearted version of the Star War films which have all be very heavy and serious with only light sprinkles of humor.
With Solo more than half completed, Ron Howard was hired to direct and right out of the gate he ordered a rewrite of the script. All said and done, eighty percent of Solo was re-shot. Then came the bad news that the new production was sputtering, script clashes with the studio and as if that were not enough, an acting coach was brought in to help Alden Ehrenreich get more into the character of Han Solo. All of this drama would be the death of any film, but this is a Star Wars story and it comes with a built in audience, so to speak.With Ron Howard’s vision and still plenty of Lord and Miller’s trademark humor scattered throughout, Solo is a fun and exciting film, literally from the first scene to the last.
Solo starts with Han on making a daring escape from an aquatic worm, Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt) from Coronet City on the planet Corellia. From there it shows the re-birth of Han Solo (not even his real last name, as we find out) from a street hustler to smuggler. His motivation is to find enough money to buy a ship and return to Corellia and save his true love, Qi’ra (Emelia Clarke). From Cordellia, Han is admitted to the flight academy to be a pilot for what later will be Empire. Three years later and still with no money or ship, Han throws in with a band of smugglers led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau). I will stop there with the plot, because there is a lot I have not revealed as I don’t want to ruin it for those who still want to see this film.
Solo is the lightest of the Star Wars films in the sense that is not as deep as The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and lacks the sense of dire consequences of Rogue One. For that, Solo has been trashed by some as not “justifying its purpose of existence”. But Solo is not that kind of film, to begin with, by design. This whole film takes place before the battle between the rebel alliance and the Empire, although there is clearly a budding war brewing that will become Star Wars, as you will see. It is pre-Darth Vader, The Emperor, (formerly Senator Palpatine before his transformation into the Emperor), and Supreme Leader Snoke. This is an origins story for one of the most iconic heroes in film history and that is all it ever should have been. The script by Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan Kasden have wisely kept much of the humor that was originally intended in the Lord and Miller version and most of it works.
Solo is its own film and within that film, I had a blast with Solo. For all of the drama about Alden Ehrenreich’s acting, I found him to be a terrific as a young Han Solo. He plays him with a smile, a wink and a nod and I saw a young Harrison Ford in his acting. Ever the optimist and charming, nothing phases Han from his goal. Ehrenreich plays Han as a guy who observes and is kind of rudderless on how he obtains his objective but sees the end game as his main motivation. That is all that matters to him. He is a romantic figure, as well and I believed his love for Qi’ra which is essential otherwise, we would check out of the film early on. The rest of the film would be meaningless. But you add in the cleverness of the gang of smugglers that Han has hitched his proverbial wagon to and Solo shines.
As for the cast, Solo has a good one. Emelia Clarke is sweetly devious as Qi’ra and Donald Glover is particularly endearing as a young Lando Calrissian. Woody Harrelson is also a hoot as Beckett and I loved the story and relationship of how Han and Chewbacca meet. Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos is the main villain and even with limited screen time, Bettany is able to develop his villain into someone whose motivation is understood and still is a worthy foe. Under developed though are the characters of Val and Rio Durant which was a tad disappointing. I am sure that die-hard fans will find other issue to grouse about, but I will leave the bickering about details and timelines to them. Most people just want to know if Solo is worth their time and money as entertainment and I would say, “Yes”.
Ron Howard shows he has a real grasp of the material that makes a Star Wars film a Star Wars film. Even though this is a different film and does not have the meaty weight of previous Star Wars film, there are fleshed out characters I grew attached to and they do previous films justice by explaining the motivation of these characters we have come to know, love and love to hate. I get the feeling that this was the intention of Howard and Lord and Miller. They establish the plot, the characters and let the film unfold in its own way. This is a light and frothy film with which I had a blast. On that level alone, Solo soars.
One final thought. The press revealed that Lando Calrissian was written as a “pansexual”. I did not pick up on anything of the sort with his character, thankfully. Parents can take their kids to see this film without worry. Although it is PG13, Solo is fun for the entire family as PG13 is an apt rating. There are no credit scenes or post credit scenes to hang around for, either. Enjoy!
Solo: A Star Wars Story – **** out of 5
Solo: A Star Wars Story – Rated PG13 for action sequences, scenes of peril and adult situations.
Solo: A Star Wars Story – Run Tim is 135 minutes.