Han Solo is one of Star Wars’s most iconic characters. Harrison Ford’s portrayal of the cynic with a noble streak was career defining and shaped the franchise’s storyline. For this new generation of Star Wars, Lucasfilm have focused on Han Solo’s origin. It is a spinoff that follows in the footsteps of Rogue One (Being set outside of the main canon) and much like Rogue One, this film has merit but also flaws that hold it back from greatness.
Set before the events of A New Hope, Solo follows Han (Alden Ehrenirch), a slave working for the criminal empire who after being separated from his love interest and fellow slave Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), becomes a soldier for the empire. Whilst on the battlefield, he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a criminal who Han eventually partners up with for a heist under the order of crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Along the way, he reunites with Qi’ra, meets Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and becomes acquainted with the Millennium Falcon, all of which will become important in the future.
People will probably be interested in how Alden does as Han. Alden is a good leading man. He is likeable, he does the drama well and he resembles Harrison Ford at times. But this version of Han is totally different to how audiences normally know him. Rather than the cynical criminal with no stakes and few moral qualms, this younger Han is more of a wide-eyed idealist who is lovesick and cares about others. But this characterisation is excusable both for a younger version of Han Solo and the main hero, as it is easier to care about someone with empathy. The story that surrounds him is problematic in a few ways. Some of this is due to the film’s well publicised director change and reshoots. Whilst I could not spot any signs of major reshoots, I did feel like the film had lost its sense of flow. The first two acts are lightning fast and filled with action, with only a few moments of downtime. Because of this, it is hard to care about the characters and their relationships, especially when some of them get killed off. I think that some more reshoots could have spaced the action out and made the pacing smoother.
There is also the fact that a Han Solo origin story must give explanations behind things like The Kessell Run, Han and Chewbacca’s first meeting and even Han Solo’s surname. Many of these are fun in the moment, but do not amount to much in the grand scheme of things. Many scenes also become predictable because of these choices. Whilst Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan’s script does not go as far as I thought they would in this area, they could have shown more restraint. The aspect that redeems the story is the final act, as it threw in several twists and turns that I did not see coming. Certain character motivations become clearer and there is a moment that will have many Star Wars fans applauding. The final fight was also refreshingly small scaled for a Star Wars film, with the story and action being the closest that the film came to its attempted genre of a crime/western. The last 15 minutes also conclude the story on an open-ended note, which was unexpected and welcoming for a prequel.
The ensemble cast of characters are pretty good, but they sometimes get lost in the shuffle. The ones who make the most impression are Donald Glover as young Lando and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as his robot sidekick L3. Together they have decent chemistry, both actors also have a lot of charisma as individuals and steal the spotlight in many scenes. Qi’ra is also a unique female lead for a Star Wars film; but Clarke is too likeable to sell this character’s moral ambiguity. Woody Harrelson is unfortunately generic, which can be blamed on the script not fleshing him out enough. The same problem can be seen with Vos, who is not in the film enough to be a memorable antagonist, despite Paul Bettany being a charismatic bad guy. As for the filmmaking, the production design and overall look certainly feels reminiscent of the grimier lived in worlds of the Original Trilogy. Ron Howard’s direction is also energetic enough to keep the action entertaining, which is helped by the healthy dose of good-looking practical effects and a fun musical score. However, sometimes the film is too gritty; the desaturated look and washed out colour palette was distracting as the lighting was so dark that I wanted the cameraman to turn the exposure up and make everything look crisper. Bradford Young is a great cinematographer, but his visual style needed toning down.
Ultimately, Solo: A Star Wars Story is the first entry in a long time that is merely “okay”. It is an entertaining sci-fi adventure that does its job as well as it could, but it is easily the lightest and least impactful modern Star Wars film. I would recommend many other films in the franchise before this one, but it is not the worst in the series.