The newest release from the unstoppable folks at LucasFilm is the much discussed Solo: A Star Wars Story is happening after much hand-wringing about a game of directors musical chairs and a series of reshoots. How could it possibly result in an entertaining film filled with fun and panache? And yet…Here we are. May the doubt forever be silenced about the skill of everyman director Ron Howard to take a sad Han, and make it better.
What strikes most is the relief of experiencing a Star Wars movie, or of late a blockbuster of any kind, that isn’t filled with angst, death, and destruction. Does Solo hinge on deep dives into character motivation and the damage that personal loss and suffering can do, as, say Empire Strikes Back or The Last Jedi do? No. It does, however, harken back to the adventure and excitement of A New Hope in some truly enjoyable ways.
Solo charts the young smuggler (Alden Ehrenreich) on a journey from being a trapped and lowborn street urchin with his childhood sweetheart Qi-ra (Amelia Clarke) to his first encounters with his lifelong pal Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and on-again off-again frenemy Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). He also runs across a team of galactic thieves including Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Val (Thandie Newton) and seemingly all-powerful crime boss Dryden Vos (the ubiquitous Paul Bettany). These various characters tangle as heists are pulled, teams are double crossed, and alliances are formed and reconfigured. Solo has the sort of wild west feel that really connects it to a number of iconic scenes in A New Hope, notably in the Mos Eisley Cantina and other moments of tension in the lawless outer territories. There are also secondary characters that shine, especially L3-37, as voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Look for her subtle references to the “It’s Time” movement.
As to the acting, we’ve got award winners and seasoned pros by way of Harrelson, Newton, and Bettany, to balance the younger stars, although they too have had a good deal of experience already, prior to being part of this film. Bettany, it is interesting to note, took over for Michael K. Williams, after a late-night text he sent to Ron Howard begging to be in the film in just a cameo. He got the surprise of his life when he discovered he was going to be hired to play the lead villain. Of course, after this, he can retire and work the convention circuit, as he is integral to both the Marvel and Star Wars cinematic worlds.
Overall, Solo is not anywhere near the top of the heap as far as ‘important’ stories in the saga, but it is unqualified fun, and with all LucasFilm has put us through lately, it’s a welcome relief and palate cleanse. Ron Howard took what might have been a disaster, and made it a highly entertaining experience at the movies.