Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

'Solo' doesn’t break new ground, but with an adventure this fun, that’s just fine.
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The Force is with Disney. Four movies into their re-launched Star Wars franchise, and they haven’t turned in a stinker yet. OK, so you can attribute that more to the overarching vision of producer Kathleen Kennedy than (to quote Han Solo) to hokey religions and ancient weapons—but the fact remains that, with Ron Howard’s Solo, this new incarnation of the franchise from a galaxy far, far away continues to move along quite nicely.

Newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, who gave a standout turn in the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, is tasked here with a heavy burden: playing a younger version of one of the most iconic characters in film history. This is no Bond or Batman. Harrison Ford is Han Solo. Except now, he’s not—and Ehrenreich does an admirable job of threading the needle, portraying the brash overconfidence and hidden softness of Star Wars’ smuggler with a heart of gold without tipping over into outright impersonation.

Solo’s script, by the father-son duo of Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan (the elder Kasdan co-wrote earlier Star Wars installments The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens), takes us back to Han Solo’s early days. Here, he’s a low-level criminal with dreams of escaping his home world of Corellia and becoming a pilot. His quest takes him first into the dreaded Imperial Army, where he serves as footsoldier, and then under the wing of cynical smuggler Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who himself works for the crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

It’s only when the silky, sinister Vos comes into play that we get to the meat of Solo’s story, which involves the theft of an extremely valuable haul of fuel. Yup: It’s a heist movie. The fact that Solo takes so long to get to the heist, and that it trundles through three or four endings once the heist is completed, is its biggest flaw. Like many blockbusters these days, Solo could stand to trim 20 minutes off its running time.

But, hey: At least we’re looking at an overlong good movie, and not an overlong bad one. Though Solo doesn’t break the mold, it’s a consistently entertaining galactic crime caper that benefits in particular from well-constructed action scenes and (as always) top-notch production and costume design.

Donald Glover and Phoebe Waller-Bridge are cast standouts as Lando Calrissian (originally played by Billy Dee Williams) and new character L3-37, respectively. The latter is a droid obsessed with liberating her kind from the shackles of their “organic overlords”—a funny aside, and one that widens the scope of the Star Wars universe in a way that Solo could have used more of. With its familiar characters and occasionally too-convenient connections to earlier films, Solo doesn’t broaden the Star Wars experience the way, say, Rogue One (with its emphasis on the working stiffs of the Rebellion) or The Force Awakens (with its rethinking of Jedi mythology) did. As a part of the larger whole, it doesn’t feel particularly fresh. But, hey—Disney’s putting out a new Star Wars movie every year. Not every one can herald a change of direction for the franchise. Solo has an engaging story and interesting characters. This time around, that’s enough.

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