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‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ (review by Sharon Knolle)

Produced by Kathleen Kennedy,
Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanuel
Screenplay by Jonathan Kasdan
and Lawrence Kasdan
Based on Characters by George Lucas
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson,
Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton,
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo,
Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau, Linda Hunt

 

As someone who grew up with and loved the hell out of the original Star Wars films (mostly because of Han Solo), I’ve kept my expectations for this prequel skeptically low. How can you create a satisfying backstory to one of the greatest film characters of all time, as played by one of everyone’s favorite actors?

Against all odds, the awkwardly titled Solo: A Star Wars Story mostly succeeds.

Mostly.

There are some clunky moments and some spectacular hyper-jumps of faith on the part of the audience.

But once the film gets going, and you start to accept that this young guy with the Han Solo haircut is Han Solo-ish enough, it’s a highly enjoyable ride. (How Han gets his last name earns a hard eyeroll, however.)

And, happily, the new characters it introduces, especially the rebellion-minded robot L3-37, are worth the price of admission.

Behind the scenes, as you well know, Ron Howard stepped in to take over the film after The Lego Movie‘s directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were sacked. You can spend the movie guessing which scenes remain of Lord and Miller’s work: Reportedly, only about 30 percent of the finished film is theirs.

I’m guessing that some of the more sentimental symbolism is Howard’s input and some of the broader jokes are Lord and Miller’s. The main villain, the suave but short-tempered Dryden Vos (played by Paul Bettany) was entirely added after Howard joined the film.

The more pressing question is: How is Alden Ehrenreich as Han? He was the best thing in Hail, Caesar!, ably stealing the show from George Clooney and Channing Tatum. But Han Solo is an entirely different kind of character from that “aw shucks” cowpoke.

It really isn’t until Han crosses paths with criminal mentor Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) that we see some of that roguish spark. There are moments when you see a little Harrison Ford in there. A raised eyebrow. A shrug. You kind of squint and you think… maybe? And it doesn’t hurt that Ehrenreich is immensely likable and can strike a good pose with a blaster when needed.

Once the plot really kicks in and Han has met Chewie (now played by the towering Joonas Suotamo), you find yourself rooting for this plucky kid, his hairy new BFF, and their criminal cohorts to succeed at a very complicated heist.

While it takes some work to accept Ehrenreich as Han (and stop thinking of Emilia Clarke as Khaleesi), Donald Glover is instantly, perfectly Lando Calrissian. And good lord, is this film going to launch a million Han/Lando fanfics. And not just because Glover has said that his space smuggler is “pansexual.”

That’s probably the best way to describe this film: Like one long fanfic that takes some sacred fan favorites out to play. It doesn’t feel really official. Some things just feel off. But it is a lot of fun.

As Qi’Ra, a woman from Han’s past, Clarke finds herself in situations as tricky to negotiate as any on Game of Thrones. And while she doesn’t get as many fight scenes as Rey, she’s got some killer moves.

Also making the film better: Thandie Newton as Val, the tough cynical partner to Harrelson’s Beckett. And Lando’s cranky, independent robot L3-37. (She’s voiced by British actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whose work you’re going to want to binge now. You might know her from Broadchurch or Fleabag. Or as the creator of BBC’s Killing Eve! Donald Glover isn’t the only insanely creative person on this film.)

I’m rating Solo: A Star Wars Story (wow, do I still hate that title) a little lower than the other recent films in the franchise. But, it’s also probably the one I’m more likely to rewatch, partly because there’s nothing as wrenching as the big losses of The Force Awakens, Rogue One or The Last Jedi.

Is it as good as it might have been?

No, but then again, it’s nowhere near the terrible misfire it could have been.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

 

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