If you thought that Episodes I, II, and III were all just a bunch of unnecessary prequels, then wait until you’ve seen ‘’Solo: A Star Wars Story’’. In all honesty, ‘’Solo’’ is a fun film. It has action. It has humor. It has Han Solo and Chewie, and the stories of how Han won the Millennium Falcon, how he met Chewie, and a lot of other things you’ve always been wondering about—or haven’t. However, ‘’Solo’’ is just ‘’fun’’. And that’s probably its greatest flaw. It’s nowhere near as inventive and controversial as ‘’The Last Jedi’’ and you won’t be leaving the cinema with a deeper love for Han Solo.
As the title implies, ‘’Solo’’ is an origin story of the franchise’s most lovable antihero. The film starts off with Han (played by Alden Ehrenreich) on the shipbuilding planet of Corellia, working for the cruel, worm-like Lady Proxima. As an aspiring pilot, Han wishes to get out of the planet with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). As they try to make a run for it, Qi’ra is captured and Han vows to return to Corellia to rescue her. Han joins the Empire’s forces and in a rather gritty battlefield reminiscent of World War I films, he meets Chewbacca (Jonas Suotamo), Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Val (Thandie Newton), and Rio Durant, a strange alien with many arms (Jon Favreau). They become partners in a heist to steal coaxium, a fuel coveted all over the galaxy. The heist goes horribly wrong because of Enphys Nest, an enigmatic marauder. Now they’re in trouble with Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), a big-time crime boss. He sends them on another mission to acquire more coaxium. In order to do so, they need a fast ship, and of course, that ship is the Millennium Falcon.
I could go on writing about how the story goes down, but like a disturbance in the Force, I can tell that you know where this is going. Han acquires the Millennium Falcon and pulls off the heist. I’m sure fans don’t have to be Force users to figure that one out. That’s the problem with having a protagonist that can’t be killed off. You know he’ll succeed. Everything is too predictable. The film gives you everything that you’ve always wanted to see. Han’s lucky dice. How he won the Millennium Falcon. How he met Chewbacca. The story behind the Kessel Run. Fans will feel good and congratulate themselves for recognizing all these references. However, it seems that some of the things that were not referenced in the original trilogy were a lot more interesting. Take L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), for instance, Lando Calrissian’s (Donald Gover) droid (and lover?) who fights to free other droids from oppression. And Enfys Nest, an enigmatic pirate leader. Both of them deserved a lot more screen time. Also, the existence of Enfys Nest may suggest a sequel of sorts, which may or may not be a good thing. If we see a Star Wars film year after year, the magic may eventually fade.
Enough about these minor characters, though. Back to Han Solo. Ehrenreich isn’t a bad Han Solo. His Han Solo may not be as cocky or as lovable as Harrison Ford’s but if you look at it in such a way that this was what kind of man Han Solo was before ‘’A New Hope’’, you can say that Ehrenreich really did pull it off. Perhaps the reason why Han isn’t as lovable as he should be is because of the smooth-talking Lando Calrissian. It’s like Donald Glover took over the film and he’s probably the best part of ‘’Solo’’. His performance just steals the spotlight away from Han and had audiences begging for a standalone Lando Calrissian film. Yes, Donald Glover was excellent as Lando Calrissian, but let’s stop there. It would be a sin not to have an Obi-Wan film before that, but that deserves a separate discussion. Going back, both Paul Bettany and Woody Harrelson were great as Beckett and Dryden Vos, respectively. No issues with their performances there. The issue is the writing. They both play characters that could have been played by anyone. And there’s Qi’ra—again, no issues with Emilia Clarke’s performance. Her character is quite inconsistent though. All throughout the film, she’s shown as this girl who was forced into a life of crime, always caring deeply for Han, and is good deep down. And yet she ends up doing things that would make you say, ‘’She’s way too nice to do that!’’ Perhaps the only warning we received was Beckett telling Han again and again that Qi’ra isn’t what she seems. But the film doesn’t really show us that side of her until the end. It’s like seeing a good actress play a poorly-written femme fatale in a film that tries so hard to feel like a Western set in space.
Yes, ‘’Solo’’ does feel like a Western with its train heists, marauders, cantinas, and gunslingers. In fact, the production design is great, especially the battlefield scenes. It will remind you of those old war films, like the gritty battlefields of ‘’Paths of Glory’’ with the trenches and the uniforms—uniforms that don’t look like they belong in the Star Wars universe. It works like a charm, though. It gives ‘’Solo’’ that distinct feel, making it quite different from the other Star Wars films, for better or for worse.
Still, it’s not enough to make the film as unforgettable as ‘’Rogue One’’ or most of the Star Wars films, for that matter. Perhaps it’s the writing. Perhaps it’s the trouble with the directors. Suffice to say, if you’re not expecting much—just a fun Star Wars flick, then you won’t be disappointed. Just don’t expect to be moved the way ‘’Rogue One’’ or ‘’The Last Jedi’’ did, or be in awe after seeing ‘’The Force Awakens’’. The good thing about ‘’Solo’’ is you’ll surely love the next Star Wars film way more than this one.
Martin, aka “The Earl”, has a graduate degree in Japan Studies from the University of the Philippines. He’s an Arctic Monkeys fan, knows his whiskey, and his films. For more of his reviews, visit his page at https://letterboxd.com/mat914/.