Forget the Original vs. Prequel Trilogy debate. The more fun Star Wars conversation piece these days is Star Wars spin-offs vs. Sequel Trilogy. If anything, Solo: A Star Wars Story proves the spin-off side is far more daring, creative and respectful for fans who don’t want their Star Wars memories treated like Bantha poodoo.
That’s somewhat surprising since Solo famously had a late in the game directorial switch with the ouster of Phil Lord and Chris Miller. It helps that Lucasfilm got Ron Howard to come in for relief duty as he seems to have a very clear vision on what makes a winning Star Wars formula. Short of George Lucas, Lucasfilm probably couldn’t have made a better choice to capture the classic Star Wars feel.
Solo doesn’t have the obvious benefits of fellow spin-off, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s based on one of the most iconic characters in all of filmdom. Rogue One featured (literally) cannon fodder characters and a time-sensitive setup that ensured a one and done story.
Despite prominent roles for three of the beloved Original Trilogy characters, Solo takes a number of surprising risks. There’s still a level of caution and restraint to the story however, since there’s already plans for a Solo trilogy. It wouldn’t do to have everything resolved quite so neatly in one film.
Longtime Star Wars screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back), teams with his son, Jonathan, for this early look at the galaxy’s most notorious scoundrel Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich).
For all the worrisome reports about Ehrenreich not being able to sum up a portion of Harrison Ford’s charisma, he’s actually really good. I’m sure some bored YouTuber will do some cut scenes comparisons, but Ehrenreich is fine in making the character his own.
The film takes some fun turns in leading Han to his future best friend, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), longtime ally Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and a crew of smugglers run by Beckett (Woody Harrelson).
Harrelson was a real get for the film as he makes Beckett the Obi-Wan Kenobi of smuggling for Han. Glover is fantastic as he perfectly captures the style and swagger Billy Dee Williams originally brought to the role. No knock on Ehrenreich, but Glover’s Lando is my main reason for wanting more Solo sequels.
Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) plays Qi’ra, a woman from Han’s past. The script doesn’t fully allow for a full exploration of their relationship, with most of that bond happening off-camera. As it becomes a pivotal plot point, it’s one area that needed more screen time.
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This motley crew has to take on a dangerous mission for Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, Avengers: Infinity War) that could provide them with the score of their lives — provided they survive.
According to various reports, Howard was responsible for 70 percent of the finished product. I’m still very curious about the Lord and Miller film and what of their vision remained.
At times, the film feels like its veering too close to fan service with call backs to other films in the saga that seem more catered to Easter Egg hunters than plot advancement. Some of the nods and references are a little too on the nose, but others like the Masters of Teräs Käsi mention and various pronunciations of Han’s name were clever.
The middle act is a bit of a drag thanks to a somewhat forced subplot involving Lando’s equal rights minded droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). L3 felt like the biggest character misstep as she came off more like a personality that tested well than a worthwhile addition to the series.
Solo suffers from a new problem for the franchise — the lack of a good villain. Even the strongest Phantom Menace haters will admit Darth Maul was a credible opponent and despite his frequent hissy fits, Kylo Ren was at least threatening.
Despite the lack of engaging villains, the action sequences are well staged. There’s no blow away moments like Rogue One’s final act, but the action doesn’t disappoint.
Solo managed to defy the odds and overcome its behind the scenes turmoil to be another worthy spin-off in the Star Wars canon. Now who do we talk to about getting that Ewan McGregor Obi-Wan Kenobi standalone?
Rating: 8 out of 10
Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures