Okay, so, real talk to start with: I did not really care for Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015) or Star Wars: Episode: VIII: The Last Jedi (Johnson, 2017) primarily because I do not like some of the narrative choices that Disney have made since acquiring the franchise. I don’t see the point in rehashing plot points from the original Star Wars trilogy at the expense of crating a unique and logical tale set some thirty years later; the blending of nostalgia with the modern elements seems contradictory to me. Honestly, I much preferred Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Edwards, 2016), which, due to when it is set, has an excuse to be seeped in nostalgia and remind long-time Star Wars fans of a time when the franchise was undeniably popular and satisfied all viewers.
However, Solo: A Star Wars Story (Howard, 2018) presents a unique quandary for me in that I’m not entirely sure that Han Solo needed his own spin-off/origin story; apparently, Disney is planning other spin-offs of popular characters, like Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi and, to me, I’d much rather these Story films focused on other events and characters only tangentially related to those of the main series. Also, like, if you’re going to make a Han Solo spin-off/origin story, surely it makes sense to put Fett in that and tell both stories in one movie?
These are the things I was concerned with when the rumour mill was churning and nothing but negativity surrounded this spin-off; once the first trailer hit, though, I was cautiously optimistic and, as a result, went into Solo expecting it to be an action-packed, science-fiction heist film much like how Rogue One was more of a war/spy thriller than a galactic epic space opera like the main series films.
On the spaceship-building world of Corellia, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) manage to steal a sample of coaxium, hyper-fuel for starships, in order to bribe their way off the planet, into their own ship, and out into the galaxy. However, when Qi’ra is arrested at the last minute, an enlists in the Imperial Navy as a flight cadet to realise his dream of becoming a pilot and vows to return to rescue her some day.
Some time later, while serving in the infantry, Han stumbles upon Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his crew of smugglers posing as Imperials. Although Beckett rejects Solo’s request to join them and causes him to be arrested as a deserter, Solo is dropped into a pit where he meets and befriends Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Impressed with Solo’s determination and initiative, Beckett allows the two to join his crew and assist in stealing a shipment of coaxium from a high-speed train.
When the deal goes south, Han and Chewie accompany Beckett as he pleads with crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) to give them one last chance to acquire the coaxium. Joined by Qi’ra, who now serves as Dryden’s right-hand, they coerce the help and starship of the charismatic gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and begin a race against time and the odds to steal the shipment and clear their debts.
It’s no secret that Solo apparently underwent a who bunch of alterations and contended with a lot of behind-the-scenes issues and, truth be told, this can be felt at times in the film’s pacing. The beginning is surprisingly slow but, once you have watched the film, you realise it’s necessary and integral to setting up Han’s character. Han, full of cock-sure optimism and with dreams of being the best pilot in the galaxy, desires to live the smuggler’s life and return to Qi’ra so they can explore the galaxy. This makes him naïve and overly trusting but also incredibly resourceful; he is able to befriend Chewie by speaking in his native language and similarly convinces Dryden to spare them with his gold-tongue.
Surrounding Han are some interesting and well-rounded characters; while Beckett’s crew is largely expendable (and, honestly, I did question why they were in the film in the end), Beckett himself examples all the negative aspects of the smuggler life than Han will eventually struggle to juggle. Dryden makes a nice change of pace from the usual pure evil Imperials often depicted in Star Wars movies, cast as a cold, calculating, and manipulative arm of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate. This allows Solo to depict other antagonistic forces in a galaxy all-too-often dominated by Imperials and nicely sets up future conflicts with the syndicate’s all-too-familiar dark figurehead.
Although clearly Han’s story, depicting how he acquires his trademark look, blaster, and starship, you can’t talk about this film without talking about Donald Glover. While Ehrenreich actually makes for a pretty great young Solo, Glover absolutely nails Billy Dee Williams’ mannerisms in his portrayal of Lando. Rounding out the cast, I am loathe to say anything negative about the absolutely gorgeous Emilia Clarke but her arc is pretty predictable and her physicality and demeanour do not seem to suit the “cold-blooded assassin vibe they tried to place on to her.
Honestly, I am really disappointed by all the negative reactions to this film; I really enjoyed it. People are ragging on it for being “safe” or a “by-the-numbers science-fiction film” but what’s wrong with that, exactly? The only issues I had were extremely minor (I could’ve done without the text at the start, for example, it’s very convenient that Qi’ra just happens to be working for Dryden Voss, and the head of the syndicate probably should have been a familiar, undeveloped antagonist from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi) and I found the film to be very exciting, fast-paced (once Han gets off of Corellia), and really fun. All the actors were really good and, while I’m a bit disappointed that this wasn’t a one-and-done, self-contained story, I actually am interested to see everyone return for another adventure later down the line (but, please, combine it with the Boba Fett movie; we don’t need to waste a spin-off on that guy, do we?)
Recommended: I really think so, yes, especially if you like action-packed science-fiction romps.
Best moment: Han’s famous Kessel Run steals the film for sure, though the sabaac duel between Solo and Lando is quite a fun scene.
Worst moment: As mentioned above, the fact that Qi’ra conveniently works for Dryden Voss was a bit of a stretch for me and some other minor issues but nothing world-ending.