Review - 'Solo: A Star Wars Story'
Generally with any Star Wars film you expect a certain level of grandeur accompanied with Shakespearean-esque character arcs that span the distance of many galaxies. Not here, and for Solo: A Star Wars Story, that's a good and a bad thing, but mostly a good thing.
Solo: A Star Wars Story follows Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) as he blackmails his way into a group of smugglers in an attempt to eventually buy a ship and rescue his partner and lover, Qira (Emilia Clarke), from the clutches of Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) a cruel and unmerciful crime lord.
Now to preface this review, I went into Solo with the lowest of expectations. Every Star Wars film before this has had a wave of hype and has felt like a genuine event. The expectations and hype for Solo have seemed relatively muted and I think that's because we all know where Han Solo ends up and don't necessarily need to see any more of him. Still, it's in the Star Wars universe, so of course I was still a bit curious to see what the filmmakers would do to spice it up and keep things interesting.
Right off the bat I found that not having much of a correlation to the Skywalker saga is refreshing, but its very prequel nature stabs it in the back numerous times and strips the movie of any jaw-dropping surprises that something completely new might have had. That said, it manages to be a fun, competently-directed ride in its own right, despite some truly cringe-y pandering moments.
Even though the mystery of where Han Solo ends up by the end is completely gone, Ron Howard infuses this film with a propulsive energy that kept me engaged for the majority of the run-time. It's a film about smugglers doing heist-y things, and I haven't seen that in the Star Wars universe to the extent at which Solo explores it. With this comes a grittier more tangible backdrop. Solo sheds light on the corners of the Star Wars universe that probably wouldn't get any attention in the main-line series. I loved the heavy reliance on practical sets, costumes and above all, creatures. The practical creature designs throughout this film, especially a centipede-esque creature in the beginning all look absolutely amazing and blend with their surroundings in a believable way.
Though this film does seem very much like it exists within the Star Wars universe, this strict adherence to said universe also drags the film down. There are so many winks, nods and explanations in this film that are insultingly on-the-nose. Of particular note is a mind-numbingly stupid explanation as to how Han Solo got his name. It's Star Wars prequel level bad.
In terms of casting I actually think Solo was for the most part on-the-money. Alden Ehrenreich strikes a convincing figure as the titular Han Solo, even if he doesn't really act or sound much like him. I was able to separate myself from the original trilogy and enjoy his performance as more of a tangential piece in the Star Wars puzzle. Honestly, it might have been much worse if he tried to impersonate Harrison Ford, an impossible task for anyone on the face of earth. Emilia Clarke gets by alright as Qira, even if she's a bit of a riff of her other popular character, Daenerys, from Game of Thrones. Woody Harrelson turns in another solid performance as the unpredictable veteran smuggler, Tobias Beckett. Then there's Lando played by Donald Glover. Absolutely terrible. Obviously, I'm joking, Glover nails Lando Calrissian, and the film gets a charge of energy every time he's lighting up the screen. Also, his robot partner L3-37 voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge is memorable as maybe the first equal rights activist of the droid variety.
Despite all of the set-backs during production, Ron Howard did an admirable job of making Solo: A Star Wars story a cohesive film that stands on its own as a fun ride that happens to take place within the Star Wars universe. Yes, there's a ton of pandering that takes you right out of the experience whenever it rears its ugly head, but there's also an inventive and lively spirit to this film that is hard to not have fun with. This isn't the Solo you know and love, but you might just find yourself having too much of a good time to care.