Everything old is new again in Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, and that’s just fine. When we first see the titular hero, he’s got himself into a jam, relying on a bit of charm, a dash of derring-do, and a whole lotta’ luck to get out of it. This situation plays itself out more than a few times over the course of this genuinely entertaining and at times thrilling movie that should appeal to those relatively new to the franchise as well as those that grew up during the movies’ initial releases. Yes, Harrison Ford will always be considered the definitive Han Solo, but the efforts of Alden Ehrenreich shouldn’t be discounted out of hand; he brings the necessary flair to the role, albeit in a youthful, enthusiastic manner, poignantly suggesting that the character must have encountered bitter trials to become Ford’s world-weary, cynical version of the character.
Corellia is the planet our adventure begins on as we see Solo and his fellow street dweller Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) try to find a way to leave this planet of thieves for greener pastures. They are soon separated, and each is forced to follow their own destiny. Solo’s is filled with one misstep after another; intent on being a pilot, he joins the Empire’s flight school and flunks out. Three years later he’s forced to impose himself into a group of rogues who are scheming to take a load of coaxium, a powerful energy source and the movie’s recurring McGuffin.
All of this is dispensed with efficiently as Howard’s workmanlike approach proves a good fit to dispensing a great deal of information in a quick and entertaining manner. The less said about the particulars of these adventures the better, as seeing how key elements in the characters’ mythology came to be is a large part of the movie’s appeal. Along the way, we are privy to how the character got his name, how his paths crossed with the lovable wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and the duplicitous Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), the circumstances surrounding his acquisition of the Millennium Falcon, and just what happened during his record trip during the Kessel Run.
The action scenes are very well done, with the film’s two key set pieces being standouts. A train robbery involving a ship hovering over the rapidly-moving vehicle that is sabotaged by sky pirates is one of the finest action sequences ever done in the franchise’s history, while an elaborate chase that finds the Falcon trying to outrun a fleet of Tie fighters and escape the pull of a black hole is memorable as well. A major drawback is that much of the film, especially during the movie’s first 45 minutes, takes place in dark locations that make it hard to discern what’s going on. Vast caverns, muddy battlefields, dank mines and far too many nighttime scenes provide an excuse for murkiness that quickly overstays its welcome.
Clarke, Glover, Woody Harrelson as Solo’s mentor, and Paul Bettany as the big bad Dryden Vos all provide solid support for Ehrenreich, who, upon (fairly or not) much of the success of the film rests. He doesn’t shirk from the role, channeling a young Errol Flynn as this galaxy’s favorite rogue. His greatest contribution is his ability to sincerely show the youthful enthusiasm of the character and subtly change as one disappointment after another occurs.
With its allusions to countless westerns, the Mad Max films and other entries from the Star Wars canon (a cameo from a fan favorite occurs towards the end), Solo dutifully nods towards the movies it is indebted to before going on its merry way to add its own iconic moments to the franchise. With this and Rogue One proving to be more satisfying than the two new additions to the series’ main storyline, here’s hoping Disney continues to mine the franchise’s past.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.