Editor’s Note: This is a spoiler-free review of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Rest assured that the fate of the film’s characters and surprises within the film will not be discussed so first time viewers can watch with a clear conscience.
Solo: A Star Wars Story was always an enigma to me, much like the origins of Han Solo himself. Unlike Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which I could not help but watch each trailer for, I wanted to go into Solo with no expectations. After walking out of my local theater, I can say that while Han Solo doesn’t fully evolve into the lovable, selfish cynic we see in A New Hope, I was undoubtedly surprised by one of the most fun romps in that galaxy far, far away despite some of the film’s characters not getting their due.
To Solo’s credit, when it comes to an origins movie, there’s always going to be boxes that need their appropriate checkmarks. Han meets Chewbacca. Check. Han gets his DL-44. Check. Han meets Lando Calrissian, wins the Millenium Falcon, and makes the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Check, check, and check. There are going to be several instances in which we see these scenarios played out. If the film was all about checking boxes, it wouldn’t be all that thrilling. Thankfully, these moments are sprinkled throughout the film with a fair pace.
On the world of Corellia, an Imperial shipbuilding world, the young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) finds himself a slave to circumstance no more as he aspires to become the galaxy’s greatest pilot and escape with his love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) among the stars.
I will assert that Solo: A Star Wars Story features a great cast. However, I can’t help but feel that some characters become underutilized. Alden Ehrenreich makes for a good Han Solo. There, I said it. Perhaps because I carry Star Wars in my heart 24/7, or maybe because I’m practically the same age as this Han, I can feel the titular character’s need to escape and be with someone he loves. I enjoyed seeing this play out on screen between Ehrenreich and Clarke, however briefly. On the other side of the coin we can see shadows of Harrison Ford’s iconic swagger. It’s a tall order to step into the shoes of such an iconic character while simultaneously trying to make it your own. Ehrenreich’s witty smirk and shifty eyes remind me why I love Han Solo.
Solo is aided in strength thanks in part to one of Han’s most lasting relationships with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Suotamo was equally effective in his portrayal of the mighty Wookiee. Chewie is such a physical role. We’ve always been dependent on Han to be Chewie’s voice. There is no doubt that Suotamo gives meaning as to why “it’s unwise to upset a Wookiee”, but there is more than one instance in which Chewie is allowed his grunts and utterances longer than usual, and it’s used to sincere effect. When Chewie describes to Han how his homeworld of Kashyyyk has been destroyed and its people enslaved by the Empire, I could empathize with the character in spite of his speech being incomprehensible.
Unfortunately, this is not the case with Qi’ra’s evolution. While Emilia Clarke does exude a likable charm in her own right, I can’t help but feel the romantic subplot between Qi’ra and Han is cast by the wayside faster than anticipated. As the film progresses it feels more akin to two childhood friends who fell in love while making deals with the devil to make it another day. In fact, Qi’ra says something along these lines when introducing Han. She bolsters this ill-fated pairing by claiming she’s done terrible things to stay alive that Han wouldn’t approve of, actions that would forever change his perception of her. And while we see hints of her assertion, we never truly understand the depth of her self-condemnation. In actuality, it almost feels like Solo sets up for a sequel, though I’m not sure whether a sequel to an anthology film is within Lucasfilm’s scope. That being said, I would have liked to see a little more about what Qi’ra was talking about. Not that she’d have to go all in with her cards at the “Sabaac” table, but at least show us her hand.
The irreverent charm and hubris (and many capes) of Lando Calrissian is exquisitely portrayed by Donald Glover. I absolutely loved how Glover’s approach borrows elements from Billy Dee Williams, such as the incorrect pronunciation of “Han.” And yet, like the Lando comic (but more fleshed out), we see a more empathic Lando by way of his protocol droid, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). If given a choice with having more Lando or more of L3-37, I’d always lean towards Lando. L3-37 has a sharp wit, much more than that of Rogue One’s K2-SO, but there’s this underlying soapbox that L3 feels the need to stand on, for droid equality, with almost every scene she’s in. You can tell that L3-37 was created to fill the role of the comic foil, because the bond that Lando and L3 share is one of the better comical moments of the film.
This is where the underutilization of the characters slowly rears its head. Fleshing out the rest of Solo is a band of smugglers led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) that includes his love Val (Thandie Newton), and a loquacious four-limbed space chimp named Rio (Jon Favreau). Harrelson’s Beckett is staunchly similar to other reluctant mentors he’s portrayed in film, most notably Haymitch from The Hunger Games quadrilogy. While he doesn’t change things up in this typecast, he at least teaches Han a valuable lesson to not trust anyone. How Han and Beckett’s storylines settle by the film’s end did bring a smile to my face though.
And yet, Val exists only to sow distrust in the fresh-faced Han, and feels more like a weapon that happens to talk. Rio, while undeniably charming, almost feels like he comes and goes soon as he arrives on screen. The film’s main baddie, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) feels one dimensional. We don’t truly understand his motives in the greater criminal underworld he runs as the head of Crimson Dawn. There are whispers of conflict between rival factions, like the Pyke Syndicate (who had played a pivotal role in Star Wars: The Clone Wars), but we don’t see these other criminals in the movie. It’s a shame because the film already does such a fantastic job of heralding back to the classic western heist and gun slinger movies (a genre that Solo does justice to Star Wars I might add) that gave inspiration to George Lucas himself.