Wasn’t there a “Star Wars” movie in December? And another one in 2016? And 2015? That’s probably why with “Solo: A Star Wars Story” feels so familiar. Maybe it’s just that we can’t live in a world without galaxies far, far away. Or that Disney can’t let audiences forget that.
Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is stuck on a junk planet where he must steal and hustle or be punished. He and his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), dream about getting off that planet, learning how to fly and jetting off into a better future. But as they get close to freedom, they’re separated and spend three years trying to get back together. Han becomes Han Solo, a gifted pilot academy drop-out who finds future buddy Chewbecca (Joonas Suotamo) and becomes entangled with smugglers led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) while in the Empire’s military.
“Solo” is not a doom-and-gloom flick like the previous two offerings, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” and director Ron Howard, who rescued the project after directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller departed, gets to make a large sci-fi movie that doesn’t involve Tom Hanks. This prequel/origin story to the original trilogy is lighter on the emotional toll and heavier on the action, Easter eggs and one-liners. Han and Qi’ra find themselves again, but she’s under the clutches of Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). The childhood sweethearts are now teammates on a dangerous mission that calls for help from a guy with a ship – and not just any guy – it’s Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and the Millennium Falcon.
For “Star Wars” junkies, “Solo” is another title to check off the list of items to consume. It gets behind what makes Han Solo the space maverick with a heart of gold audiences loved when Harrison Ford played the iconic role. It also looks at the birth of the Rebellion without the presence of the Jedi. The eight episodes and “Rogue One” focused on more organized efforts to defeat the Empire, whereas “Solo” has pockets of rebels on different planets all wanting to get rid of their overlords. No one is in awe of Han yet.
But like all “Star Wars” versions, there’s a great droid character. This time it’s Lando’s right-hand navigating robot L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). While L3 is made of various junk parts and is not as outwardly cute as BB-8, she is clearly the best character in this one.
What brings “Solo” down is not the Empire but the lack of gravity in the characters. Seeing Enhrenreich, Clarke and Glover in action is like watching “Bugsy Malone,” the 1976 gangster movie starring Scott Baio and Jodie Foster when they were kids. They look like a high school production of “Star Wars Jr.” and they’re playing a role, not being characters. The only adult among the cast is Bettany, who makes a good villain.
To paraphrase Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker from “The Last Jedi,” maybe it’s time for the movie overload to end. “Solo” doesn’t add more to the canon for casual fans and is not a way to bring in new fans. But it adds riches to Disney.
2.5 stars out of 5
The “Solo” in “Solo: A Star Wars Story” doesn’t just refer to the popular character in the beloved “Star Wars” franchise. The 10th film in the epic space saga stands alone as a fun adventure that exists outside the sweeping Skywalker-centric episodes.
With a fresh spin on its lead character, the thrilling heist caper captures the feel of “Star Wars” while showing there’s more to the franchise beyond Jedi and Sith lords. The prequel lifts the curtain on the criminal underworld in a galaxy far, far away.
A few years before the galaxy’s most famous smuggler crosses paths with Luke Skywalker in “A New Hope,” a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) steals to survive. Dreaming of a better life, he and his ambitious galpal Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) attempt a daring escape from their grimy home planet. But when the two are separated, Han joins the Imperial Air Force as a pilot.
After the hot-headed recruit gets kicked out, Han and his new friend Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) smell an opportunity with a group of smugglers led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who have taken on a perilous job for crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).
When the heist – a breath-taking chase on a snow-covered mountainside – goes awry, the group must salvage it by connecting with suave smuggler Lance Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his fast ship, the Millenium Falcon. Making sure the mission goes according to plan is an old friend – Qi’ra, who is now Voss’ right-hand lieutenant. Han’s past collides with his future, putting the optimistic pilot on a course of friendship, love and betrayal that shapes the cynical outlaw he will become.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a pick-me-up after the grim “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the first of the anthology films, and the polarizing “The Last Jedi,” which was released just five months ago. The prequel fills in the gaps in Han’s backstory, showing moments that fans of the saga have never seen onscreen. We finally see how Han meets Chewbacca, the first time he pilots the famed Millenium Falcon and the legendary Kessel Run. There are character-driven moments that’ll make you want to cheer, smile and gasp in surprise.
The steady-handed Ron Howard, who stepped in to direct the film after a much-publicized director swap, succeeds in making the film feel like it fits in the “Star Wars” universe. But while “Solo” generates nostalgia, the film doesn’t hit you over the head with fan service. By being an anthology story as opposed to an episode, its straightforward heist plot allows casual fans in, too.
In a bold move, “Solo” recasts one of the most loved characters in movie history – and it works. The excellent Ehrenreich takes over the reins of the galaxy’s coolest space cowboy, definitively played by Harrison Ford in four films. But in “Solo,” the future smuggler-turned-rebellion hero hasn’t perfected his trademark swagger.
Ehrenreich smartly avoids doing a Ford impression, making himself believable as an inexperienced Han. This is the same guy who, when pretending to be a storm trooper in “A New Hope,” clumsily asked over the radio, “How are you?” to the very people he was trying to fool. Ehrenreich taps into that naivete as a self-serving hustler who people aren’t quite sure about yet. He has the qualities of a hero, even if the character doesn’t know it.
In addition to Han, “Solo” respects and develops its characters, a mix of familiar names and new additions. Chewbacca gets a memorable introduction, and his relationship with Han is solid. Glover expertly channels Billy Dee Williams’ portrayal of Lando from “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” in an enjoyable performance. As Beckett, Harrelson acts as a mentor to an impressionable Han. Phoebe Waller-Bridge brings smarts and sass as the newest droid, L3-37.
The most intriguing new character is Qi’ra, the latest brunette protagonist in the “Star Wars” films. Looking like she stepped out of a 1940s film noir, the rags-to-riches character walks a moral line, differentiating herself from Leia, Rey and Jyn Erso. Clarke creates an incredibly complex character who I’d like to see more of.
Though “Solo: A Star Wars Story” may not reach the emotional heights of other “Star Wars” films, it’s an exciting joy ride that offers a new take on a fan favorite. Fans looking for a more upbeat story in the “Star Wars” universe should hop on the Millenium Falcon.
4 out of 5 stars