All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put Solo back together again. Those were the cries of the internet as Phil Lord and Chris Miller were banished from their film, and doubt grew from Star Wars fans and the disenfranchised alike. Word came that Ron Howard came on board, and with significant reshoots, Solo: A Star Wars Story would fly into theaters on its release date. Through stories of trouble and acting coaches, more doubt would be tossed on the smoldering embers. Could this film be as rotten and doomed as some said, or even hoped?
Howard has brought the origins of Han Solo to the screen, something that was not really needed, and given it a fun spin that is quite messy and rough around the edges, but once it finds its footing, is a wonderful time.
Alden Ehrenreich stars as the young Han Solo, a braggart who self-proclaims himself the best pilot, the best smuggler, the best anything the situation calls for. Those beginnings prove to be something half out of the legacy canon left behind and half newly invented. Ehrenreich is a more emotionally driven Han than we have seen previously, learning on any job that sounds good at the time. His performance is one that can at times echo that of Harrison Ford, a quick smile or a smart-alec line that catches the ear and sounds just like the Han Solo of old; but he has also made this role his own, looking as though he is having fun through the whole thing and letting the charm and wit that the character deserves breathe and play nicely among the rest of the cast.
Emilia Clarke’s Qi’Ra holds a closeness and a bond to Han, her situation leading to intrigue and wonder as Woody Harrelson’s Beckett character warns Han to never trust anyone. Clarke does well with the flirtatious but dangerous uncertainty her character provides, though it does take a back seat to the three others who end up meaning the most to Han. The aforementioned Beckett is a swindler of the highest order, a con artist in a role that suits Harrelson and gives him some meat to work with. Donald Glover is as perfect a Lando as the film could ever get, suave and confident and cool, elevating anything his scenes have to offer.
But the real star of the supporting cast is Chewbacca. The lovable sidekick quickly becomes the most fun part of the film, reacting with disdain or enjoyment at whatever predicament they find themselves in, and having more of a presence than any other film of the franchise since perhaps The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Joonas Suotamo, who has taken over for Peter Mayhew under all of that fur, does a great job with the physicality of something that should prove to be limiting. But the shake of his head, the tossing of baddies, and the partnership he shares with Han make for a wonderful performance.
Now comes the bad. There is a whole lot of mess in the movie. Pieces that simply do not work, creature effects that are uninspired or simply disappointing, a large piece of the first act that does not know what it wants to be, and is flat and dull in its delivery and color palette. This could leave a bad taste in some viewers’ mouths, as it is a bit of a slog during this time of the movie.
But there is hope. (You see what I did there.) There comes a moment when the main players are all together and the story is in full swing, where everything clicks and the film becomes a fantastic adventure. It is nearly at the halfway point when this occurs but from then onward it is every bit as exciting, enthusiastic, and fun as the series is intended. The joys of the Millennium Falcon facing down a massive storm, a female foil named Enfys Nest whose striking armor and cool moves prove a danger to the allies, a heist that finds Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3-37 (who has some great lines and performance capture) bringing forth a revolution, and a finale that finds tension and does right by its characters. It is a great time from that point forward and does bump up the experience just enough.
Solo: A Star Wars Story could have been a major misstep or a complete write-off, based on all that came before. Howard makes a flawed but fun Star Wars film that has some gorgeous shots and setpieces that are unique and well-designed. Bradford Young’s cinematography is darkly lit and creates a mood that fits its subject matter, the beginnings of a smuggler trying to find a buck in the galaxy. John Powell’s score has the feel of Star Wars, classic and exciting and with flourishes that leave the soundtrack well worth a revisit. While the movie can find some significant issues in portraying that in its beginning, there’s enough greatness in that back half to salvage the job and give fans and casual audiences something to sit back and enjoy.