With the Star Wars franchise continuing to grow and branch off in to one-shots and satellite stories, there has been much apprehension about this the Solo spin-off one in particular. Marred by many production rumors (the acting coach hired for young Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich, the departure of original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller just a few weeks shy of the end of filming, and etc), the Internet seems to collectively be unsure of what to think, except maybe for the casting of Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. I’ve largely felt unsure about the movie after hearing about its possible troubles and rewrite of canon (the Legends novels).
Fortunately, I attended an advanced screening and can throw in my two cents before the film’s wide release on May 25.
Don’t worry, no spoilers!
Solo: A Star Wars Story is touted as a low stakes movie because we know Han will live another day, the film is more focused on establishing the hard truths of his character then creating an impossible problem. There’s a ton of fan service, with nods and connections to things the seasoned fan love and know about the series. However, the movie effectively functions on its own legs. It won’t be polarizing to the uninitiated.
So now let’s get on the topic of Alden Ehrenreich, our shiny new young Solo. Admittedly, I was most nervous about his casting, ony having seen him in the Coen brothers movie where I wasn’t really impressed (he was also in an episode of Supernatural but I don’t recall what he did there). However, the actor proved he worked hard for this role, and as another audience member said to me, there are times where the lighting hits his face, or he conjured up a look that bears striking resemblance to Harrison Ford. He had big shoes to fill and there was more riding on his performance that most people have going in to the role, but I’ll say this, he did a very good job. In terms of charisma, Ehrenreich nearly tamped it down, but was still missing a bit on Ford’s relaxed easy going-ness. Upon ruminating about it, one can consider Han being younger here as the reason why he is isn’t as comfortable. He’s experiencing a whole lot for the first time. When he gets behind the controls of the Millennium Falcon, you’ll likely feel just okay about it.
Out of all the cast, I was most excited over Donald Glover bringing about a younger and dashing, Lando Calrissian. While the originals always left me wanting more in terms of Lando backstory, this film nails it, fleshing out his identity and his sometimes-friend, sometimes-foe relationship with Han. Lando is presented in a highly stylistic way, and it isn’t just brimming from the chosen wardrobe or mannerisms. Glover is a deserved scene stealer, especially in the Sabacc scene, with a spirited performance throughout.
Some of the other cast chosen also did very well in their roles. Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos was fun to watch, especially since his character differs so much from his recent depiction as the Vision in the Avengers. Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra isn’t anything spectacular, but for the most part she isn’t minded on screen and even shares a great scene with Lando’s robot companion L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Woody Harrelson didn’t have to reach far for his character, Tobias Beckett, but he is paired nicely with Thandie Newton’s Val. Joonas Suotamo reprised his turn as Chewbacca, having taken over for original Chewie actor Peter Mayhew. The Wookiees really have some glowing moments in the film.
With a fairly straight and narrow storyline, the enjoyment of this film really comes from the well-choreographed fight and action scenes, leaning in to performances like Lando’s and sprinkling it with nostalgia. There are some twists that certainly gave my theater a delightful surprise. As far as music goes, John Powell’s scoring isn’t anything memorable compared to what John Williams has ingrained, but it punches where it needs to punch and pulls back for emotive effect at the right times. The set designs aren’t as wide and sweeping as others in the Star Wars galaxy, but we are running with smugglers, so don’t have your hopes up for too breathtaking set locations and designs.
All and all, Ron Howard and father-son writing duo Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan pulled together what could have been an epic flop. But Solo: A Star Wars Story manages to come through. It’s likely the movie will be a blockbuster hit but don’t expect it to rank high in terms of your favorite in the franchise.