From the initial announcement that Han Solo was going to be given the standalone treatment, the film has been plagued with problems, both small (common, routine re-shoots) and large (replacing original directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord with iconic filmmaker Ron Howard). This news spurred the fires that the production was troubled and that the final product would be a complete mess. I never believed that; Ron Howard is too smart a filmmaker to let things fall apart under his watch. It’s said that Lord and Miller believed they were making a comedy, and though I respect their vision, I don’t think Han Solo is the right character for that. Yes, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is a sarcastic smart-ass who doesn’t take a whole lot seriously, but to put him at the center of a comedy, I believe, would have turned Han into a joke and diluted the essence of the universe as a whole.
So, I’m happy Kathleen Kennedy stood her ground and kept Solo: A Star Wars Story grounded in the world we already know and love. I’m not sure how much Howard had to redo in order to get the film back on track, but he was the certainly the right choice to produce a fun film that still fits in the pocket of what’s come before while making sure to deliver a light touch that, looking back, has been missing from the films as of late.
Han’s story is similar in ways to Luke’s journey, however, where Luke turned his opportunity for a more exciting life into becoming the hero of the Republic, Han finds a home among a pack of scoundrels, cheats and degenerates, unknowingly becoming a hero in a different way. He may be taught to trust no one and only care about himself, but he still has a certain moral code that won’t allow him to harm good people. What Howard is able to do is retain the lighthearted breeziness of A New Hope by preserving a little of what Lord and Miller had started with, but making sure everything felt like it was part of the universe, breathing new life into characters we know and adore.
Ehrenreich wouldn’t have been my first choice to play the title character. As Han, he doesn’t immediately look the part, and based on some of his past films, I never saw him as that great an actor. It takes a little time to settle in with him, but I think this works in the movie’s favor. People change over the course of many years, so rather than starting out the movie with the same attitude and demeanor as Harrison Ford, Ehrenreich uses the events in the story to shape Han into what we remember. Not resembling Ford all that much and utilizing a different acting style helps him develop the character in his own way while hanging onto the heart of what made the character so iconic. We’re essentially watching the birth of Han Solo, and though he still isn’t quite what we remember at the end of the film, you can see that first hint of Ford’s version, wherein whatever happens to him between the end of Solo and the start of A New Hope will shape him even further.
As most recent films in the series, Solo is high on nostalgia, as it introduces us to characters we haven’t got much backstory on and events that were only discussed in previous films, some well known — including the infamous Kessel run — and others that only a fanboy may understand. A lot of those fans may not like how certain things transpired, however. Whether it’s because they were depicted differently in any variety of books or comics, or they don’t match up with the ideas we all have in our heads, this interpretation won’t be exactly like many want it to be. Events such as how Han first meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) or how the rivalry with fellow scoundrel Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) first began aren’t how I originally depicted they would be, but this isn’t my story to tell. I’m an outside observer along for the ride.
The best thing for me is getting to see these stories play out on the big screen.
I can’t say I’m a big fan of everything that happens, nor am I a fan of every new character that’s introduced. The main villain, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), is a bit lackluster in relation to other villains in the story, but he serves his purpose well. And then there’s Lando’s droid, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who’s quite overwhelming in many things, including being a droid rights activist. The whole idea is a little strange within the context of the universe, but not as strange as the odd relationship she has with Lando. Everything about them seem out of place, but both contribute enough to the ultimate story, and do add a bit of context to small instances in other films. Does it play a little against type, probably. But it’s one small part of a master plan that continues to delight.
As far as Easter eggs go, I continue to enjoy whatever the writers and producers want to throw at me. Aside from the famous first meetings, we’re consistently teased with references of films that take place before and after this one. We get to see how the Millennium Falcon becomes the fastest hunk-of-junk in the galaxy; there’s an offer to join a gangster’s crew on Tatooine; Han makes a familiar refusal; and it’s great to finally see Warwick Davis get some actual face time in a Star Wars film. There is one that I’m still fighting with on whether it’s a good thing, a bad thing or something thrown in so they could include a lightsaber in a Star Wars film that doesn’t feature any Jedis. It’s a moment that will shock some, irritate others, and confuse even more. It’s not much of a shock if you’re a fan of The Clone Wars television series, but it’s still a moment that I never thought would be connected to big-screen blockbuster.
Despite the stories of turmoil behind the scenes and some of the odder choices Howard, writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, and Kathkleen Kennedy make, this devout fanboy still found Solo: A Star Wars Story to be a fine addition to the Star Wars canon. It brought me back to that feeling I had when The Phantom Menace first came out, where seeing my favorite characters on screen in a new story made me feel like a kid again (and make me want to jump behind the keyboard and write). With the glut of Star Wars films now in production, the movies aren’t considered events like they were twenty years ago, but they still hold a place in my heart and I still can’t wait to see where the stories take us from here.
My Grade: A+
Next week, new movies include Adrift, Action Point and Upgrade. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.