It’s difficult to judge a movie with expectations as high as those for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Han Solo’s story is one of the most well-known fictional sagas of all time. There are points that this movie needs to hit. Like how he meets Chewbacca, or his history with Lando Calrissian. The former doesn’t disappoint, and the latter is satisfying enough, leaving room for growth.
The film sets up Solo’s story for sequels and even prequels–a frustrating reality, since we would love to have learned about Han’s childhood, or his dealings with Jabba the Hutt.
But Solo picks a story in Han’s life to talk about. One that begins with him (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) trying to escape a planet in which they are essentially enslaved by an evil gang. At the time of their flee, Han and Qi-ra are separated with Han vowing to come back for her.
Three years later, Solo makes his way onto a team of outlaws, featuring characters played by Woody Harrelson and Thandie Newton, who are about to pull off a big heist. Both actors do a great job, and Harrelson might actually be the real star of this movie. His character gives Han so much of his depth and provides reasons for his personality that can be accounted for in the rest of the series.
Along the way some things happen and there are some fun twists. Though it still seems like something’s missing. Perhaps it’s the fact that director, Ron Howard, came aboard halfway through production, so the directorial identity is almost non-existent. However, it could have been so much worse. It’s Star Wars, so somehow it still entertains us.
It’s an instant letdown not to see Harrison Ford as Han Solo. It almost feels blasphemous. Deep down, we’ve always questioned whether it was really the character who was great, or simply Ford himself. We might find ourselves closer to an answer after this installment. Although it’s hard to say Han isn’t interesting. And that’s what still propels this film. Because the character still feels similar enough even with a new actor portraying him.
It’s easy not to be sold on Ehrenreich’s performance as a young Han Solo, but it’s easier not to be sold on Donald Glover’s performance as a young Lando Calrissian. Parts of Ehrenreich’s portrayal feels off. After he delivers a line, you close your eyes and try to imagine Ford saying the same thing. Yet other times, it’s oddly close. Ehrenreich would have been fine if we weren’t so familiar with Ford. Billy Dee Williams’ performance in the original trilogy is so effortless, whereas Glover is caught acting a little. Regardless of our familiarity with Williams, Glover just doesn’t seem to fit as well (no pun intended).
But character/actor resemblances shouldn’t be the thing you take away from this movie. It should be about the story itself. And that part it executes decently well.
In the beginning, we’re unsure where this movie is taking us, since it doesn’t feel like an origins story. It just feels like a one-off. But the deeper we get into it and the more recognizable characters we see (e.g. Chewbacca, The Millennium Falcon), we’re reminded that it’s still the same series.
If you’re a fan of the franchise, this will likely get you excited about the possibilities for future installments–whether that speaks to what this film has established or how it’s left us wanting more, is still up in the air. Either way, if it was bad, I’m sure no one would care about getting anything more. Or maybe they would, because, you know, that’s the magic of Star Wars.