Solo: A Star Wars Story Review by Jason Ward.
On May 10th, 2018 I was invited to the premiere of Solo: A Star Wars Story. It was an interesting experience and a nice night out with my beautiful wife. But as a hardcore Star Wars fan, I was like a kid having an awesome birthday party and I was fiending to open those presents and see what was exactly inside this film.
This review will be spoiler free and anything that comes near being a spoiler will be stuff seen in television spots, teasers, trailers, and behind the scenes reels. The TLDR of this review is that I felt very satisfied and I had a lot of fun watching the movie and I think fans as well as the general audiences will too. While it isn’t a bad Star Wars movie it isn’t the best either but that’s okay because the films isn’t trying to be anything but a fun film about Solo’s formative years. This movie will be in your top three popcorn movies of the year and I think it will be the best popcorn movie I see this year and I can say that with confidence.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is the Star Wars movie I wanted since I was a little kid. The idea is so simple a five year old walking home from school wondered why “they” never made one and why “they” weren’t making more Star Wars films like that. The idea is as genius as the right four chords coming together to make a simple but genius song that makes everyone else wonder why they didn’t think of it?
The only sensible fear to have is what if they shouldn’t have made this movie? What if they mess with Han Solo in a damaging way? After seeing the movie at the premiere in Hollywood, I feel like the movie deserves to exist and I feel like it didn’t hurt our idea of who Han Solo in one bit. I watched A New Hope right after with a new appreciation for the character and his place in the universe. The movie tells us the story of Solo similar to how a friend you know really well tells you a story about themselves you’ve never heard before and you know them better, but it doesn’t change your view of them.
Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t challenging, it is just fun. I loved The Last Jedi, but Solo doesn’t make you view Han any differently how we viewed Luke Skywalker differently after Rian Johnson’s film. Solo as a character has had his parameters set by the Skywalker Saga and this film capitalizes on that fun. There’s a logic to Han Solo. He knows what he needs to know about life to operate in the underworld and survive for as long as he has to. This movie operates in that tonal sphere too as Han learns the ropes and his earnestness and good heart become his weakness and we learn what that means in the underworld game and why Solo is so desperate to not let his icy heart melt. In the film, Han sees rougher and tougher people than him compromised because of their hearts. Han, having the biggest heart of them all becomes wise to this but still doesn’t manage to not be human. Han’s still the guy that shows up to save Luke Skywalker on the Death Star and he always has been even when he denies it to himself.
Solo: A Star Wars Story feels like the kind of movie Lucasfilm would have made under George Lucas. Perhaps that is because it was kicked off by George before he sold the 4 billion dollar monkey on his back to Disney. But as a fan of the work Lucas did on The Clone Wars I felt like I was watching something from Lucasfilm in that era of their storytelling but in the best and strongest sense of that vibe. There’s a modern Star Wars feel as well as something uniquely classic Lucasfilm about it.
Initially we heard the movie took place over six years of Solo’s formative years. But after one time jump in the film, I count about three years in time in the film as Han goes from being a street rat to the military to defector into the crime underworld when he meets Beckett, Val, and their crew. The crew is fun and seeing Han and Chewbacca integrate into it with its twists and turns was a good time. There really wasn’t a character I didn’t think was fun, neat, or not deserving to be in the film.
Star Wars fans always like to have an “unknown” cast in their films, meaning actors they haven’t seen in other popcorn movies. But Star Wars has always had quality actors too old to be the young heroes in their pictures. Woody Harrelson is this movie’s Alec Guinness or Liam Neeson. Woody Harrelson made a lot of people squish up their faces and go “really?” However, Harrelson’s Tobias Beckett is one of the strongest aspects of the movie and his character is such a welcome addition to the Star Wars mythos and family. This is a mentor type character we haven’t seen on screen before, save for Solo talking to Luke a few times in A New Hope. Beckett is the aged criminal that never made it but has a lot of knowledge to pass on thanks to his misfortunes. He stands to show Han exactly what this life he’s in is and what it looks like at the end as one loses everything having never been a huge success. I can’t help but think back to Qui-Gon in The Phantom Menace proclaiming “Whenever you gamble my friend, eventually you’ll lose.” The most interesting part about the whole thing is that Han Solo does become Beckett by The Force Awakens although still with that heart of gold his peers and Beckett lack.
Beckett and his crew had really good chemistry and you could instantly imagine all the adventures they had after seeing them on screen for a moment. Thandie Newton was magnificent in the film. Her character was smart with a lot of good moments. My only complaint is that the part wasn’t very big. It was important but I could have used a lot more from her in the movie. I would be elated to see her character pop up in another film at some point. Same thing with Rio Durant, Jon Favreau’s character. Rio was super fun, delightful even, but this is a movie about Han and Chewbacca and most other characters fall to the wayside as we see them come up.
There are moments in the movie you would expect. Han meets Chewbacca. Huge spoilers, right? But how is absolutely delightful. I was giddy during these moments not only because I was seeing something I always wanted to see on screen but because it had dimensions to it I had never imagined and it was so good. If you’re a Star Wars fan, Han meeting Chewbacca is worth the price of the admission alone. Also there’s an interesting connection to their meeting that plays throughout the entire saga of films culminating in The Last Jedi. When I took this moment in, I felt the entire connectivity of the film series coming together and while it was small, it made me happy these movies were talking to one another, aware of one another, and maybe even helping one another be better films for it. Chewbacca is always off to the side in the Skywalker films but this was the same universe and it felt like it and the character grew for me.
Peter Mayhew gave so much to Chewbacca. He had to do some much in so little time it is a miracle it worked so well and we cannot ever forget his contribution to this thing we love so dearly. This is why I was so impressed with the work Joonas Suotamo brought to the part. This film doesn’t have little vignettes of Chewbacca. Suotamo has the opposite to contend with that Mayhew did. He has a lot of Chewbacca to contend with. He has a lot of humor, fear, anger, and sadness to convey in this movie and Joonas pulls it off in a hairy suit. When Mayhew retired I was bummed, but Suotamo, who has played the part in varying degrees and full time since The Last Jedi, has the character locked down. As much as I’ll miss Mayhew, we’re going to be okay and Solo: A Star Wars Story proves that the character of Chewbacca will never become irrelevant. He’s as fun and as relevant as he’s ever been.
The Space Cowboy
Alden Ehrenreich as Solo is probably the thing most people wonder about. I believed. I saw Han Solo on screen on the 10th of May. When he wasn’t talking, there was no doubt he was Han Solo. I feel he mostly captured the voice too but there was a moment here and there where I felt the register was a little high for what Ford laid down, but honestly it didn’t matter. I would have to see the film again to really firmly say it was an issue in a moment or two. Ehrenreich doesn’t look like a young guy to me. He looks like he’s as old as Solo is when we meet him in the cantina in A New Hope. But I am so into the character after this movie that I don’t care. I buy Ehrenreich as Solo. I want more Ehrenreich as Solo as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter what I could nitpick because he isn’t Harrison Ford. Ehrenreich captured the essence of the space cowboy we all know and love. That’s just part of rolling with new Star Wars. As fans we have had to wrap our brains around Darth Vader being an eight year old kid and this is not nearly as challenging as that (and I say this as a lover of The Phantom Menace and Jake Lloyd’s offering to young Anakin as a child actor).
The Only Person Who Knows Who Han Solo Really Is
Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is a great addition to the backstory of Solo and Clarke manages to take the character out of just being shoehorned into supporting Solo. She has her own agenda in the film but she’s also disarmed to some degree by her attraction and love for Han which gives the picture a romance arc missing from the modern Star Wars films. There were moments I was reminded of the character of Indiana Jones as he attempts to flirt both successfully and unsuccessfully with women.
In Solo, both Qi’ra and Han grow up together as poor orphans on a corrupt world and then are reacquainted and she’s become rather successful, especially in comparison to Han. For most of the film, Han’s trying to impress Qi’ra and she gives him looks like “that’s cute” but Clarke also manages to play the part as if she’s haunted by her understanding of what is at play. Han Solo knows the world through Corellia but she knows the universe. I get the sense that Han took care of Qi’ra and that gave him a heart but she was taken care of by Solo so she harbors more ambition. Honestly, I look forward to more from Qi’ra as a character in the future of the franchise in various timelines and I think Clarke managed to give a solid Star Wars performance that is going to make the character a standout addition to the saga. Clarke’s Qi’ra will make you love her, trust her, not trust her, and as the story continues you’ll be surprised by her and then maybe even floored by her part in all of this.
The Lando System
Donald Glover’s Lando is the Lando we needed and the Lando we wanted. Glover was always the person I had the most faith in for Solo: A Star Wars Story and he didn’t let me down. He manages to be Lando Calrissian for an entire film and I never felt like I was watching an SNL skit where he played Billy Dee Williams. His performance interlocks with what Billy Dee offered in Empire and Jedi and he actually has one of the most heart wrenching moments in the entire film that I didn’t see coming. Glover makes you trust his Lando and then you see how classy he is and what a pirate he really is. Glover’s expert comedic timing elevated Solo and the entire cast in the scenes he was in. The powers that be would be wise to head down to the Disney ATM and withdraw two hundred million dollars tonight to start making Lando’s film as soon as possible.
One of my favorite moments in Star Wars might be when Glover’s Lando and Ehrenreich’s Solo discuss their upbringing. Glover just nails the delivery and you see these characters slightly bond, share a place in the universe, and understand one another.
Droid’s Rights of Passage
It has been no secret that I love Phoebe Waller-Bridge and in Solo she plays L337, Lando’s rogue partner. The performance is really funny, interesting, and most of that goes to Waller-Bridge. She’s a droid that has a mind of her own and Lando keeps her around because she has things in her brain that are extremely valuable to his line of work. She’s the other getaway driver and the hacker of the group and she adds a lot of color to the film. But as the movie unfolds you see that Lando and L3 are a different form of Han and Chewbacca. Waller-Bridge and Glover have excellent chemistry together which makes their relationship not only weird but intriguing and most of all these characters care about one another so we care about them. L3 contributes to the anarchy of the film while making a solid contribution to Star Wars lore at the same time. And when I say she’s a shit starter, I’m not kidding and she causes one of my favorite moments of eccentricity in a Star Wars movie ever.
L3 has hopes, desires, and wants and for a time I forgot I was watching a droid on screen. I think that’s a testament to Waller-Bridge’s performance. I loved K-2SO in Rogue One but I never felt like he was a person, not in the way I do about L3. If I had one critique about the character, it is weird her name is L3-37 still. She expresses so much individuality and cares about her agency so much it is weird she has an assembly line style name. Even Johnny Five picked up a human name.
The Space Godfather
Paul Bettany plays a scary crime boss rather well. He’s a weird and frightening dude. I’m the most hesitant to discuss Dreyden Vos in a spoiler free review because his character is so integral to the film’s plot and I think there’s some implications for Vos that are huge. Honestly, days after seeing the film, there are little details about him I keep connecting together and it is really cool. He’s Goodfellas in space and he has charming elements and weaknesses. By the end of the film, for all the Han does learn, you still get the sense he really doesn’t understand the “bad motherfuckers” he was contending with during this job with Beckett. Dreyden just wants competent crooks doing his work for him while he chills on his luxury yacht but the Cloud Riders led by Enfys Nest make his business slightly annoying and he’s the kind of guy you don’t want to be around when he’s annoyed.
I feel like the Falcon is a character in this movie. The Falcon is more than a setting. The YT-1300, the base model of the ship plays into Han’s past and it dominates his future. You understand why Han loves the ship. You understand what it connects Han to. When we meet this character in the film, she’s a projection of Lando’s tastes and we see how these characters leave an impression on the ship that gives it more character. There’s also lines in the original trilogy that take on new meaning after you see this film and it doesn’t feel forced or corny that it went this way. As easy as it can be to mock familiarity in the films and fans liking what they know and wanting to see it again, I don’t think it is even apparent on a first viewing to most.
Indiana Jones Style Action in Space and Nitpicking
As you can probably tell by now, I found the characters in the movie delightful and fun. Maybe the inherent weakness of making a Solo film is that Han isn’t a Jedi. There’s not much room for space gymnastics and super hero thrills. But I think that’s where Indiana Jones vibe comes in. I felt like Han Solo was more Indy in space than he’s ever been before. During a train heist you see Han jumping off stuff with reckless abandon the way Indy might. Han’s kinetic energy in the film was excellent and fun.
If I had to nitpick I would say that there are moments in the movie that get a little real. Han Solo’s imperial career is not unlike something out of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But then there are moments thirty minutes later where no one can shoot and the heroes stand there posing, looking cool as hell and a blaster bolt doesn’t come near them until the plot needs it. This bothers me very little but some of my friends I saw it with felt annoyed by it.
At the end of the film, you’re left asking yourself who the good guys were and maybe even marveling over who the bad guys were not. In Solo’s universe, his movie, this is the kind of moral ambiguity you want. The movie has elements of The Wire mixed with Star Wars and then it takes The Wire and runs it through a Robin Hood filter and completely makes it Star Wars.
The film the Kasdans wrote is a love letter to all of Star Wars. I might be presumptuous but I think Lawrence Kasdan grounded the film in the writing style of what we expect from Han in classic Star Wars. Remember at SDCC 2015 when someone asked Kasdan about Darth Plagueis and he responded with “Darth Vegas?” Well, I think that’s where Jon Kasdan comes in and complements this team. There’s references in this film that will blow your mind as a Star Wars fan, from the prequels to nineties video games only someone around 17 at the time would remember or know about. Holistically, the Kasdans wrote a film that allows Han Solo to live in the Star Wars galaxy, the whole thing, not just the version with practical puppets they were promoting in 2015. This movie doesn’t divide Star Wars, it unites it.
The Kasdans seem to have understood that Han Solo is a victim of circumstance. We hear about Han’s parents and honestly it doesn’t sound like things should have been that bad but for him. But then you remember how the Empire formed in Revenge of the Sith and you see that it had a devastating effect upon Han’s life. Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story has one foot in the prequel era and one foot in the original trilogy era. This film gives fans the best of both worlds or trilogies for that matter as we see and hear references from all six films in this movie. In Solo: A Star Wars Story the saga is alive.
Solo’s Arrested Development
Each time a Star Wars production has issues, there’s a vibe that the sky is falling. But every single time a movie has issues, Kathleen Kennedy has stepped in and fixed the films. I’ve always loved that they course correct their pictures when they need to. The dedication to getting it right is really honorable and respectful to the fans, regardless of what a corner of the internet believes on that front. The course correction here brought us Ron Howard and that’s way cooler than I imagined before I saw the film. You don’t really get the sense this movie had a troubled production when you see it and thankfully the trailers were full of scenes and moments from the film, not some random stuff they thought looked neat like the promotion Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had.
Ron Howard knows how to make a Star Wars movie. Maybe it is because he’s a great filmmaker, or a friend of George Lucas or that he made Willow (one of the best films Lucasfilm ever made). Howard and director of photography Bradford Young offer a film that looks and feels as good as anything we’ve ever seen from Star Wars. I honestly hope this isn’t Howard or Young’s last venture into this universe. The shots look cool and the pacing was usually really fun. I could have used a lot more in the speeder chase than we got but at the same time, it felt like the right amount of activity for the film and it kept it at a good length.
The score of Solo by John Powell was solid too. When Williams retires, John Powell could handle the work. Michael Giacchino’s work on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is nothing to shake a stick at and he didn’t get that much time to work on that score. Powell’s music feels tight and plays to the dynamics of the film more than adequately. I do have to confess that on one viewing, I didn’t really notice the young Han theme John Williams contributed to the soundtrack. It just didn’t stand out to me and I’m sure after I’ve seen the film a bajillion times I’ll wonder how I could have been so stupid as to not notice it but I didn’t. Not on my first viewing. On my first viewing I experienced the soundtrack, I didn’t listen to it and I will buy this one for sure. On a musical side note, the eccentric singers in Dreyden’s HQ got one of the biggest laughs in the movie.
Final Thoughts on Solo: A Star Wars Story
There are so many things I want to discuss about Solo: A Star Wars Story with the readers of MakingStarWars.net. I can’t wait until everyone sees the film and we can dig into the various components of the film and do a deep dive on what a lot of this movie means and what it means for the future of the franchise. I left Solo ready for a sequel and daydreaming about what some of the things that happened mean for future movies and the Star Wars universe in total. For hardcore fans, this will reiterate a lot of what we have dealt with for a few years in animation, but for the casual fan this movie is going mainline a lot of the good things in a single dose and I’m curious to see how they take it all at once.
Fans always ask how you rank a movie and I don’t really like doing that. This isn’t the best Star Wars film ever made. This isn’t the worst Star Wars film ever made. It just may be the most fun competent Star Wars film ever made, however, for all its strengths, its weakness is that it lacks a spiritual center and that’s truly out of love for Solo as a character and his journey. Rogue One sort of cheated around not having Jedi by having devout followers of the Force and themes of hope and faith. I feel like The Last Jedi took that spiritual mystical stuff to the next level and these films sort of even one another out in that way. This is Han Solo’s world and we get to see the movie through his eyes. Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando and friends have a lot of fun and it comes through in this picture. The best thing I can say about a Star Wars film or any film for that matter is that I immediately wanted to watch it again.