Han (Alden Ehrenreich) lives on the shipbuilding planet of Corellia but longs to escape his life of petty theft under the control of a local crime boss that looks like a giant caterpillar. Han hopes to trade a sample of hyper-drive fuel called coaxium for passage off the planet for himself and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Just as they are walking through the gate Qi’ra is captured. In desperation, Han joins the Imperial Navy with a hope to become a pilot so he can return and save Qi’ra. Three years later Han has been kicked out of flight school for failing to follow orders and is an infantry soldier helping to conquer a planet. There he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who is pretending to be an Imperial officer so he and his gang can steal a heavy transport. Han recognizes they aren’t with the Empire and tries to blackmail his way onto their ship but they turn Han in as a deserter. Han is thrown in a pit where it is expected he’ll be consumed by a beast that turns out to be a Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Han speaks a little of Chewbacca’s native language and they form a plan to escape. Once out of the pit they jump on Beckett’s stolen transport joining his gang for the theft of a large shipment of coaxium. That heist is broken up by a gang of marauders called the Cloud Riders, the coaxium is destroyed and in the process a couple of Beckett’s gang is killed. Beckett tells Han he was ordered to steal the coaxium by crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) to pay off a debt and Vos will likely kill them for failing. While waiting to see Vos on his space yacht Han sees Qi’ra. She works for Vos and in their meeting to explain their failure she helps guide him to a solution to pay off their debt: Stealing raw coaxium from the mines on Kessel. Vos orders Qi’ra to go along and make sure everything goes smoothly. Knowing they will need a very fast ship to get the raw coaxium to a processing facility before it explodes Qi’ra hunts down legendary smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) who has the fastest ship in the quadrant: The Millennium Falcon.
During the making of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” the film was in the public consciousness for all the wrong reasons: The original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired deep into production when Lucasfilm executives were unhappy about the quality of daily footage coming from the set. Star Alden Ehrenreich was given an acting coach because his performance wasn’t what the executives wanted. The directors weren’t shooting enough angles of various scenes that give editors plenty to work with. Script writers Jonathon and Lawrence Kasdan were angry over Lord and Miller allowing the cast to improvise. Lord and Miller were unhappy when Lawrence Kasdan was brought on set as they felt he was a shadow director. Clearly something had to change and since Lucasfilm was the boss, Lord and Miller were let go but given executive producer credit on the film. Academy Award winning director Ron Howard, who has a long history with Star Wars creator George Lucas, was brought in to essentially start over. Much of what was filmed was scrapped and reshot adding tens of millions of dollars to the production’s budget. Would this be the first Star Wars film since the prequels to be considered just plain bad? The short answer is a qualified no. It’s qualified because you have to be willing to accept some things that I think most Star Wars fans are unwilling to accept: Alden Ehrenreich isn’t a young Harrison Ford; but I’ll get to that a little later.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” wastes no time in delivering the action as the first scene is a chase through the dingy back alleys of Corellia. Soon we’re transplanted to a battlefield on an alien world then we’re robbing a train on yet another planet. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” doesn’t let the viewer get bored with any one location as the action is never in one place for very long. I enjoyed the planet hopping as the film tended to bog down whenever the action stopped and the acting kicked in. Fortunately that doesn’t happen that often.
Fans of the Star Wars original trilogy saga will find the most to enjoy in this film. We hear familiar names like Tatooine and Hutt and finally understand what “Making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” means. We see the first meetings between Han and Chewie and Han and Lando. We see Han win the Millennium Falcon in the famous card game we heard about 35 years ago. The Falcon is all white and clean inside and there are more bits of Star Wars history that jump off the screen and into our childhoods that complete pictures we only could dream of. I’m not saying you have to have been a Star Wars fan since the original trilogy came out in theaters to appreciate “Solo: A Star Wars Story” but it helps.
The movie may actually lean a bit too heavily on nostalgia for its own good. While I enjoyed the way Han and Chewie became friends that friendship seems to develop too quickly and too deeply. The newer characters, with a couple of exceptions, are mostly cannon fodder that are quickly killed off despite being entertaining additions.
Then there is the problem of Alden. While he gives a perfectly fine performance he isn’t a young Harrison Ford and even when he’s being a selfish jerk there’s still a little bit of “aw shucks” in his demeanor. I never was able to forget Ehrenreich was playing a role where Harrison Ford was the role. I know it is unfair and impossible for Lucasfilm to have cast a young Harrison Ford impersonator as Han Solo but seeing someone else play the part was a constant irritant that kept me from fully investing in the film.
Yet I still enjoyed the movie. I suppose I’m easily entertained but watching the younger versions of Han, Lando and Chewie (all being played by different actors from the originals) was a huge amount of fun for me. Seeing the basis for many of the references I heard in theaters back in the 1970’s and 1980’s finally being brought to life was something of a thrill. While we know Han, Lando and Chewie will survive no matter how dire their situation might be and that cuts into the tension some, I want to see in future movies the contraband that Han had to dump that got him in trouble with Jabba the Hutt. I want to know if Han and Darth Vader ever crossed paths prior to A New Hope. There are more stories to tell about the life of Han Solo before he met a kid and a crazy old man in a cantina at Mos Eisley and I want to see them even if I have to overlook who is playing the young smuggler.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is rated PG-13 for violence and sequences of sci-fi action. Chewbacca rips the arms off a guard. We only see him holding the arms not the actual ripping. We also see Chewie slam a guard head first into the ground. There are numerous battles involving blasters and people being shot by them. There are explosions that toss people around. Any foul language is said in an alien tongue.
Probably the most memorable scene in the film is one near the very end where a character makes a cameo appearance via hologram. I had to sit up in my seat and take a very close look at this character to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. For me, that scene alone was worth the two or so hours that preceded it and made me hope that “Solo: A Star Wars Story” makes enough money so we get another film telling us more stories about Han Solo. He might not make me forget about Harrison Ford but Alden Ehrenreich is the actor Lucasfilm and Disney chose to fill his seat at the controls of the Millennium Falcon and as long as they surround him with great visuals and exciting stories I’m willing to accept him for as long as he plays the part.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” gets four stars out of five.
This week three new films hope you’ve seen all the superheroes and space operas and spend your money on something else at the cinema. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
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