FILM REVIEW – SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. With Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Joonas Suotamo, Donald Glover. Written by Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan. Directed by Ron Howard. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence. 135 minutes.
What you get out of SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY will depend on what you expect going in. If you’re looking forward to a fast-paced, action-packed movie that fills in the backstory of Han Solo – the character memorably played by Harrison Ford in the original “Star Wars” films and sequels – you should have a good time. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a serious exploration of the character and his motivations, you’re going to be disappointed.
We first meet young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) as a young thief on a dismal backwater planet where he’s just made a big score that should allow him and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) to escape to greener pastures. Things go wrong – we’ll leave the plot details sketchy – and they are separated. Han eventually hooks up with Beckett (Woody Harrelson, appearing in his third science fiction franchise after “The Hunger Games” and “Planet of the Apes”), a big-time criminal whose advice is “trust no one.” Han also meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) under unusual circumstances, and the two join Beckett’s gang for a train robbery.
Veteran director Ron Howard – new to the series – plays out the train sequence in a way that would be the climax of another movie, all the while knowing that the script by Jonathan Kasdan and his father Lawrence Kasdan (who worked on the screenplay for “The Empire Strikes Back”) has greater thrills in store. Indeed, the second half of the film, involving an even bigger robbery, also introduces us to Lando Calrissian (with Donald Glover smoothly playing a younger version of the Billy Dee Williams character) and the legendary spaceship, the Millennium Falcon.
While there’s plenty of winks and nods to the fans – including a subtle dig at series creator George Lucas’s re-edit of the original film so that Han would not shoot first – the film is a self-contained story, involving not only the elaborate heists but plenty of double- and triple-crosses. Paul Bettany, who plays the introspective Vision in the “Avengers” movies, here is the slick and vicious Dryden Vos, a crime boss who can kill someone in cold blood and then warmly play host to new arrivals. Except for the three characters from the original movies, there’s no guarantee anyone else is going to come out alive.
Much attention will be focused on Ehrenreich. He does not attempt to be a young Harrison Ford but instead gives us a raw and ambitious young man who we can see – with years more experience – will turn into the Han Solo we already know. The door is open to a sequel (the opposite of how the door was firmly shut at the end of “Rogue One”), and it will be interesting to see if Ehrenreich’s performance evolves. With the origin story safely out of the way, a sequel could focus more on character.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story,” shows that “Rogue One” was not a fluke. There are stories to be told in the “Star Wars” universe that don’t have to advance the main saga (as has been shown in numerous original novels and TV series). With the franchise now more than forty years old, it seems there’s plenty of life in it yet.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.