The next entry in Disney and Lucas film series of Star Wars Anthology films provides audiences with an origin story of sorts for the franchise’s most popular character: Han Solo. Solo: A Star Wars Story is a science fiction crime film that delves into the seedier parts of the Star Wars universe, only briefly glimpsed in earlier installments. It is a fun comedic crime movie set in space with outstanding performances, though the film suffers from just how conventional the creators’ chose to make it as well as it’s status as a prequel.
Upon immediate viewing, the best part of this film is how removed it is from the larger Star Wars narrative audiences are accustomed toward, and instead acts as – for the most part – a stand alone story. The criminal underworld, as mentioned before, was never explored in depth in previous films, but Solo delved right into this element with the main characters navigating dangerous criminal organizations and risky deals. This makes the film a nice change of pace for the franchise and offers a pleasant alternative to the usual space opera. What makes this troubling is that despite the stand-alone nature of this film, it seems determined to tie itself into the larger Star Wars universe which is to the film’s detriment as it feels forced. Solo works becuase of how different it is, and when the movie starts to seem like a traditional Star Wars film, it loses it’s charm. One notable aspect of this film is the number of morally ambiguous characters, which has only been witnessed prior to Solo in Rogue One. Several of the core characters in the film don’t properly fit into the neat categories of good and evil, though lack of character development means this potential is never fully realized.
The storyline is fairly mundane and doesn’t offer much in terms of innovation. The heists perpetrated by characters in the film are relatively simplistic, nothing near the complexity of what one might see in an Ocean’s 11 or even a Fast and the Furious film (the later ones where they stopped making movies about racing). Story-wise it is a relatively straightforward – which is fine except for that Solo has sub-plots that have almost nothing to do with the central story. One of them is actually very promising and thought-provoking, but it doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the narrative. In fact it’s distracting and harmful to the final product.
As for the main protagonist, Han Solo, the film offers relatively nothing new for his character. In fact, Han is one of the film’s weakest links, as his character has little to no arc in the film. While the character does go through some changes in the film, they’re superficial at best. He is a rogue with a heart of gold, and that’s pretty much his character from beginning till end. Han doesn’t really go through any changes, which makes one question why this film was needed in the first place. Ehreinreich does a good job as the notorious rogue and delivers many of his lines with all the cool arrogance one would expect of Han Solo. There are moments where his portrayal of the title character seems off and the performance is uneven, but thankfully this is a rare occurrence.
Ehreinreich’s positive performance is one of many, as despite an average story, Solo does boast an incredible cast – all of whom give superb performances. Despite any story-telling flaws, this film is very funny, with some cleverly written lines. However, what truly makes those humorous moments work are the actors. Glover perfectly captures a younger Lando and brings his own sense of flare to the iconic role. Truly a performance worthy of Billy Dee Williams’ work in the original trilogy. Paul Bettany’s performance is by far the film’s best, as Bettany gives his all to a character that spends very little time on screen. Equally charismatic and vicious, Dryden Vos entertains every minute he’s on screen. Clarke and Harrelson both give excellent performances, though neither characters are as well developed as they should have been. Qi’ra in particular is one of the most interesting characters in the film – more so than even Han Solo – and deserved more screen time to fully develop her character.
Another sorely underdeveloped character is Chewbacca. He may not speak English and only Han can ever understand him, but he’s still a significant character. Chewbacca is Han’s best friend and partner, but you never see that bond develop in this film, with their initial introduction feeling unceremonious. Considering how close those characters are and how iconic their friendship is, it’s a shame this origin movie does little to build that bond between the characters. Solo just assumes audiences known that these characters are going to be life long friends. In this regard Solo relies too much on audiences having seen the previous films in the Star Wars Saga, which leads to lazy writing.
Visually this film is quite the experience, with great special effects work and fully realized worlds. Solo brought new ship and alien designs to the franchise, all of which are cool and add to the visual language of the film. The action scenes are some of the film’s highlights, with the train heist being one of the best action set pieces in any Star Wars movie. It’s different than many set pieces that have been previously seen in the franchise, and it’s the only time Solo ever feels like the Sci-fi Western fans were promised upon it’s announcement. The film also has that ‘lived in’ feel of the original trilogy, which makes for beautifully detailed sets and the perfect amount of nostalgia.
John Powell’s score is highly effective and makes each scene – even the lesser ones – a joy to watch. His marauders theme is particularly eerie and perfectly suits these new additions to Star Wars canon. Despite this good work, no Star Wars film is complete without John Williams, and his theme for Han is the highlight of Solo’s score. It’s beautiful, epic and perfectly fits the character of Han Solo.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fun action adventure film with great acting, though it had the potential to be so much more. Overall it makes for an enjoyable time in the theater.