Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, Thandie Newton, Joonas Suotamo, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jon Favreau
When news of a movie based on the earlier years of the Star Wars franchise’s most famous space scoundrel was announced, there was definitely a lot of scepticism. Han Solo, the character that launched Harrison Ford’s career and made him a household name, is one of cinema’s most beloved characters. To create a movie that would not feature Ford as his most famous character (arguably) is almost as controversial as doing yet another Indiana Jones movie when Ford should really be putting his feet up. George Lucas had begun putting plans for this movie into motion shortly before selling Lucasfilm to Disney, so it’s been in the works since 2012 and comes hot on the heels of 2016’s Rogue One, another Star Wars spin-off. So as spin-offs and the recasting of old favourites go, does Solo stand up strong amongst its predecessors, or is it just a pile of Bantha poodoo?
Officially part of what is now known as the Star Wars Anthology (which includes Rogue One and any future canonical spin-offs), Solo picks up on the planet Corellia with Han (Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Clarke) as they fight for survival as part of a criminal gang spearheaded by one Lady Proxima (Linda Hunt), a gang that uses orphans to do their dirty work. It’s all very Oliver Twist, with Han essentially being the Artful Dodger to Proxima’s Fagin. Han and Qi’ra long to escape, and soon enough an opportunity presents itself. As they attempt to leave, things go awry and Qi’ra is captured. Cut to three years later (and ten years before the events of A New Hope), Han is engaged in combat. Without giving too much away, it’s here that he meets some criminals that will help (or hinder) him, as well as a very familiar face. Han longs to get back to Corellia and save Qi’ra, but he needs a ship in order to do it. He also needs money to be able to procure said ship. And so the infamous smuggler begins his journey to bigger, but not necessarily better, things.
As origin stories goes, this isn’t a bad one by any means. The characteristics of Han are already apparent in Ehrenreich’s portrayal, however he is not quite yet the nerf herder he makes himself out to be later in life. He still believes in something more than just financial gain – not that that isn’t a means to some of his ends. Having said that, other than a brief mention of not being particularly close to his father, nothing is really said about Han’s past. It would have been more beneficial towards rounding the character out to have known more about his childhood, other than being an orphan (or so it is assumed, not officially confirmed). From the point of view as an origin story for the relationship between Han and Chewbacca, it’s nothing overly dramatic, but their initial meeting is firmly believable and a good starting point for them. Originally Lucas had planned to feature a ten-year-old Solo at the battle on Kashyyyk in Revenge of the Sith, having been orphaned at some point and raised by Chewie. As kind of cool as that appearance would have been, it’s best it never came to be. It would have created a very different dynamic between the two characters, something more akin to father and son rather than friends who rag on each other but trust each other explicitly, as their relationship from A New Hope and onwards portrays.
Ehrenreich’s casting is an interesting one. It was Solo’s original directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who cast Ehrenreich, and he was apparently given an acting coach at one point as the studio wasn’t satisfied with his performance. That makes it sound like he is a terrible actor, but it was likely because they needed him to be closer to Ford’s original character, which is fair enough. Ehrenreich does a perfectly decent job of creating a younger Han: although elements of older Han’s arrogance and self-centred motivations are there (including his haircut), he still retains a sense of young innocence and naivety, despite his situation(s). After all, there’s a lot more to come in Han’s future that will mould him into the man he is to become. It would be interesting to know if Ron Howard would still have cast Ehrenreich in the role had he been on board as director from the beginning.
As for the rest of the cast, there are really only two other roles that audiences really want to see: Chewie and Lando Calrissian. In this movie Chewie is played physically by Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo, taking over from Peter Mayhew, and frankly you can’t tell the difference. A walking carpet is a walking carpet, but the emotion that is evocative through Chewie’s movements and intonations in his growls still give the audience something to connect with in the character. The role of Lando, a favourite amongst many Star Wars fans, has been carefully handed to Donald Glover after previous performances from Billy Dee Williams. Glover’s performance seems to have landed well, perfectly cast to play a younger version of the Sabaak-playing (and cheating) frenemy of Han’s. He is also shown to have a softer side at times, a side that isn’t always so obvious in later films (chronologically). Emilia Clarke provides a sturdy performance as Qi’ra, whilst Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett will break your heart a little. Performances overall are entertaining and likable, for the most part.
At a cost ranging from $250-$350million (and upwards, according to some reports) to make, Solo is apparently one of the most expensive movies ever made. It will need to take $500million just to break even. It will likely make that, and a little more to boot, which will probably be more than enough to greenlight a sequel (the story was left wide open for such a thing). It’s been said that it will even possibly stretch into a trilogy: Ehrenreich has signed on for three movies, though they don’t necessarily all have to revolve around Han Solo, and with a Boba Fett movie in the works he could always pop up there somewhere. It will be interesting to see where the narrative will take Solo before he gets caught up in the Skywalker family issues. Solo overall is an enjoyable adventure story, with plenty of action that often verges on too much action and could do with slowing down a bit and concetrating more on character arcs. Hopefully this can be more of a focus in future. Of all the Star Wars movies it probably embodies the space-western genre the most, with shoot-‘em-ups, gambling and even a train heist-type scene that are standard of a western. Rogue One outdoes Solo for story and emotional investment, and Solo certainly doesn’t take on the ‘space opera’ label the way the main Star Wars movies do, but the film stands up for itself by being true to its three most notable characters, and that’s pretty much all it needs to do whilst entertaining the Star Wars enthusiasts. It leaves you with enough to be able to look forward to the next instalment in the adventures of Han Solo and Chewbacca.