Of all the things that Solo: A Star Wars Story does right, and there are a lot of things, I was most impressed by the interpretation of Han Solo. The Solo we see is a cocky, wisecracking hothead who’s just crazy enough to be a hero, but he’s not quite Harrison Ford- at least not quite yet. The film is about the development of the character, not an impersonation, and it’s a great look at a Han Solo who may not have the skill to justify his confidence, but at the end of the day is still the good guy, and the thematic core of a good guy who doesn’t want to admit it is the most powerful aspect of the film.
Years before the events of the original Star Wars trilogy, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is a petty thief trying to reunite with his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), and teams up with his future partner Chewbacca, the rogue Captain Beckett (Woody Harrelson), and the charming swindler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) to pull off a seemingly impossible heist for the gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).
Alden Ehrenreich is perfect as Han; there are hints of how the character will mature into Ford’s iconic performance, but Ehrenreich makes it his own, giving the character the perfect blend of unexpected morality, overconfidence, and wit, all while being as charismatic as seemingly possible. Taking on such a role is no easy feat, but Ehrenreich makes us believe from the very first scene that he’s the rogue smuggler we all love, and the charm of seeing his dynamic with Chewbacca is undoubtably a highlight of the film.
Donald Glover is similarly brilliant as Lando, and used in just the right capacity to service Han’s journey. I enjoyed everything with Woody Harrelson, who may feel like a Star Wars character in real life, and feels like a gunslinging pirate that would fit in this universe. Of all the things the film throws at us, I wasn’t expecting the emotional weight of Han and Qi’ra’s relationship to be as impactful as it was, and while a commend Emilia Clarke for her performance, the brilliance is in Lawrence Kasdan’s script. Kasdan, the mind behind The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, gives us great script with memorable exchanges, genuinely funny moments, and a lot of heart.
Director Ron Howard gives us a pretty much breathless film with stunning visuals by Bradford Young, transitioning seamlessly from setpiece to setpiece, while still giving breathing room for character bits whilst not squandering time. Howard gives us some really innovative action; while it could easily just be people running around and shooting each other, Howard delivers some creative action pieces, from chases to dogfights to monsters to shootouts. It doesn’t feel repetitive, and the ending sequence is a genuinely well thought out climax that peaks with the memorable cast of characters attempting to outwit each other.
I expected to like Solo: A Star Wars Story, as Ron Howard is a highly competent director that can deliver spectacle and heart, but I didn’t expect to be gripped by this sweeping journey. In the same way that The Last Jedi understood the appeal of the Force and the mystical elements of Star Wars better than ever before, Solo understands the appeal of the pulp side- it’s pirates, gunslingers, and gangsters- but in space! I didn’t know you could isolate that element of the original trilogy and succeed so well, but Solo: A Star Wars Story is the adventure worth taking and the story worth telling. Grade: A-