At some point in every Star Wars fan’s life they end up asking these series of questions: How did Han Solo and Chewbacca meet up for the first time? Why is he called Han Solo anyway? How did Han win the Millennium Falcon from Lando? Why did Han go on the Kessel Run, and why did he have to do it in 12 parsecs? The original movies hinted at Han Solo’s rich backstory but never provided those answers before. This meant that fans could spend years with fellow fans theorizing, arguing with one another, and in effect building up the legend of Han Solo without a lick of effort from Lucasfilm. Solo: A Star Wars Story arrives with the promise of finally settling once and for all the endless speculation as to who Han Solo is and where he came from (while also answering some questions we weren’t particularly asking along the way). And while there is some thrill in finally getting the answers we’ve wanted for so long, there is also the inevitable disappointment in finding out that the truth does not and could not ever live up to the legend that has been built up over the last four decades.
Arriving barely five months after The Last Jedi the movie starts at a whirlwind pace as we find a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) trying to steal, cheat, and swindle his way off his homeworld Corellia with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Naturally as most Han Solo schemes go, this one doesn’t end according to plan leading to Qi’ra being trapped on Corellia and Han signing up with the Empire to escape capture. Fortunately for us his sojourn with the Imperials turns out to be a short one as he is soon caught up with a crew of smugglers led by the enigmatic Beckett (Woody Harrelson at his most Woody Harrelson) who are desperately trying to pay off a debt to the criminal and sociopathic warlord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and their quest to do exactly that forms the thrust of the movie. Along the way Han picks up his furry best friend, the enigmatic Lando (Donald Glover), his long-lost girlfriend, and the best hunk-of-junk in the galaxy, all while going on that legendary Kessel run that he will eventually get to brag about to a starry-eyed Luke in A New Hope (1977).
The whole journey is more or less entertaining in the moment and is even at times exhilarating. But it is also the first Star Wars movie that feels completely inessential. The previous movie to get the moniker “A Star Wars Story” was Rogue One which told the story of how the Rebels ended up getting the Death Star plans. It was an important episode in Star Wars folklore that previously only had a couple of references in A New Hope which lends itself to being a story that can get fleshed out in ways that still surprise us. Han Solo however is one of the most fleshed out characters in the Star Wars canon as one of the big three heroes of the original trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi in case you have been living under a rock the last half century). In addition, in the long narrative arc of his character, it is clear that the most important and interesting part of that arc did not happen in the early part of his life but when he eventually joined the Rebellion to defeat the Empire in the original trilogy. There is very little about who Han Solo is as a person that we don’t already know by his heroism in defeating the Empire. It is for this reason that Solo seems inconsequential. It feels like a Wikipedia page come to life which is interesting enough if you are a fan of the series in the same way speculating about Star Wars is interesting to fans. But there is never the sense that Solo gave me any insight into who Han is and what makes him tick that I didn’t already know.
This is not to say that there aren’t delights to be found in this movie. I’m happy to report that all the bad buzz about Alden Ehrenreich’s ability (or inability) to fill Han’s shoes are quite overblown. Ehrenreich makes the character his own which does take some getting used, but once the movie settles in you hardly notice as you strap in for the ride. Fitting in much more easily into his iconic role is Donald Glover as the suave gambler and smuggler Lando Calrissian who steals every scene he’s in. There is also inherent joy in seeing Han and Chewie’s relationship blossom and grow while a new droid is easily one of the most interesting new characters to be introduced in Star Wars.
Additionally if there is anything justifying Solo‘s existence, it is that these side-movies take full liberties to explore different parts of the Star Wars universe not seen before. Solo features new worlds and cultures far removed from the Skywalker-centric main series. The movie also has nary a Force-user in sight, nor is there much concern about rebellions and empires for most of the movie’s runtime, eschewing mythology for a thrill-a-minute romp through the galaxy with plenty of B-movie sensibilities. It is simply a straightforward grimy heist tale that just happens to be set in the Star Wars universe and there is something refreshing about that. Every fan-service moment in this movie also did give me a mild fan-pleasing thrill even as those moments shackles the story from going anywhere truly inventive.
Solo is competent in a way that never truly impresses. When Ron Howard stepped in for the fired Christopher Miller and Phil Lord three-quarters of the way through production, we all feared the worst. Fortunately, the end product has not turned out to be a disaster. It is even better than most of the prequels. But there is nothing about this movie that is going to linger in my memory or keep me begging for more. There is a couple of swerves right at the end that finally hints at an uncharted part of Han Solo’s story. Unfortunately you’re going to have to wait for the next instalment from Lucasfilm to see it. Doubtlessly I, as a fan, will dutifully show up. It remains to be seen if anybody else will need to bother.
Directed by Ron Howard
Written by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Joonas Suatomo, Phoebe Waller-Bridge.