SPOILER-FREE – SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY soars, hitting all the right notes
Han Solo has always been trouble. It’s kind of his whole schtick – outlaw, cynical, seen-it-all, smooth talker – trouble. I guess it’s fitting that making a film solely about him was bound to be trouble too.
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY has had a lot of trouble to rise above. Sure the general public likely doesn’t know or care that the movie was almost finished when Lucasfilm fired its co-directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street), over “creative differences.” Rumors ran rampant to explain the rift, and it’s hardly the first time a director has butted heads with Lucasfilm head and veteran producer Kathleen Kennedy. Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) was fired from EPISODE IX before production began, and Gareth Edwards‘ ROGUE ONE was heavily reshot without his involvement. In fact, there have been so many director problems in the Star Wars universe, Kennedy is often targeted by fan blogs as being the problem.
There’s just one issue with that theory – the movies are good; often because they push the boundaries of what Star Wars can be. SOLO is no exception, and it might be one of the best, if not the best, film produced since Disney acquired the brand and started its engines up again. It’s hard to argue with results, and Kennedy produces them in spades.
I must admit I had my doubts. Did we really need a movie explaining where Han Solo came from, and why would we want that if Harrison Ford couldn’t play him? Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!), although physically not really resemblant of Ford at all, somehow fits perfectly as younger Han. Maybe it’s the smile and swagger, the floppy hair – but I suspect it’s more the sum of his performance’s parts that make him the perfect successor to Ford. He nails it.
He’s not on his own in that respect. Superstar on the rise Donald Glover (Atlanta) embodies Lando Calrissian so effortlessly, one wonders if he brought those fabulous capes from home. The excellent script from father-son team Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back) and Jonathan Kasdan (Californication) features plenty of sly references to the original saga, some more overt than others, but all hilarious.
Some much needed female firepower is provided by a fierce trio of TV goddesses. Thandie Newton (WestWorld) slays as Val. Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) provides the perfect foil as mysterious Qi’ra. Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) brings crusading sass to my new favorite droid, L3-37. Woody Harrelson (Cheers) is here too, and while he does a fine job, he does a fine job playing the same character he always plays. Jon Favreau (Iron Man) is a bit wasted on Rio, and Joonas Suotamo (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) is the perfect Chewbacca. Paul Bettany (Avengers: Infinity War) has the distinction of appearing in two Disney mega-blockbusters in a row, and really chews the scenery as crime boss Dryden Vos.
It’s impossible to watch the film, knowing all the backstage drama, without wondering which scenes were helmed by Lord & Miller, and which by fourth quarter replacement, Ron Howard (Apollo 13). The film is seamless, fast-paced, and an incredible amount of fun. It feels like an old Star Wars movie, which is high praise. Howard is a great fit, and I hope he returns for the inevitable STILL SOLO: ANOTHER STAR WARS STORY.
It’s impossible to summarize the plot without ruining key moments and surprises that fans will gasp and thrill to in the theater, so suffice to say SOLO explains a lot of how Han Solo came to be Han Solo in fun and surprising ways. Origin stories are tricky because we know the ending, but SOLO finds new ground to cover in the expansive Star Wars universe while still giving us the moments we want with Han, Chewie, Lando, the Millennium Falcon, and some surprise cameos that provoked audible screaming at the screening I attended.
SOLO is going to be a huge hit, make a lot of money, and spawn its own sequels. It’s not heavy, like ROGUE ONE or THE LAST JEDI. It’s the perfect summer movie, and will wash that dusty Thanos aftertaste right out of your mouth.
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY lands in theaters on May 25, 2018.