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Solo: A Star Wars Story has a lot of masters to which it is required to answer: it must appeal to wide audience, must appease a rabid and, sometimes, irrational, fanbase, must overcome a public skeptical of its troubled production history (not every movie survives when directors who have shot a reported 70% of the film are replaced late in the process) and must win over those opposed to its trying to bring to a life a new version of one of the most beloved characters in cinematic history. To achieve all these goals would like making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.
Does Solo shorten the Run to 12?
Perhaps not entirely, but it comes very, very close.
I am not of the “nobody asked for a Han Solo movie” crowd and, while I love Harrison Ford and his steely-excellent work as Han Solo (who does not?), I have enjoyed various actors assaying interpretations of other, likewise iconic characters. Why would I be up in arms about Alden Ehrenreich giving Solo a shot? I, for one, liked the idea of seeing more adventures of Han and Chewbacca. I liked the idea of finding out just how Han won the Millennium Falcon in a card game or uncovering the origins of his clearly complex relationship with Lando Calrissian.
Therefore, I liked Solo. A lot.
It seems to me that the powers behind the Star Wars movies are taking a page from their corporate partners – Marvel Studios – book. That page suggests that one can create various genres of movie within established cinematic universes. Marvel has given us straight up superhero origin stories, political espionage films, science fiction comedies and more. Why can Star Wars movies not do the same thing? Rogue One: A Star Wars Story gave us Star Wars’ interpretation of a gritty war movie. Now we get Solo, an Ocean’s 11-like heist movie set in the universe of the Force, the Empire and the budding rebellion.
Give me more.
Ehrenreich does an excellent job in the title role. Stepping into such large shoes must have been daunting for him, but he handles himself very well. He does not offer a Harrison Ford impersonation, rather he creates a Han who is not quite as accomplished, but on his way, not quite as hardened but getting more coarse and not quite as wise-ass but we can see that coming. He gives us a Portrait of the Scoundrel as a Young Man and it works, especially in his interactions with Chewbacca. This pairing works so very well in the movie that I wished there was more of it, but the movie has more to accomplish than just a traveling, buddy picture will allow. Maybe next time.
Along for the thrill-ride (and the movie has thrilling moments) are Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Olivia Clarke and Paul Bettany, all terrific in their roles. Each of their interactions with Han mold him and move him closer to the character we will meet in A New Hope and each of them knows exactly what they are doing in the film. They, along with Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37, will become established parts of the Star Wars mythos in no time and they deserve to be.
But Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian establishes himself right away in the role and provides a dare-I-say smooth bridge to Billy Dee Williams’ version of the character. Solo is at its best when Han and Lando are matching wits and watching Solo attempt to win the Falcon from Calrissian is one of the real joys of Solo. Any sequel, and I do hope there is one, that does not feature Glover would be making a mistake. Frankly, he could likely carry a Lando: A Star Wars franchise of his own.
Ron Howard does an amazing job pulling together this production. Unlike other movies that have lost directors (Justice League, anyone?), it is very difficult to see where the original directors left off and Howard stepped in. He brings an American Graffiti feel to the movie and that is a perfect choice. He scores winning performances from his cast, stays true to the Star Wars universe and delivers a terrific movie.
Whether you “wanted” Solo or not, if you are a Star Wars fan, there is nothing here to complain about, much to enjoy and a surprise cameo that left this particular audience goer mouth agape…
Solo: A Star Wars Story works.
For my part, I would love to see more installments.
SOLO receives FOUR KESSEL RUNS out of a possible FIVE.