Solo: A Star Wars Story Spoiler-free Review

Here are my first thoughts about the movie. I wrote this up pretty quickly, so I apologize if there are any spelling or grammatical errors. More thoughts to come after I see it again.

A long time ago… I wanted to be Han Solo. When I was a kid, I thought he was the coolest guy from that galaxy far, far away. And to be honest, that hasn’t changed much. Han is without a doubt my favorite character from the Star Wars universe. But when Lucasfilm and Disney announced a young Han Solo movie, I wasn’t thrilled. I had flashbacks to the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which while they were entertaining, they weren’t great. I wasn’t sure how anyone other than Harrison Ford could play Han Solo. In addition, I wasn’t sure we needed a Han Solo movie.

So I went into the movie last night cautiously optimistic. I’d seen some interesting moments in the trailers, and heard and read good things from the writers, Lawrence and Jon Kasdan. Lawrence wrote the final draft of the script for The Empire Strikes Back and wrote the scripts for Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark. He also co-wrote the final script for The Force Awakens, so if anyone knows how to write Han Solo, it’s Larry Kasdan. But, given how much I hated Rogue One, I was nervous about how this new stand-alone Star Wars movie would turn out.

Well, to sum it up – Solo: A Star Wars Story is a cargo hold full of fun. It’s a light, fun Star Wars story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While there are absolutely serious moments, and very high stakes involved, it doesn’t get bogged down by that. It’s quick and light on its feet. Let’s get into some of the (spoiler-free) specifics:

Alden Ehrenreich as Han was my biggest concern. Could this kid pull it off? Well, keeping in mind that this is NOT the Han Solo we first met in the Mos Eisley cantina, but rather the Han that eventually becomes that Han Solo, he pulled it off. Much like his character, he managed to accomplish the nearly unthinkable with the odds stacked against him. I’ve read several articles that said it takes your brain a while to stop comparing him to Harrison Ford, but I didn’t have that problem. The opening sequence had me convinced almost immediately that this is Han Solo. This is a younger, slightly more innocent and idealistic Han, but by the end of the movie, we know a lot more about why he is the way he is by the time Luke and Obi-Wan meet him.

Donald Glover is perfect as Lando. In fact, while he’s not really doing an impersonation of Billy Dee Williams, there are points in the movie that if you close your eyes and listen, you’d almost think it was Billy Dee. He’s good, he gets to show us another side of Lando with some emotion, and I enjoyed him a lot.

I was worried about Woody Harrelson having anything to do with a Star Wars movie, but he was fun. His character of Beckett is the old gunslinger & Han’s mentor, and he’s fun in it.

Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra (pronounced Kira) was good, although I never really liked her character a LOT. I suspect that might be subconscious because we all know that Han ends up with Leia, but she does do a good job in the role.

This is actually Joonas Suotamo’s third outing as Chewie – he doubled for Peter Mayhew in The Force Awakens, and then played Chewie full-time in The Last Jedi. I have to tell you, in watching interviews with him, he may be my favorite new thing about Star Wars. He speaks often about Peter Mayhew, and how he strives to make sure that his own Chewie is Peter’s Chewie, and that we as an audience get the Chewie we know and love. Well, he does that in this movie, and the story gives Chewie a little more depth than we’ve seen before. He doesn’t quite move exactly like Peter Mayhew, but he gets it very, very close. Combined with the fact that the costume (especially the face) actually looks more like the Chewie from the original trilogy than the Revenge of the Sith Chewie does, and it’s pretty darned close to spot-on.

Paul Bettany is great as the antagonist in the film, Dryden Vos. He plays this character a bit like he did his character in Firewall opposite Harrison Ford – he’s calm, smooth, and sophisticated, yet he’s rutheless. Star Wars really hasn’t had a villain like him, and it’s a refreshing thing. I did find myself thinking a couple of times “he he, that’s Vision”. But that’s my own fault.

The rest of the cast was what they should be. Characters that help move the story along, bring a little comic relief, and give some of the other characters motivation. Keep in mind, this is Star Wars, and while no one will probably be nominated for an Oscar for their performances in this film, they are all light-years ahead of the performances from Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen in the prequel films.

Shifting gears a bit, one of my biggest complaints about Rogue One is how the film opens. You get the Lucasfilm Logo, the “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” title card, then BAM! right into the movie, with a loud orchestra hit accompanying the transition. It was jarring, and while I understood they wanted to reserve the classic opening crawl for the saga films, it felt odd not having it. In Solo, Ron Howard found a great way to bridge that gap, and it works well. I won’t get specific, but it was the first indication that “ok, this guy gets it”.

The first act of the film is visually dark and gritty, with a bit of a desaturated feel to it. I didn’t really find it distracting, but at the same time, there are a few shots that are a little bit hard to see (at least in the theater we were in last night). Interestingly, the color saturation and brightness of the film seems to increase as it progresses, right along with Han’s character development.

The dialogue is fine. It doesn’t get too techno-babbly, but yet still feels like Star Wars. If you pay attention, you might catch some nods to the original trilogy, the prequels and even a video game or two.

The story works. There were several times I found myself thinking “this feels like a Han Solo book” – not that it directly copies anything from the books, but that it has that feel. It’s primarily a heist movie, with a western movie feel to it, and that works great for Han Solo.

There is NO mention of the Force in this movie, and that’s actually a refreshing thing. After all, Han said “hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side”, and this movie takes that advice literally. In fact, this movie settles once and for all that Han will – and does – shoot first.

There’s some great chase sequences (both on the ground and in space), and seeing Han pilot the Falcon through some pretty nasty stuff is a lot of fun. There was one “Way to Go Han” shout-out from Lando during one flight sequence that felt slightly misplaced, but it’s gone in an instant.

You could say that this movie works its way through a series of checkboxes of things we need to see happen – and that wouldn’t be unfair to say. But, these things all happen in a fun way, and let’s face it – it’s a prequel, we know a lot about this character, we’re just seeing how he got to where we first met him 41 years ago.

We get to see a couple locations/planets that we as Star Wars fans have known about for years but have never seen on-screen. That’s a fun thing all on its own.

John Powell’s score works for the movie. While I can’t say I walked out humming any new themes, it seems to blend flawlessly with the classic John Williams themes that do make it into the movie. On that note, another one of my complaints with Rogue One is that the wrong themes were used in the wrong places, or not used when they should have been. As an example, why did Giacchino compose an entirely new theme for the Empire when he already had the Imperial March he could use? Well, Solo gets it right. There are several recognizable John Williams cues used in this film, and all used where they should be (as an example, when a Star Destroyer cuts off the Falcon’s flight path, we hear the same piece of music from a similar scene in A New Hope). 

There’s a battlefield scene that – to me – feels more authentic than the battle scenes in Rogue One. This scene is dirty, muddy, and gritty. It feels like a scene from a WWII movie. At the same time, you’re in the trenches with Imperial troops, and for possibly the first time in a Star Wars movie we’re shown that they’re just men following orders. It actually felt a lot like a scene that could have been in Captain America – The First Avenger. 

There are plenty of call-backs and homages in this film. Watch closely and you might even spot a little something from Indiana Jones.

There’s a surprise near the end that had me saying “Holy crap! Holy crap! I can’t believe they just did that!”… but it also sets up the possibility for more adventures with this young, hotshot Corellian pilot. If that happens, I’ll be first in line.

Well, that’s it for now, I have to leave – I have tickets for another showing at 1:00.

 

 

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