This review is likely to contain information that could be construed as spoilers.
If you do not want to know details about “Solo: A Star Wars Story” – STOP READING.
If you read on and feel your experience of the film has been ruined, you only have yourself to blame – you have been warned.
It may never be known how the latest instalment of George Lucas’ initial cinematic creation would have played out had Phil Lord and Christopher Miller been retained as directors. Would the comedic tone that turned the pre-release scoff of a 21 Jump Street reboot into two of the best comedies of the decade provided the Star Wars universe with flair distinct from the previous nine releases? Had Michael Kenneth Williams been available for reshoots – the man responsible for portraying the greatest antihero put to television – would his transfixing brilliance elevated Solo to be better than the film currently screening? It is a purely speculative exercise to hypothesise how the latest from Academy Award winning director Ron Howard would have played out under different circumstances; so to answer whether Solo: A Star Wars Story is a worthy addition to one of the seminal films series of all time – Yes and No.
Set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One, Solo introduces Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) as the young future hero who is subject to a life of hardship on the Galactic Empire-controlled Corellia. Orchestrating a break for freedom alongside sweetheart Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones) during an excellently staged opening, the pairing are separated by Imperials with freedom within grasp. Plotting to rescue his beloved after securing a ship, young Han crosses paths with a troupe of mercenaries headed up by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri). Liberating Wookie ally Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo reprising the role made famous by Peter Mayhew), the motley crew eye off a heist of proaxium – a highly volatile and coveted fuel source – before going their separate ways.
What follows is something akin to The Fast and the Furious series set in space, with kinetic action scenes, big personalities, emotional character beats and double crosses playing out. Adding to the drama, Han and co. come across fan favourites Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, Atlanta) and the Millennium Falcon, along with the re-emergence of an ambiguous Qi’ra working under the thumb of crime lord Drydon Voss (Paul Bettany, The Avengers).
At its best Solo exudes the sense of adventure and excitement that has thrilled fans going back to 1977, while incorporating philosophical ideas of morality that transcended Lucas’ homage to the films of his youth into the patient zero of contemporary Hollywood. In establishing an origin for Harrison Ford’s beloved scoundrel, screenwriting son-father duo Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan do a good job of laying the groundwork for original trilogy favourites Han, Chewbacca and Lando, while creating new characters that leave far greater impressions than anyone, save Ben Mendelsohn, in the previous anthology release Rogue One.
In Woody Harrelson’s seasoned mercenary Beckett, Emilia Clarke’s femme fatale Qi’ra and Paul Bettany’s ruthless crime lord Vos, the moral ambiguity that was so clearly defined in Lucas’ image of Star Wars is allowed to introduce elements of grey into a galaxy depicted as complex due to conflict. Just as last year’s The Last Jedi referenced the profiteers of war mongering, Solo concerns itself at times with the ability for the disenfranchised to self-determine and the inequality of hierarchical power structures that enables the powerful minority to benefit off the suffering and labour of the majority. In a time where the real world economic divide between the rich and poor is widening, rebellion against a rigged system is just as relevant here as it is in a galaxy far, far away.
There is a lot to like about Solo; a sequel is inevitable not just in Disney’s interest to print money, but in order to resolve issues of continuity that if left unanswered have the ability to detrimentally change the complexion of the entire saga. It may be presumptuous to make such a decrying statement within 24 hours of the film’s release, however in introducing a seemingly finitely resolved pre-existing character in the closing stages, the literacy required to make sense of the narrative choice is made in the interests of appeasing die-hards while leaving casual viewers bewildered. For those well-versed in the animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels, the sequel-baiting character will likely leave them enamoured, but for audiences who enjoy the films without feeling the urge to dive into the expanded universe of Legends versus official canon, it is an unnecessary justification to be up to date on 10 seasons of appendices.
With Disney making the decision to change the canon after acquiring the rights in 2012, the prospect of new stories from within the Star Wars universe was music to the ears of audiences largely unsatisfied with the prequels. The world of Star Wars inspires wonder and imagination across all ages, but in fixating upon the minutiae of ‘making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs’ or getting the last word on ‘Han Shot First’, the result becomes something akin to the Seltzer and Friedberg spoofs of the 2000s. References are made to stand in for original perspectives and whereas Lucas’ intertextual nods to Flash Gordon, Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress and Joseph Campbell among others created a novel take on recognised works, the new Where’s Wally? cinema trend provides instant gratification without the staying power that inspired a legion of children who are now in a position to tell the stories that changed their lives.
Despite criticisms of the 135-minute space western, the film provides a highly enjoyable experience that for all bar a few moments in need of further development proves that much like the proaxium MacGuffin, if the previously rare commodity of Star Wars is to become ubiquitous, at least the journey will be entertaining.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is unlikely to be anyone’s favourite instalment in the beloved saga – that is a task few, if any, of the Disney-era releases are likely to accomplish. However, if a film can be incredibly entertaining, present interesting characters and leave audiences largely satisfied, despite some flaws, that makes it something worth enjoying for what it is rather than being held up for what it isn’t.