24th May 2018 (UK) 25th May 2018 (US)
During an adventure into a dark criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.
Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover
To call Solo: A Star Wars Story‘s production troubled would be like saying the franchise that it belongs to is “quite popular”.
Concerns began early on as a reported $54 million was spent after a mere 20 days in to the films development, then the original directors Chris Lord and Phil Miller (The Lego Movie) were unceremoniously fired citing ‘creative differences’. It was later revealed that they were hired under the impression of making a more comedic entry into the Star Wars franchise, a claim that would make sense given their previous work. They were replaced with the more conventional, drama driven choice of the Oscar winning Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13). The woes didn’t end there, as it emerged that such a small amount of faith was put in lead Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!, Stoker) that an acting coach was brought in to mould him into the Han they were looking for. Even with the backing of the Star Wars name and its recently hired Award-winning director, Solo, it seemed, had all the makings of a classic Hollywood catastrophe.
So it’s even more astounding then that not only is there absolutely no trace of the strife it went through to reach completion, but it manages to be the most entertaining Star Wars instalment in nearly two decades.
Zipping along at a hyperspeed pace, Solo: A Star Wars Story chronicles the early years of the original intergalactic smuggler and breezes through all the pit stops that make the character of Solo who he is. Events such as meeting his future co-pilot and Wookie best friend Chewbacca, how he came to possess the infamous Millennium Falcon ship and the origins of his back-and-forth friendship with notorious gambler Lando Calrissian (in a smoother than silk performance by Donald Glover) to name a few.
There’s no denying that Harrison Ford is Han Solo and fortunately Ehrenreich doesn’t try to take that crown with a cheap imitation. He portrays a young Solo as a cocky, confident and optimistic idealist who more often than not completely misjudges the situation and gets it wrong. Ehrenreich gets the balance just right with a cheeky smile and swagger in his step, making this incarnation of the character his own while fully respecting the older and wiser Solo from the later movies. If an acting coach was hired for his performance then, quite frankly, so what? It clearly worked and I’m sure it’s not the first time it’s ever happened.
But Solo really flies thanks to the fact he gets by with a little help from friends (and fiends), namely Woody Harrelson’s conniving Beckett, Emilia Clarke as Han’s first love Qi’ra, Glover’s Calrissian and Paul Bettany as the facially scarred Dryden Vos – the closest thing to a villain the film has. There’s a whole host of other faces that make appearances, but here’s where Solo’s energetic pacing works against it. They’re not on screen long enough to really make an impression and are gone from the bigger picture as quickly as they arrive. Chewie is always joyous to watch and one of the best aspects of the film is witnessing their relationship blossom. Joonas Suotamo steps in to play Chewie, who has never looked more like a man in a suit than he does here; it conjures up similarities to the grainy Bigfoot video that has circulated around the internet for years.
Solo is a much less serious affair than the last few Star Wars movies. There’s arguably less pressure to appease fans, but Howard and father/son writing duo Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan still succeed in doing so with their infectiously likeable space opera. It certainly feels more like an alternate universe tie-in novel or fan-made ‘what if?’ fantasy scenario rather than 100% concrete canon into the Star Wars mythology, but it’s a completely acceptable version of Solo’s history nonetheless, even if it doesn’t do much to surprise.
Of course, being a prequel means that the threat towards Han and Chewie is at absolute zero, so Howard smartly makes the action set pieces as enthralling as possible. Instead of focusing on putting them in danger where we know they’re going to get out of, the sequences see them in tricky settings that make you wonder exactly how they’re going to get out of it, not if.
At 135 minutes, it runs a little too long and could easily have wrapped up at the two-hour mark if a little more discipline was used in the cutting room, but Solo is an uncomplicated and charming adventure. Coming just six months after the incredibly divisive The Last Jedi and coupled with its development issues, expectations for Solo weren’t exactly sky high – something that ultimately works entirely in its favour.
Newcomers won’t feel overwhelmed by an extensively established franchise and its plethora of planets, while long-time fans will be pleasantly surprised by Howard’s admiration, respect for the source material and ability to build upon it.
We’ve got a good feeling about this becoming the unexpected hit of the year.
Interesting characters with cast members that do them justice
Satisfying answers to most of the big Solo questions
Lack of any real threat or villain
Runs a little too long