Solo: A Star Wars Story was almost predisposed to fail; a film forced to reckon with an audience who whispered about its rumored rocky production process months before the first screening.
Fans following the movie every step of the way anticipated disaster. They prepared for a messy Star Wars movie, joking about accepting our loss and waiting for Episode 9. None of Solo’s trailers or TV spots seemed to stave off troubling reports and rumors; fired directors, last minute emergency acting coaches, script problems and disagreements between Lucasfilm executives and talent helped to paint Solo as a franchise misfire.
All of which is why Solo’s charming, exciting, genuinely entertaining existence is proof that even prophesied disasters can defy all odds.
Solo: A Star Wars Story takes place before Rogue One and after Revenge of the Sith. The Empire is in power, and people across the galaxy are trying their best to survive under a fascist regime. Young Han Solo, trapped on a planet with no future prospects, is prepared to do anything to escape his dreary life and become a pilot. His plight leads him to space pirate Beckett (Woody Harreslon) and a seedy underworld he never expected.
Alden Ehrenreich’s performance was the biggest mystery going into Solo. I read the various reports about Lucasfilm’s concerns over Ehrenreich’s acting, supposedly hiring coaches to help his performance in line with the tone and previous films. Ehrenreich couldn’t just be passable. Stepping into the shoes of Star Wars’ most iconic bad-boy-turned-fearless-rebellion-leader meant becoming Harrison Ford. Every move, every sentence, every nod Ehrenreich performed needed to encompass Ford’s same charismatic nonchalance.
It’s a nearly impossible task, and one that Ehrenreich performs with his own take. He doesn’t embody the Han Solo that fans idolized and romanticized, the man whose face graced posters of that we plastered to our bedroom ceiling, but he brings just enough individuality to the role to rejuvenate the smuggler, riffing on a character from a bygone era of cinema who himself echoed characters from bygone eras of cinema. Ehrenreich isn’t aiming to be this generation’s all-American action star. He’s just charming in his own right.
Wink winks and nudge nudges litter Solo, elbowing us in the ribs every time a character makes a reference to something within the Star Wars universe. Fan servicing is tricky. Too much can deflate the momentum; too little and a giant franchise installment like this loses some of their obvious appeal. Solo manages to find a healthy balance by circumventing the norm — this is a movie that dares to reference George Lucas’s prequel movies. It’s fandom that Solo plays into, not necessarily the franchise to which it belongs.
Goofy scenes and cute conversations in Solo seem ripped out of Avengers movies. Solo isn’t so much interested in building towards established Star Wars mythology — although that is touched upon — so much as the characters’ relationship to one another. This is especially true whenever young Han and young Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) or young Han and young Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) are on screen together. They’re adorable and funny, finding new rapport that only exists within the movie’s two-hour-and-15-minute runtime. Glover is exceptional as Lando, succinct in his sexual presence and a dominant force with his natural cool, and while he’s entertaining on his own, the real magic happens when he’s paired with Ehrenreich.
The relationship between Lando and Han feels designed for a Star Wars generation that wants to see more between its characters — especially those embedded in Star Wars lore who might appear in the next decade of sequels. The undeniable chemistry between Han and Lando needs to exist in order to further the relationship we’ve only seen glimpses of or read about. When lore is brought up and reworked, which Solo spends its entire time doing, we need more than just rehashed details to buy into what we’re watching. We need new developments; we need to see that relationship blossom. Solo handles their love-hate friendship incredibly well, much like Marvel’s Avengers movies learned to do as the franchise grew, and that’s where the movie finds its best moments.
There are other great scenes that people looking for more traditional action in their Star Wars movies will enjoy, including a heist sequence that’s reminiscent of The Matrix Reloaded’s kinetic car chase. But it’s the light-hearted humor and adorable banter that make Solo so impressive. This is especially true with L-3, a hilarious droid voiced by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who absolutely steals the show anytime she’s on screen.
I’m not going to lie: I didn’t expect much going into Solo. I wanted nothing more than to watch Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the original directing pair, direct an absurd Star Wars movie, a kind of Lucasfilm version of Thor: Ragnarok.
While the storyline of the version we got is a little convoluted and the beginning drags , it’s not the disaster predicted by fan murmuring. Solo eventually understands itself. Ron Howard respects the franchise’s history, and toys withthe characters in the same way that fan-fiction writers and Tumblr artists do. Solo feels like the first Star Wars movie made to honor the characters George Lucas birthed by totally and absolutely indulging in more than 40 years of fandom. Anyone who’s spent time playing make believe with Han Solo action figures will enjoy it immensely.