While I’ve always liked the original Star Wars trilogy, I don’t have the depth of knowledge (i.e., memorization) that some do, so there are probably references in the Han Solo prequel, Solo: A Star Wars Story, that I didn’t catch. That’s besides the obvious ones, which kind of poke you in the face, as when Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) tells Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), “You can’t make the Kessel Run in less than 20 parsecs!” (POKE POKE)
But the only time that furnishing an origin story for a minor detail struck me as wholly ridiculous was when Han learns his new Wookiee friend’s name and says something to the effect of, “Chewbacca? You need a nickname. I’m not saying that every time!” You know, Han, you can probably just start calling him “Chewie.” We’re not going to wonder how or why you came up with it.
Anyway, this is a mostly successful Star Wars adventure with a few great action sequences and memorable new characters, written by original franchise scribe Lawrence Kasdan and his filmmaker son Jake. The credited director is Ron Howard, though of course you know he replaced Phil Lord and Christopher Miller midway through production and reshot Darth-only-knows how much of their footage. (Lord and Miller are credited as executive producers.) There are a few moments that feel distinctly like the work of the pranksters who made 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie more than of the journeyman who made, say, The Da Vinci Code, but it’s not the fractured mess it could (and maybe should) have been.
It’s actually quite sleek most of the time, starting with Han as a juvenile delinquent on the shipbuilding planet Corellia, where he hot-wires hover cars while making plans to escape to a better life with his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), which is pronounced Kyra (parents and their crazy spellings, amirite?). When Han and Qi’ra are separated by circumstances, he joins the imperial air force to become “the best pilot in the galaxy,” gets tossed out for being unwilling to follow orders, and ends up a soldier for the not-yet-completely-evil-but-well-on-its-way Empire.
Han’s goal is to return to Corellia and Qi’ra; to that end, he teams up with a band of smugglers — Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), his wife Val (Thandie Newton), and a congenial multi-armed alien named Rio Durant (Jon Favreau) — to steal a quantity of valuable fuel called coaxium and deliver it to Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), one of the many crime lords who rule this lawless corner of the galaxy. This leads to a tremendous set piece involving a good old-fashioned train heist on a nifty mountain railway that’s just begging to be a Disney ride.
But who cares about things that aren’t Chewbacca or Lando or the Millennium Falcon?? Han’s first meetings with the tall hairy beast and the suave playboy and the not-yet-junky spaceship are satisfying additions to the mythology, and we even get to hear Han speak some of Chewbacca’s language. (Where did he learn it? Shut up, that’s where.) Glover’s performance as Lando is lovably weird — part Billy Dee Williams impersonation, part Glover’s own spin on the cape-wearing Lothario. Lando also has one of the Star Wars universe’s best robot companions, L3 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a fed-up female droid with wide hips who fights for robot equality (a topic I don’t think these films have ever addressed before).
The film drags in the middle section (during the Kessel Run, ironically) but picks up steam in the last act, when it also starts laying groundwork for other installments, including the beginnings of the Rebellion. For unlike the other standalone prequel, Rogue One, Solo leaves enough time between itself and A New Hope to allow for sequels — meaning we might actually see some of these new characters again.
It means we’d see more of Alden Ehrenreich as Mr. Solo, too, a prospect that yields only tepid enthusiasm. Ehrenreich isn’t bad, just a little bland, stuck with the impossible task of playing a slightly younger version of an iconic character. You can see him matching Harrison Ford’s mannerisms here and there, but unlike Glover and Lando, he never makes Han his own. It doesn’t help that the Kasdans’ story for Han has him reacting more than acting. He achieves his objective — reuniting with Qi’ra — fairly early; after that he’s just along for the ride, not really committed to or driven by anything in particular. He needs a mission he’s passionate about … which we already know isn’t going to happen until he meets Luke and Leia. Sigh. At least Solo answers two questions we’ve long had about the series: Have Han and Chewbacca seen each other naked, and is it possible for humans to have sex with robots? And the answer to both is yes! What a time to be alive.
2 hrs., 14 min.; rated PG-13 for combat action violence and brief strong language