Over the course of the original Star Wars movies Harrison Ford so perfectly embodied the role of Han Solo that watching the iconic space smuggler die in The Force Awakens was like losing an old friend. But while Alden Ehreneich [Rules Don’t Apply] isn’t as spot-on as a young Han in Solo: A Star Wars Story, the action-packed sci-fi space opera is so much fun that you won’t really notice.
Set years before the original Star Wars trilogy, and not that far before the flashbacks in Daniel Jose Older’s excellent spin-off novel Last Shot, Solo: A Star Wars Storyshows us how a young Hanny Solowitz Jr. became the iconic scruffy scoundrel. And Chewbacca’s BFF. And a couple other things I won’t spoil.
It all starts on Corellia — y’know, the planet where they build those big bulk cruisers — when a young Han, on the run from a Fagan-like crime boss, decides to escape by joining the Imperial military and becoming a space pilot. Three years later, while fighting on a muddy planet for who knows why, he meets a trio of criminals trying to steal an Imperial ship they need for, well, another heist, and it sets him out on a life of crime that spans multiple planets, a couple good twists, and a handful of fun connections to previous Star Wars tales.
Needless to say, Solo: A Star Wars Story is very much a space opera adventure in the Star Warsmold. Specifically, the mold of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, with which it shares a darker tone. So much of one, in fact, that it seems like director Ron Howard was channeling fellow filmmaker Ridley Scott from 1982 when Scott made Blade Runner. And while things do lighten up a bit later on, this is still one of the darker chapters (and movies) in the Star Wars saga.
Which may explain why Solo: A Star Wars Story is also the least humorous of the new Star Wars movies. Though, thankfully, when it does get lighthearted, it’s in the situational style of Rogue One and not the awkward jokey way that somewhat undermined The Last Jedi.
Helping to deliver the comedy in Solo: A Star Wars Story is a first-rate cast. While, as I mentioned, Ehreneich isn’t Han Solo the way Harrison Ford was Han Solo, he more than handles his own, especially towards the end. More importantly, he never slips into a bad Harrison Ford impression. No, for that, you have Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando Calrissian, who starts off sounding so much like Billy Dee Williams that I half expected him to offer Han a Colt 45. Once he calms down, though, Glover does a great job of embodying Lando without further imitation.
As for the new characters in Solo: A Star Wars Story, Woody Harrelson gives the criminal Tobias Becket the same kind of confident swagger that he gave Tallahassee in Zombieland, while 2012‘s Thandie Newton matches him step-for-step as his partner and better half, Val. Meanwhile, Emilia Clarke is as likeable and delightful as Qi’ra as she is as Daenerys in Game Of Thrones; Phoebe Waller-Bridge [Goodbye Christopher Robin] is fantastic as Lando’s sassy and forthright co-pilot droid L3-37; Iron Man‘s Jon Favreau breathes real life into the Ardennianpilot Rio Durant; while Avengers: Age Of Ultron‘s Paul Bettany is clearly having fun as the crime lord Dryden Vos who sets so much of this in motion.
Solo: A Star Wars Story also gets points for having some unexpected moments, none of which I’ll spoil save to say that one ties this into another element of the Star Warssaga in a way I didn’t see coming, but delighted me just the same. And no, I don’t mean when Qi’ra says she’s a master of Teras Kasi.
It’s also fun how Solo: A Star Wars Story also employs elements from other kind of sci-fi we’ve not seen in previous Star Wars movies, including a Lovecraftian monster and a pirate named Enfys Nest whose anime/manga-inspired helmet recalls Briarios from Appleseed.
As for how Solo: A Star Wars Story compares to other recent Star Wars movies, well, it’s neither as effortlessly fun nor as epic as The Force Awakens. Though it is tonally better than The Last Jedi, if only, as I mentioned, because its levity is more situational and less jokey. It’s also not as intricate or as interesting a heist tale as Timothy Zahn’s now disavowed novel, Star Wars: Scoundrels, in which a post-New Hope Han, Chewie, and Lando go all Oceans 11.
In the end, Solo: A Star Wars Story, like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, isn’t as essential as one of the episodes, but it is an engaging and exciting side chapter that reveals some interesting back story for one of the saga’s best characters. Let’s just hope R2-D2’s inevitable biopic does him as much justice.