Release date: 24th May 2018/Watch the trailer here
To call the production of Solo: A Star Wars Story ‘troubled’ would be an understatement: original director duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller left six months into filming amid rumours that they had been fired over ‘creative differences’, and they were subsequently replaced by Ron Howard. So it would be fair to say that fans’ hopes and expectations for the latest ‘Star Wars Story’ – the franchise’s series of standalone anthology films, started by Rogue One in 2016 – were far from high. The good news is that Solo is nowhere near to being as much of a disaster as it could and probably should have been – but the bad news is that anyone hoping for Solo to reach the highest heights of the Star Wars saga will likely be left disappointed, too.
Set sometime between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Solo explores the adventures of a younger version of a fan favourite character: ace pilot and smuggler Han Solo, with Alden Ehrenreich stepping into the considerable shoes of Harrison Ford. On the world of Corellia, aspiring pilot Han and his friend (and romantic interest) Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) long to escape the clutches of the local criminal gangs. After they are left separated, Han vows to return for her, joining the Imperial navy as a flight cadet in the meantime. Three years later – after being expelled from the flight academy and meeting a Wookiee named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) – Han joins forces with a smuggler crew led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), leading him on a mission to steal a shipment of expensive fuel for Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the head of a criminal syndicate known as Crimson Dawn.
All of the chapters of Han’s notorious past that were expected to make an appearance do so in Solo: meeting Chewbacca; the story of how Han came to win his beloved ship, the Millennium Falcon, from Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover); and, of course, making the infamous Kessel Run in just twelve parsecs – and not to mention the countless fan service moments, from subtle references made in passing to a far less subtle (and completely unexpected) cameo. But while Solo may be short on surprises for the most part, this is by no means a bad thing. In fact, the biggest surprise of all might be that another actor took on such an iconic role amid doubt and uproar from a very vocal fanbase, and ended up being one of the best parts of the entire film.
The reason that Ehrenreich’s performance works so well is because he’s not doing a poor imitation of Harrison Ford – and that’s a good thing. He may not look or sound much like Ford, but he’s embodied the attitude, charisma and enough of the mannerisms for him to still feel unmistakably like Han Solo. Glover, too, does an impeccable job of capturing the spirit of Lando (played by Billy Dee Williams in the original trilogy), and Solo is at its best when Ehrenreich and Glover are on screen together. It’s not just the familiar faces that are a success, however – Solo is filled with an assortment of likeable new characters, and while it might uphold the Rogue One tradition of not giving some of the better characters enough screen time, it’s the cast (highlights are Clarke and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as droid and well-timed comic relief L3-37) that make Solo worth watching.
The problem with Solo is that, if it belonged to any other franchise, it would be difficult to give it enough praise – but, being a Star Wars film, the standard for the franchise has already been set impossibly high, and Solo simply cannot hope to meet it. Ultimately, it’s a film that’s best enjoyed as nothing more or less than what it is: a perfectly entertaining space adventure that’s good fun from start to finish (if not fifteen minutes too long) with exciting action set pieces, great characters, and lifted by a score that’s impressive, despite not having John Williams’ name attached to it (aside from the main theme, John Powell took over composing duties for this film).
Solo: A Star Wars Story might not be a particularly necessary addition to the saga – nor does it ever do much to prove otherwise – but it exists, and both similar standalone origin stories and direct sequels to Solo are certainly to be expected at a later date. It might not feel all that much like Star Wars, but that’s not necessarily a criticism – and perhaps this proves that it doesn’t have to be a bad thing for the future of the franchise, either.