Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest entry in the saga, is a fast-paced action movie, a heist film, a love story, a buddy picture, and also incidentally an origin story for one of the best characters in the franchise.
1. What’s it about?
Ever wonder where Han Solo came from? How he met Chewbacca? What happened between him and Lando Calrissian? What the heck is the Kessel Run? Those questions are just the jumping-on point for Solo: A Star Wars Story.
2. Will my kids like it?
Ooooh yeah. The story is great, we care a lot about the characters, there are a lot of comedic bits that never slow down the story or take us out of the plot, and there’s just enough darkness to make it matter. The kids will love Rio, L3, young Lando, and all the humorous bits sprinkled among the action and emotion.
3. Will I like it?
So long as you’re not one of those joyless people who hates Star Wars, yes, you will like it. It’s a perfect mix of the familiar and new, and all of the origin story aspects are dropped in organically. Aside from being the Han Solo origin story, it’s a good Han Solo story, evocative of all his best moments in the original trilogy without regurgitating any of what came before.
It’s a heist caper; there’s a train robbery, high-speed chases, a “High Noon” standoff in a desert town, a carefully-orchestrated break in that inevitably diverges from the plan, and enough double-crosses to keep you on your toes, while at the same time dropping in familiar bits from the rest of the series.
4. How’s the Cast?
Uniformly excellent. Alden Ehrenreich perfectly captures the pacing and rhythm of the Han Solo we know and love, while making him a little more naive, a little more idealistic, and a little less experienced. He’s still cocky as hell, still fast on his feet and able to improvise his way out of anything, still recognizably Han Solo. Ehrenreich never tries to directly imitate Harrison Ford, but the essence is there in his movement and cadence. He is young Han Solo.
Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra is a great addition to the Star Wars pantheon. Donald Glover is absolutely perfect as Lando, both in his performance and appearance. There are so many great little moments that he pulls off that are echoed later in Empire Strikes Back. The new characters, especially Lando’s droid co-pilot L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), are welcome additions. L3, an astro-mech like R2-D2 who rebuilt herself into a humanoid form and now fights for droid rights, is a funny, charming, and fearless character. Beckett is the same hard-edged “tough guy with a soft center” that Woody Harrelson specializes in, not far removed from his roles in Hunger Games and Zombieland, but he does it better than anyone else and it works. Jon Favreau voices a character called Rio, one of Beckett’s crew, and both the character design and vocal performance are perfect. Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) brings a type of menace more often seen in gangster movies, and it’s an effective performance. Dryden, while not an icon of evil to rival Darth Vader, is one of the more memorable and effective villains in the series, one who provides a real threat.
5. How predictable is the story?
This is always a problem with prequels; how do you build tension when we know what comes later? How do you surprise the audience while introducing everything they already know as if it were brand new? Solo manages the trick handily. There’s never a moment where you feel the filmmakers have spoon-fed you a clockwork plot designed to hit the obligatory notes required by the previous movie.
Another big problem with a prequel is “setting the table”; any characters or situations introduced have to be dealt with before the end of the movie so that everything is in place for what comes later. Of course, we know going in that the relationship between Han and Qi’ra is not destined to last, given that she’s never been mentioned in the other films. The rest of the new characters have to also be dealt with somehow, in a way that doesn’t cast a shadow over the original story. Ron Howard and the screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan do an amazing job of keeping Solo self-contained and expanding Han’s history without losing the air of mystery around him. They resist the impulse to explain too much or introduce contradictory elements.
The third big problem with prequels is viewing order. Episodes 1-3 reveal all the major plot points of Episodes 4-6; if you were to watch them for the first time in numerical order, it’s all spoilers, and if you watch them in the order they were made, they’re rehashing the story.
Solo completely avoids that problem. Most of the major Star Wars continuity is completely irrelevant here. The Empire is present, but Darth Vader, the Jedi, the Force, and the Skywalker family go unmentioned. The result is a movie that’s unquestionably Star Wars but freed from most of the constraints of a shared universe. When you binge-watch the series, you can place Solo wherever you like; watch it first as an appetizer before Rogue One, put it between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, make it the tail end of the “Machete Order” flashback before Return of the Jedi, or after The Force Awakens as a memorial for the character. It stands completely on its own and doesn’t interfere with any of the others.
6. Is the 3D/IMAX worth it?
IMAX maybe, 3D not so much. I was actually surprised at how little the 3D effect was used. The glasses made almost no difference except to make the screen darker. There are incredible vistas of alien scenery, factories, battles, and space maelstroms to look at, which would be incredible on a really big screen, but 3D didn’t add much to them.
7. Is the rating appropriate?
If anything, it may be overstating the case. Solo is rated PG-13 “for sequences of sci-fi action/violence”; it’s a movie with no profanity, no sexual situations, no nudity, no blood, and most of the violence is property destruction or mass wipe-outs of crowds, usually droids or aliens. I have to assume the rating is due to the intensity of the action sequences. It’s less violent than Rogue One, but there is a scary monster that wants to eat the Millennium Falcon in one scene.
8. When’s the best time for a bathroom break?
Probably right after the “train heist” scene. There’s some character stuff that happens when they get back to Dryden’s ship, but it’s a leisurely-paced scene with not a lot of big revelations involved. You’ll be able to catch up pretty quickly if you hurry back.
9. How is the score?
John Williams didn’t do the music for Solo, but his “Han Solo Theme” and other key elements of his Star Wars music feature pretty prominently in John Powell’s score. It serves the film well and is familiar enough to do the job without calling undue attention to itself.
10. Is there a post-credit scene?
No. The Star Wars franchise doesn’t do that. The whole movie is in the movie.
Disclosure: I was invited to a free press screening of Solo: A Star Wars Story. All opinions expressed here are my own.