We get an origin story in which, unlike it's sister (cousin, whatever family member you want) film DMAA nominated Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, every newly introduced character doesn't die in the end. Instead we get an action-packed, funny, complex character-driven, set-up film for a new series set to chronicle perhaps THE Star Wars fan favorite; Han Solo. While it isn't confirmed as of yet that sequels will be made of this Star Wars spin-off/prequel, a group of intriguing cliff-hangers and cameos leave us hungry for answers.
Now as a giant, but not a self-proclaimed fanatic, Star Wars fan, I am slightly hesitant about all these spin-offs and prequels meant to expand the Star Wars Cinematic Universe, similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Seeing as Marvel movies are adapted from an original source material and all subsequent films help to develop and grow the Cinematic Universe's obstacles and connections, as a self-proclaimed MCU fanatic, there is a point to the films beyond just copious box office grosses for Disney. But with the expansion of the Star Wars universe, I can't help but suspect a giant paycheck is the primary motivation. Nevertheless, I'm 100% there for any film Lucas Films wants to put out, I just hope that as we go forward they build upon what we already know from the main seven films, instead of recount past information with pretty actors.
Luckily, most likely due to the efforts of veteran director Ron Howard and Empire Strikes Back screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, Solo: A Star Wars Story shows us the legend-making stories recounted in earlier films as well as lays the foundation for an origin story that is set to expand on the fate of recognizable characters and further set up the power of the Empire.
Aspiring pilot, and skilled scavenger, Han Solo (played by Alden Ehrenreich), works to escape from the encamped planet of Corellia with the girl he loves, Qi'ra (played by Emilia Clarke). Prepared to bribe themselves out of the Empire enforced borders with stolen hyperfuel, things go awry leaving Han to join the Imperial Navy as a flight cadet in order to escape from being caught. Flash forward three years later, Han's been kicked out of the flight academy and now stuck as an infantryman, when he catches a small gang of thieves, Beckett (played by DMAA nominee Woody Harrelson), Val (played by Thandie Newton) and Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau), who initially reject Han's plea to desert the Imperial Army and join their gang, but rather turns him into Imperial authorities. As punishment, Han is "fed to the beast" where the small amount of Wookie he speaks comes in handy in order to form an alliance with everyone's favorite sidekick, Chewbacca (played by Joonas Suotamo) to escape and join Beckett's gang of thieves.
From the beginning, Alden Ehrenreich brings the sauve, no rules, trickster persona that makes Han so badass. While I still think Anthony Ingruber, who played Ford's younger half in DMAA nominated The Age of Adaline, could have made a more believable young Han with his uncanny appearance and speech in the film, Ehrenreich does bring his own fresh take on the character. The ease of Solo comes through in Ehrenreich's performance, but what may be lacking is the intensity and Star-Lord-like quality to Ford's Han. An important dynamic that was heartwarmingly present was the friendship between Solo and Chewie. Joonas Suotamo isn't necessarily a newcomer to the Star Wars universe, having been the Chewbacca double in DMAA winning Star Wars: The Force Awakens, then dawning the furry suit in DMAA nominated Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and he brings that lovable dedication that became standard with Peter Mayhew's Chewie.
As part of the gang of theives, Han, Chewie and Beckett are sent on a mission to reconcile a failed assignment given to the gang by hotheaded Dryden Vos (played by Paul Bettany), a high ranking official in the Crimson Dawn, a mysterious criminal organization, along with Vos' secondhand Qi'ra. Secretive about her ties to Crimson Dawn, feelings continue to flow between Qi'ra and Han as they set out to get the fastest ship in the galaxy from a dashing gambler; the Millenium Falcon and Lando Calrissian (played by Donald Glover).
The introduction of new characters, Qi'ra, Beckett, Val, Rio Durant, Dryden and Lando's trusted droid L3-37 voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge are all welcome presences. L3-37 brings brass humor and laughs in abundance, but one thing we have to talk about is her appearance. L3-37 has high legs that appear to be the droid version of big hips, a stylistic choice that is distracting and makes me can't help but wonder if there should be a bigger discussion about her design and it's social relevance. Luckily for other female character's we have Qi'ra, who is masterfully developed with internal struggle and moral complications. Emilia Clarke's performance beautifully rides the bumpy emotional track layed out in the script, demanding your attention whenever on screen and expressing every internal give and take Qi'ra goes through. One step below Clarke's brilliant performance is the uncanny and perfectly cast Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. Another scene-stealer, Glover could be the Billy Dee Williams incarnate (even though WIlliams is very much still alive). It's no wonder that even before Solo's release, a spin-off Lando series was announced, and Glover's performance instills great confidence in sustaining a spin-off. One aspect Solo surpasses Rogue One in is the set up and evolution of the new characters, giving them personalities and goals which makes any and all losses sting harder than the massive demise in Rogue One's ending. Golf clap to father-son writing duo Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan for such a successful feat.
In order to keep the reveals and cameos safe on the screen, we're gonna stop our synopsis there and just end it with saying we finally witness the infamous Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. I really do hope they make at least one sequel to Solo because if you judge it as a stand alone film, there isn't much information we didn't already know to help expand our understanding. But if Lucas Films continues on the cliffhangers the film left us with, we could be in store for a really thrilling series. Hopefully the Kasdan writers and Ron Howard continue on with the franchise, as they bring a mature, grounded element that is reminiscent of the original series, rather than the emphasis being on the visual that parts of the prequel series and The Last Jedi fell victim to. Howard wears the title of the first Academy Award winner to direct a Star Wars film well, proving to us once again how much he understands story and character. Not to mention the breathtaking visual effects and sound design we've all come to expect from Star Wars films, Solo is a technical achievement that only emphasizes Howard's successes.
Lastly, as a former film student, I need to take a moment to discuss one shot towards the end of the film I want everyone to look for. Howard's collaboration with cinematographer Bradford Young (cinematographer of DMAA nominated Arrival) comes to a stunning culmination on a single shot of the lovely Emilia Clarke. A shot that pulls at our classic film lover heartstrings and literally took my breath away. I know I'm hyping up this one fifteen second shot in an otherwise highly entertaining movie, and you're probably not even going to think about it when you watch it, but if that makes me weird, so be it. I just want to stand up and clap, have a moment of silence, or bake a cake for this one perfectly composed shot. *single tear runs down my face*
Solo: A Star Wars Story may not be the most revealing origin story or the most necessary in the Star Wars expansion, but man is it fun. The cast and crew deserve big brownie points for handling the origin story of one of the most beloved characters in cinema history with such care and enthusiasm. Taking place between Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One, fingers crossed we get to see the reaches this story has until we come full circle to meet Ford's classic. I believe with a first film as strong as Solo, sequels can only get better.
Woody Harrelson (DMAA nominee)