Movie Review: SOLO: A Star Wars Story (2018)
I decided I was going to do the opposite of my usual "go into it with no expectations" or my "I can't contain my excitement" approach. I walked into the theater determined to be harshly critical and make this one earn my love. After all, an origin story of Han Solo, one of the most beloved characters in film history, will be a financial home run. As a kid I would have literally killed to get the backstory of Han Solo. That's not an exaggeration, for the record.
My resolved held firm for the first half an hour or so. I was critical, catching all of the little details both positive and negative. Then Chewbacca showed up, and 7-year old Stu took over. So sue me. Nostalgia is a wickedly powerful thing.
Cool thing, though- this is Ron Howard at the helm, and Opie knows how to make a fucking movie.
The story is pretty straightforward, and that plays to its strength. Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!) and his girlfriend, Qi'Ra (Emilia Clarke aka The Mother of Dragons aka The Breaker of Chains aka Khaleesi aka Daenerys Targaryen of Game of Thrones) are gutter trash working as thieves for a small-time criminal boss on Corellia. They're protected and given jobs, but they dream of more. His escape takes them on different paths, and three years pass. Han still believes he's the greatest pilot in the galaxy, and he hooks up with a group of famous thieves to prove himself. His next adventure will take him places he never imagined and lay the course for his destiny.
Did I mention that Ron Howard is a fucking BOSS? I think I did. We are talking about the man who gave us Apollo 13, Backdraft, A Beautiful Mind, & Willow!! No one argues with Willow. If you do then you need to slap yourself. If you don't know what that is then you need to go and get your shit straight right now. But I digress.....the point is that he knows how to tell a great story with some heft to it and get the most out of his actors. He certainly does here.
Unlike some other love stories told in the Star Wars universe (I'm blaming y'all, Natalie Portman & Hayden Christensen) there is actual chemistry between Han and Qi'Ra. It's refreshing and believable. Luckily they don't get lost in the love story aspect and keep it all about the legend of Han Solo, though. There's just enough lovey-dovey to keep it honest. I like that.
The cast is fairly loaded with real talent. Alden Ehrenreich was extremely solid as young Han Solo- the mannerisms, voice inflection, & that trademark smirk that's full of mischief and bad planning. Emilia Clarke is hypnotizing as always (almost to the point of distraction). Thandie Newton (Westworld) makes the most of her time on screen with her usual tough as nails schtick. Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers, Zombieland) is always on top of his game; his Tobias Beckett character is a natural criminal mentor for young Han and perfectly cast. There's a nice villain in Crimson Dawn baddie Dryden Vos, played with sinister British style by Paul Bettany (Vision from Avengers: Infinity War, etc). I particularly liked the facial changes based on his anger level.
There's always a show stealer, and this time it is Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino as Lando Calrissian. He was so spot-on with his young Billy Dee Williams that it stopped being an impersonation and just became him. He took the part and put his stamp all over it. I'm genuinely impressed with this guy; he's an actor, director, producer, writer, musician, & stand-up comedian! You can't hide that kind of talent. You'll see what I mean. This is a prime example of when the right casting elevates a movie to the next level.
There are 3 things that all Star Wars fans have wanted to see on the big screen. They are:
- How Han Solo and Chewbacca hooked up. How the hell does that happen?!
- The card game between Han and Lando that caused the Millennium Falcon to change hands.
- How did Han do "The Kessel Run" in 12 parsecs?
I couldn't be happier to say that Ron Howard answers all of those questions in hilarious, breathtaking, & ridiculously entertaining fashion. I'm definitely not spoiling anything for you here. You'll just have to see for yourself. It's unabashedly the shit. Enough said on that.
Still, it's not entirely by the numbers. You will find surprises here that set up the future of the part of the Star Wars universe that will fill in the gaps in ways that I really do want to see. The ending, in particular, surprised me into a shit-eating grin. And the question.....THAT QUESTION....is answered in definitive fashion. Real Star Wars fans (i.e. the geeks of my generation) will know exactly what I'm talking about. It's the moment that my appreciation of this one grew into love.
It's a little ironic that the new trilogy is having a bit of a hard time living up to the expectations of the most passionate fanbase this side of those damn nutty Doctor Who fans while the standalone movies (Solo and Rogue One) have knocked it right out of the park. Maybe it's safer for those of us who love Star Wars to let our guard down in new territory. That's the best guess I can come up with, but I know one thing for sure: I'm really excited for the Boba Fett and Yoda movies now. Really excited. These origin stories are where it's at.
Let your guard down and enjoy the tale of Han Solo becoming the scoundrel that he is, the stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder of later years. This story establishes what we've all known Han really is:
The good guy.