No other film in recent years has had quite the story of a troubled production as “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” After finding themselves at creative odds with the studio, original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired, leading the studio to bring in Ron Howard to finish the film (though it’s now said that about 70% of it was reshot). Topping that off were the rumors that an acting coach had to be brought in to help star Alden Ehrenreich with his performance. With so much calamity going on behind the scenes, it was starting to look like the entire project was going to be a wash, especially with a delayed trailer, which didn’t look all that impressive either. However, Howard and his team worked tirelessly and still met the original release date, but was the struggle to bring the story of young Han Solo to the screen worth all the effort?
“Solo” begins on the planet Corellia, where criminal syndicates force the desperate to steal for them. Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) dream of escaping this dangerous life together, eventually getting their chance when they come across a valuable resource to bribe their way off the planet. However, just as they are departing, the plan goes wrong, forcing Han to flee, and leaving Qi-ra behind. Han quickly comes up with a plan in which he’ll join the Empire, become a pilot, and come back to Corellia as quickly as possible, but, of course, things don’t go quite as planned. Finding himself not fitting in so well, he eventually finds himself a mere footsoldier, fighting a war on a dreary planet. It’s here that he meets Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Val (Thandie Newton), two smugglers who agree to let Han and his new pal Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) in on a dangerous job they have planned, setting up a chain of events that will have the young pilot risking his life several times in hopes of achieving his original dream.
When it came to the prospect of another “Star Wars” spinoff, it’s a little hard to say that there was much enthusiasm for the idea. After all, “Rogue One” had been a pretty disappointing experience with its lack of character development and mind-numbing action sequences. Granted, it was made by different writers and a different director, but still, it seemed to set a precedent that, even with a good idea in place, perhaps trying to branch off from the saga films was not the best direction to go in.
This, coupled with the numerous issues that “Solo” had in getting made, seemed to cause expectations to sink, but director Ron Howard was not about to let such a daunting task get the better of him. Taking a screenplay by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan (the former of which is a four-time Oscar nominee who helped give us “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” and “The Force Awakens”), he has done what many people thought was impossible at this point by delivering what is most accurately called a really fun heist film.
Having learned from the mistakes of “Rogue One,” the filmmakers behind “Solo” have given us a film that immediately kicks off at the start and hardly lets up throughout the 135-minute runtime. From Han’s daring escape from Corellia to the exhilarating job he and his new companions try to pull off, the first act sets the pace of the film quite well. In fact, the only time it seems to pause to take a breath is during a 15-minute portion in the middle in which a young Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) is introduced. However, immediately afterward, the film picks up again, and doesn’t let up until the credits roll at the end, making it a far-cry from the monotony and tedious pace of the previous spinoff.
Credit must also be given to the exceptional cast. While Ehrenreich doesn’t exactly give a commanding performance as the titular Solo, he does a suitable job, giving us flashes of the character we’ve come to know and love, and putting those rumors to rest that he wasn’t quite up to playing the iconic role. Rounding out the cast, we have three-time Emmy nominee Emilia Clarke as an intriguing and mysterious love interest, three-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson as a somewhat shady business partner, the delightful Paul Bettany as a crime boss, and Emmy winner Donald Glover as Lando. Suffice it to say that there’s plenty of talent on display here.
It really is quite a nice surprise when you walk into a film expecting something disappointing, only to find that the final product came together better than you thought possible. It’s no “The Last Jedi," but it’s fun, exciting, and quite entertaining, a combo that is made all the more impressive given the long, bumpy, and nearly-disastrous road that it took to finally come to the screen. When it comes to delivering what you’d hoped for, what more could you ask for from a film like this? 3/4 stars.