RTF Film Review: ‘SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY Made MFR Go From NOLO To YOLO, So Go, Yo!’
I’ll be the first to admit that I walked into Solo: A Star Wars Story with a chip on my shoulder and an axe to grind. I’ve been questioning the very existence of this film since the moment it was announced a couple of years ago. While I didn’t doubt that it’d be at least decent, considering it’s based on a script written by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, I just couldn’t get over the question of “Why would they make this movie?”
Whether it was the questionable decision to center this “Young Han Solo” tale on a version of the character that doesn’t seem that much younger than the one we met in that cantina on Mos Eisley, the fact that star Alden Ehrenreichbears close to no resemblance to Harrison Ford, or that it was seemingly just going to fill in blanks that didn’t really need to be filled (“Oh! How did he get the Falcon?” “How did Han meet Chewie?” “When did he and Lando begin their frenemy relationship?“), I once boldly declared that Solo would be “the first Star Wars movie I’ve ever had outward contempt for before even walking into it.”
But then I saw the movie.
I’ve got to say, it’s way better than I ever could have imagined. Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t an instant classic by any stretch of the imagination, and I still contend that this was a story that didn’t need to be told (and, judging the sad box office figures, I’m not the only person who thinks that), but it’s actually quite entertaining. And, more importantly, it does find a way to add some colorful texture to the Star Wars canon- which was something I was very worried about. I’ve been very vocal about my fear that the film would over-explain certain things and sap power from key moments in the established cinematic canon, which is why I’m thrilled to report that Solo actually enhances things instead of subtracting from them.
The script by the Kasdans is note-perfect for this kind of adventure, luring us into an enticing world of criminals, bounty hunters, con men, and intergalactic thrill seekers. The father-son writing duo managed to make an old fashioned “long con” heist movie that calls to mind classics of the genre like The Sting, while also putting a fresh spin on some classic tropes.
Part of what makes it all come to life so nicely is that Solo is filled with characters that will win you over and surprise you. The cast which, aside from Ehrenreich, includes Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, and a character voiced by Jon Favreau, bring their A-game to this caper, infusing it with verve and vigor.
Director Ron Howard, as well as the film’s original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, along with the movie’s designers also deserve a ton of credit for the world they’ve built, too. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but- at times- the movie seriously calls to mind the considerable charms of the Original Trilogy. There are scenes that take place in the film that- just by their design, tone, and the imagination on display- took me back to being a kid again, marveling at the splendor of the all of the creatures and happenings at Jabba’s palace in Return of The Jedi.
While I strongly disliked the Canto Bight sequence in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, because it seemed like a very earthly setting with a bunch of aliens in human clothes, doing humanoid things, there are a couple of sequences here that tread into similar territory while somehow managing to make me feel like I’m in a galaxy far, far away. They created a world I would love to visit and immerse myself in; One filled with unique alien creatures doing things that make me ask myself, “How’d they think of that?”
And that’s the thing with Solo: It’s just a fun ride into an unfamiliar, but thrilling corner of the Star Wars universe. It doesn’t have much heft, gravitas, or allegorical weight, but it’s a zippy adventure that’ll add an extra glow to your existing love of Star Wars. However, if you’re not a fan of the franchise, then this movie probably won’t do much for you. And, really, if you’re not a fan, why bother going anyway?
That’s not to say the film is perfect, as there are a few ways and instances in which Howard reveals a self-consciousness about the strength of the material- a fear of his that I find unwarranted. An example of what I mean is the way in which Howard uses a sort of heavy-handed score to really tell the audience how to feel, rather than allowing the scene itself to do the work. There were times where I was watching what felt like a perfectly fine, intimate scene between two key players, but the dialogue is competing with a very loud score that conveys whatever the overriding emotion is “supposed” to be.
Is it a romantic scene? Here’s some really schmaltzy, “love scene” music we hope will help you overlook that the chemistry between Ehrenreich and Clarke doesn’t exactly percolate. It’s a comedic bonding scene for Han and Chewie? Here’s some “zany,” generic filler music to help the jokes land better. Oh, are we showing something that’s a direct reference to what we know will become of Han Solo’s legacy in the Star Wars canon? Here’s a very on-the-nose few bars of John Williams’ classic score.
Indeed, it sometimes feels the film is almost too aware of what it is- A piece of enhancement entertainment for a larger franchise, rather than being a complete standalone chapter in that saga. In contrast to that, I thought Rogue One felt vital and like it worked as its own story with its own internal logic and conclusion. Solo, on the other hand, simply feels like a fun little detour you could take if you felt like it.
Special attention must also be given to the movie’s MVP: Donald Glover. His take on Lando Calrissian straddles that line of honoring the past while still making it your own perfectly. There are times where, if you close your eyes, you can just imagine that it’s Billy Dee Williams. Yet, for the most part, you never get the sense glover is doing an impersonation. He somehow incorporates what we’ve seen and know about the character into the DNA of his performance, while putting it through his unique filter and making it feel fully-realized.
As for the big question of whether or not Ehrenreich was up to the task of filling the big shoes of Harrison Ford as Han Solo, it’s hard to say. I don’t think he did anything incredible with the role, or necessarily “rose to the occasion,” but I think it’s pretty special that I accepted him as Han within ten minutes of the film starting. Perhaps that’s the best we could ask for. If he tried too hard to leave his mark on the character, then it might not have lined up well enough with Ford’s Solo- which would be a problem since this isn’t a reboot, it’s a prequel. And on the other hand, if he had tried to do a straight-up Ford impersonation, it probably would’ve felt less organic and much more stiff.
Instead, Ehrenreich instills the role with an easy, loose charm that likely would’ve been impossible to achieve if he was constantly internally asking himself, “Is this how Harrison would say this?”
The only performance that left me somewhat unimpressed was Clarke’s. While she works as part of this ensemble, and adds just enough of what she’s asked to bring to the proceedings, there’s a sort of phoned-in element to her performance that I simply couldn’t shake.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend Solo to any Star Wars fan. I had a great time loaded with thrills, laughs, and some genuine goosebumps, while getting to visit a galaxy I’ve loved for so long. The writing kept me on my toes, and the imaginative design of everything kept me utterly immersed.
To find out what the rest of the Revenge of The Fans crew who’ve seen the film so far thing, CLICK HERE!
Editor-In-Chief and Co-Founder of Revenge of The Fans. Previously, he's written for Latino-Review, IGN, Moviehole, and The Splash Report. He's also the host of the top-rated show The Fanboy Podcast and the co-host of The Revengers Podcast. E-Mail: MFR@RevengeOfTheFans.com | Twitter: @I_AM_MFR