“Assume everyone will betray you. And you will never be disappointed.”
It seems to me that no one really wanted a Han Solo origin film. He is an iconic character that people don’t really want to know the history of, for fear it might spoil what is already perfect. And honestly, he already has an iconic introduction. So for a film, that nobody wants to exist, Solo is actually pretty great.
First, anyone who is against these prequels and spin-offs better come to terms with them. They’re happening and one day your favourite character will get his or her own film. Secondly, let’s get the behind the scenes stuff out of the way. So yes there was a change in directors quite far into the process – and it’s been reported that new director Ron Howard reshot upwards of 70% of the film. But given the backstage drama, the movie never feels like it’s been chopped together, or like the Frankenstein version of two cinematic visions. It’s Ron Howard’s movie.
As soon as the movie starts and we meet young Han Solo, it’s obvious that Alden Ehrenreich was right for this role. He has the arrogance, the cocksure attitude, with just the right amount of goofy thrown in. Sure he may not look or sound like Harrison Ford, but he has everything else down. By the end of the film, you can imagine him showing up in the Mos Eisley Cantina at the beginning of A New Hope. And his growing friendship with Chewbacca is a real highlight of this film, as the two go from fighting, to begrudgingly working together, to eventually being best friends and smuggling partners.
The supporting cast deserves a mention because it is sensational. Childish Gambino himself, Donald Glover, is note-perfect as a younger Lando with an extensive selection of capes. In fact the only downside here is that there wasn’t more of him. As well as Glover, Woody Harrelson has a pretty substantial role as mentor Beckett. I’m of the thinking that any film is improved by the presence of Woody Harrelson – and Solo proves that theory right once again. He’s reached an age now where playing dishevelled father/mentor figures could easily keep him in business. Emilia Clarke is good too, easily shrugging off all thoughts of Daenerys and fitting into this universe like she’s always been here. Plus Qi’ra has a lot of potential to be a key character (especially after that cameo). Maybe when she’s done in Westeros, Emilia Clarke should become a more permanent resident of this galaxy far, far away.
The true surprise here is the villain, Dryden Vos, played by Paul Bettany. Originally meant to be played by Michael K. Williams, this character seems to have been the victim of behind the scenes reworking – not that you’d be able to tell. Bettany steals every scene he’s in with a scenery-chewing, weirdly funny, and menacing performance. Bettany has never really had much luck in Hollywood (at least up until playing Vision in the MCU) and he always brings something interesting to the table. Hopefully Solo can get him some more villain roles.
The story is one part origin story, one part sci-fi adventure, and one part heist movie. Actually, there are a few heists in Solo so it’s mostly a heist film. And it has all the hallmarks of a great crime/heist movie. The last half hour, in particular, is back-to-back double-crosses and betrayals. But it’s all refreshingly small scale for Star Wars. There are no Death Stars in sight, no Starkiller Base, no epic lava-dodging lightsaber duel. It’s just a guy trying to get out with his life and/or make a whole lot of credits while doing it. I think the next Star Wars spin-off should listen to this and go for the small scale, the character-focused film instead. Still waiting for that Obi-Wan/Unforgiven western on Tatooine.
There have been a few stories about how much less money Solo has been bringing in, many citing ‘Star Wars Fatigue’. I think this is ridiculous, as this movie is interesting enough to stand out from the crowd. But I will admit the release date has done it no favours. Releasing now, barely six months after The Last Jedi was a huge mistake. It’s too soon, and now it means there’s a Star Wars shaped hole in Christmas 2018. I have no idea what Disney was thinking there because Solo deserves so much better. It’s a perfect spin-off, adding depth to the character without ruining the mythos. It’s also really, really good fun. The pacing is phenomenal and it feels like an adventure through space with some really great friends.
Solo does what it has to justify its existence. By being a hell of a lot of fun, and nothing more. I struggle to think why any Star Wars fan wouldn’t enjoy Solo. It’s a just a good time at the cinema.
Reviewed by Jack