Han-deled Well

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ plays it pretty safe, but still manages to be a fun space adventure.

Photo courtesy Lucasfilm

Photo courtesy Lucasfilm

At this point in the movie he’s just Han. But we know he’ll acquire the last name sometime soon. In a tight spot in a galaxy far, far away, Han glances at a billboard-sized recruitment video for the Empire, a laughably macho commercial for future pilots. Beneath the come-on, we can hear the unmistakable swagger of John Williams’ Darth Vader music—a great winking touch. The Few, the Proud, the Dark Side.

As you would expect, there are many in-jokes in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and this is one of the best. Solo is the Star Wars spin-off project that notoriously fired its directors (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the guys who did The Lego Movie) after months of filming, with veteran Ron Howard taking over. Because of its jokey tone, I would guess that the Empire advertisement comes from the Lord-Miller footage (their material still makes up a third of the finished film). It makes you wonder how crazy their movie might’ve been. But we’ve got Ron Howard’s version, and it turns out to be quite acceptable fun. Here we learn how Han Solo (played by Alden Ehrenreich) met Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and how he acquired the Millennium Falcon. It’s a freestanding adventure movie, with enough connection to the larger Star Wars storyline to give it a little, shall we say, gravity.

If the resulting film isn’t as zesty as The Last Jedi, it at least provides a solid night of thrills and chills—which was what George Lucas’s original Star Wars was supposed to be about, anyway. The roles are stock types, as they always were in Lucas’s world: a standard villain (Paul Bettany), a capable and pleasantly mysterious heroine (Emilia Clarke, from Game of Thrones), a sardonic thief (Woody Harrelson). Even Donald Glover, a prodigious talent, is a little underwhelming in his much-anticipated (and splendidly dressed) turn as Lando. He’s also underlit—why is this movie so murky? I wouldn’t mind being able to see some of that expensive hardware.

One question looms above all others: How can anybody fill Harrison Ford’s shoes? Ehrenreich (sharp in Rules Don’t Apply) doesn’t have Ford’s roguish sarcasm—he’s forcing it. But he grows into the role, and if you can accept the difference, I think he comes out fine. The big action sequences are effective (but I wouldn’t risk the nausea of 3D, especially during a long raid on an elevated train in a snowy mountainscape), and a few new supporting characters provide pleasant surprises. Scene-stealing droids are a Star Wars tradition, and Solo gives us a dandy new robot: L3, wittily voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She is to Lando what Chewbacca is to Han, and she seems to have downloaded quite a bit of Karl Marx.

For me, a film has to succeed on its own merits, and not just because it ticks the boxes from a Star Wars reference list. Solo succeeds, without threatening to become a classic. I’ve never been one of the millions who consider Star Wars holy scripture, so I look at these things objectively. And yet… did I get a lump in my throat when Chewbacca charged off heroically to free his fellow Wookies from slavery? I confess I did. Star Wars is part of us, like it or not.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Now Playing | Rated PG-13