Solo: A Movie Review

Ahhh, I almost got you there, didn’t I?  You were probably thinking I wasn’t going to do this one.  Solo would be the first of the new era Star Wars flicks I’d skip reviewing, right?  Wrong.  I’m a creature of habit, dammit!  I can’t break the streak!  As I’ve noted several times before, Star Wars is a franchise deeply connected to its accompanying toys, so it’s a natural fit for an action figure review site. Do pardon the slight delay on this particular review; circumstances prevented me from seeing Solo on its opening weekend, and then circumstances prevented me from having any time to sit down and write about it until now.  So, how does the movie hold up?  Let’s find out!

THE ACTUAL REVIEW

Solo is an interesting beast.  In a franchise made up of epic after epic, Solo is decidedly *not*.  Quite frankly, that’s possibly the best thing its got going for it.  There are only so many times you can see a universe rocked to its core before you just need a few minutes to breath.

Set in the self-proclaimed “lawless time” of 10 years after Revenge of the Sith’s end and 10 years before A New Hope‘s beginning, Solo gives us the Star Wars universe at the most stable point we’ve seen it, at least in the movies.  The Empire has taken hold, but are still sewing the seeds of their totalitarian regime.  Obviously, we know where this ultimately leads, but it’s not there yet.  The Empire’s presence in this film is largely set-dressing, reminding us of where and when this all happens.  They are not the looming big bad of the original trilogy yet.  Moreover, the film doesn’t have a looming big bad at, really.  There are a few rival clans, each driven by their own agendas, but they don’t exactly have the organization or the numbers to muster the threat of the Imperials, the First Order, or even the Trade Federation.

In contrast to the somewhat frantically paced Rogue One, which gives us a myriad of planets to jump between, introduces an entire team, and places a very hard time limit on all operations, Solo takes its time.  Planets are introduced in a slower fashion, and the story follows them linearly, with no real jumping back and forth.  Unlike prior films, there aren’t multiple stories we’re jumping between.  Instead, we the audience take things in as the occur to Han, following his progression from street rat, to Imperial Infantryman, and finally to smuggler.

Alden Ehrenreich’s casting as young Han was met with a lot of uncertainty, as many felt he would be unable to live up to Harrison Ford’s legendary take on the role.  Ehrenrich plays a different Han, one who is more naive, and not yet the scoundrel we meet in the Mos Eisley Cantina.  Nevertheless, he is undoubtedly the same person at the core.  Ehrenreich captures the spirit of Ford’s Solo, without simply treading down the same path, or playing a caricature.  While perhaps he doesn’t look or sound the same, he certainly gets Han’s demeanor right, and it’s intriguing to watch as he takes on more of the classic Solo traits as the movie progresses.

Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is Han’s counterpoint; the other struggling street rat from Corellia.  Like Han, she has to take a slight detour on her plans in order to escape from her home world.  As a love interest for Han, she’s in dubious waters, since it’s destiny for their relationship to fail, and she’s inevitably going to be compared to Leia.  She’s a decidedly different character, though, and the movie gives her own, intriguing arc, as we make our way to the ultimately tragic ending of her and Han’s relationship.

Also serving as a counterpoint to Han is his mentor-figure, Tobias Becket, played by Woody Harrelson.  Becket allows Harrelson to do what he does best, playing a snarky hard-love mentor, with his own self-serving agenda.  Becket’s a vision of what Han might have become, had he not become involved with the Rebellion.  He’s a career smuggler, distrustful of everyone, and perpetually looking for that mythical “last job” that can get him away from it all.

Donald Glover’s turn as Lando Calrissian rounds out the major players, and is certainly a highlight of the film.  Ehrenreich’s Han is still on his way to being the character we know, but by contrast, Glover gives us a Lando that is unmistakably the same guy from Empire.  He’s clearly having a blast in the role, and he’s so much fun to watch.  His screen time is a little bit less than I’d initially been expecting, but Glover absolutely makes the most of it.

Supporting those four are a fun collection of smaller players.  Joonas Suotamo takes over the role of Chewbacca completely with this film, and gets one of the more action-oriented Chewbacca parts.  His backstory is expanded on from what we’ve seen before (and appears to be ignoring the Holiday Special.  I know, we’re all really broken up about it), but he’s still very much Chewy.  The recurring rivalry between him and Qi’ra for Han’s attention is quite amusing.  Phoebe-Bridge Waller’s L3-37 fulfills our requisite droid role, and takes the sassy droid archetype put in place by 3P0 and K2 and dials it up to 11.  She and Glover had great chemistry, and I’d love to see more of the pairs adventures.  Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau play the Zoe and Wash to Becket’s Mal, and, as with L3, I’d love to see more of their stories.

The role of antagonist gets passed around a few times over the course of the film, but the character holding it the longest is Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos.  His a delightfully charming villain, and the scenes containing him are a particular joy to watch.  After getting used to Bettany as Vision/Jarvis, the villainous turn allows him to show off some definite range.

Ultimately, nothing about Solo is revolutionary or game changing.  It’s not a movie about shifting the narrative or delivering new pieces of previously unknown lore.  Solo‘s purpose is merely to be a fun, small-scale adventure through a universe we all love, that offers up some fun nods here and there.  It’s meant to be a fun movie-going experience.  And at that, it definitely succeeds.

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