While much of the Star Wars universe revolves around the hero’s journey of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), looking back on the series reveals that a lot of the characters were rather flat and uninteresting. Luke himself was the farm boy in the big city. What made the series really fly was the extraordinary imagination of the entire crew and the Lucas special effects team that did a remarkable job converting dreams into images on the silver screen.
Still, films are about individuals and there are few characters in the Star Wars universe more loved than the rogue with the heart of gold Han Solo (Harrison Ford in every previous movie). Solo showed up in a still-debated cantina gambling shootout as the mercenary space pilot with his scruffy Millennium Falcon hot rod of a spaceship, but not much of his backstory ever emerged in the original six movies and more recent ‘Star Wars’ cinematic chapters.
I have always viewed Han Solo as one of the most likable and entertaining characters in the entire universe too, so it was with much excitement and a little bit of trepidation that I saw the latest Disney Star Wars movie ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story.’ Turns out that it’s really good, super entertaining, and feels very true to the original spirit of Star Wars!
This time Han Solo is played by Alden Ehrenreich and it’s a pretty grim pre-Rebellion galaxy where entire planets are under the sadistic thumb of the Empire and Han and his girlfriend Kira (Emilia Clarke) are just fighting to survive on a gang-run industrial planet. It’s very Dickensian, though set in a dark future and not a 19th century English workhouse. When Han finagles a way off the planet, he has a few years of pretty tough experiences (no spoilers here!) and ends up teaming up with sly space pirate Becket (Woody Harrelson) and his team of criminals.
Their goal is to hijack a huge shipment of the ultra-valuable but highly unstable “coaxium” and they end up having to borrow a ship from inveterate gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), who ends up joining them for the heist. The hijacking is spectacular, an action sequence right out of a ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie or perhaps a ‘Fast and Furious’ film. It shows just how far visual effects from Lucasfilm have come and is worth the price of admission by itself.
There’s also a big, lovable furry character who shows up and becomes fast friends with Solo too: Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Turns out that the Wookies are not faring well in the new, iron-fisted Empire and so not only do we get to meet Chewie in a great scene about which fans will be arguing for years, but we meet some other Wookies too. Good fun and so much better than having any Ewoks show up. Yikes.
As the film that introduces both the egotistical rebel Han Solo and shows the birth of the Rebellion, ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ ends up being a familiar Hollywood story of the rough and tumble underdog community banding together to fight the rich, powerful hegemony. If that’s a trigger for you then elements of the film might not be to your liking, but I found it both comfortable and enjoyable. I mean, who doesn’t want to see the underdogs win occasionally?
As befitting a film from the special effects teams that basically invented both visual and audio effects, the film itself is just fantastic, really seamless with all its CGI and breathtaking with its audio effects. Rather to my surprise, however, there were a number of scenes that felt underlit and at least a few points where I had to strain to understand the dialog. Was our screener a late workprint? Perhaps. But for a team with this many Academy Awards, it was quite unexpected.
And that’s about all I have to complain about with ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story.’ The Han Solo backstory is satisfying, entertaining and provocative, his relationship with Kira is understandable and a harbinger of other stories to come in the Star Wars universe, and, of course, the Millennium Falcon and Chewbacca end up just as important and iconic as we fans would demand.
Solo turns out to be a great entertainment, a fun and action-filled movie that offers a very different view of the future (well, of “a future” at least) than the more cartoonish ‘Avengers’ movie or the crass, but amusing ‘Deadpool 2.’ We’ve got a great summer ahead of us in the cinema!