By HEATHER TURK
Front Row Features Film Critic
Following a production plagued with problems, including replacing original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“The LEGO Movie”) with Academy Award winner Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”) and having him reportedly reshoot 70 percent of the film, Lucasfilm’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is finally blasting into theaters. While the action-packed production may not be the best “Star Wars” film to date, it’s far better than the oft-hated prequels.
Focusing on Han Solo’s origin story, “Solo” follows the beloved scoundrel (played here by Alden Ehrenreich, “Hail, Caesar!”) as he escapes his home planet of Corellia, briefly joins the Empire and eventually deserts them by teaming up with a group of thieves in hopes of making enough money to buy his dream ship and return home to save the woman he loves (Emilia Clarke, “Game of Thrones”). Along the way, screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan (“Dawson’s Creek”) and veteran “Star Wars” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (“Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) go through a checklist of sorts, thinking of all the things fans would want a young Han Solo movie to touch upon. While naturally not everything—or everyone—fans were hoping to see in the film makes it to the big screen, all of the major bases are covered: how Han meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”), how he meets Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, “Atlanta”) and even how he gets the Millennium Falcon. Fans also get to see him make the Kessel Run in “less than 12 parsecs.”
The father-son screenwriting duo also do a service to die-hard “Star Wars” fans by peppering the film with plenty of references from previously released books and comics and officially making them canon within Disney’s “Star Wars” universe, even though they often change Han Solo’s origin story, including how he meets Chewbacca. For instance, in the movie Han no longer gets kicked out of the Imperial Army for helping save an enslaved Chewbacca. While casual fans of the “Star Wars” saga will be none the wiser to these changes in Han’s backstory, those who have spent years reading every “Star Wars” book and comic ever released may prefer what’s now referred to as the “Legends” canon (formerly known as the Expanded Universe) to what unfolds on the big screen.
Not to say “Solo: A Star Wars Story” isn’t a fun-filled galactic adventure—it is. Its 2-hour-15-minute run time flies by and the performances by its leading cast members are all strong. Ehrenreich may not exactly resemble or sound like Harrison Ford, but he does a decent enough job making the charismatic scoundrel character his own. There are even a few scenes where his mannerisms and line delivery are very reminiscent of how Harrison Ford originally played the part, which should please those who initially scoffed at Ehrenreich being cast in the role. Still, unlike the “X-Men” prequels where the actors played their roles so well audiences now think of the younger cast as the characters instead of the original cast, 20 years from now, Han Solo likely will always be Harrison Ford rather than Alden Ehrenreich to fans.
Glover, on the other hand, is perfect as a young Lando, delivering all of the swagger Billy Dee Williams originally brought to the part. Not since Josh Brolin as a young Tommy Lee Jones in “Men in Black 3” has someone captured the essence of their on-screen predecessor’s performance so perfectly. It’s just a shame Glover’s screen time is so limited.
Clarke also delivers a memorable performance as Qi’ra, the woman Han falls for on Corellia whose path he crosses once again when he agrees to do a job for the villainous Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, “Avengers: Infinity War”). Clarke keeps audiences guessing until the very end if her character can be trusted, as does Woody Harrelson (“War for the Planet of the Apes”) as Han’s mentor/partner in crime, Tobias Beckett.
Probably the biggest scene-stealing performance in the entire movie belongs to Lando’s feisty droid L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Fleabag”). L3-37 doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but the hilarious and surprisingly progressive character definitely takes her place among C-3PO, R2-D2 and BB-8 as one of “Star Wars’” top droids.
Nevertheless, even though “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is plenty entertaining, the jury is still out on whether or not Han Solo’s origin tale really ever needed to be made into a movie—let alone be part of a rumored trilogy of films. (Ehrenreich accidentally spilled the beans during a recent interview that he’s contracted for three films.) While the movie definitely leaves enough untied ends to set up a sequel, fans likely won’t be disappointed if any future sequels come in the form of new books or comics instead of another movie.
Regardless of how many “Solo” films are eventually released, one thing is for certain: after months of “Star Wars” fans worrying, “I have a bad feeling about this,” Ron Howard somehow miraculously turned “Solo: A Star Wars Story” from a movie that could have jeopardized the “Star Wars” franchise’s future—especially its stand-alone films—into a fun popcorn flick that even the most die-hard fan should enjoy. If nothing else, Harrison Ford reportedly loves the film, so his stamp of approval should be good enough for every “Star Wars” fan to at least get behind the movie and give the troubled production a chance.