It’s been about three years since our favourite space scoundrel – SPOILER ALERT – met his demise in Star Wars Ep VII: The Force Awakens (see our review). Now comes a standalone prequel where Han Solo is played by…not Harrison Ford.
Somewhat fresh face Alden Ehrenreich steps into Ford’s very big shoes as the young Han Solo in an origin film that traces his backstory to about 10 years before he joins forces with Luke and Leia in A New Hope. Han and his girlfriend Qi’ra (a radiant Emilia Clarke) are street urchins on the industrial and lawless planet, Corellia. They have stolen a vial of the valuable fuel Coaxium to buy their way out of a life oppressed by crime syndicates.
He makes it but she does not. Solo promises (of course) to return to Corellia to retrieve her one day. And so the tale takes off on a trajectory that details how Han becomes the roguish co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon that we know and love.
We witness the landmark first encounters with Chewbacca and the young Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), not to mention a band of outlaws led by one Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). This is followed by successive heist jobs that are as exhilarating as they are harrowing. It’s all in service of the notorious gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) who has, to further complicate matters, taken Qi’ra under his wing.
It needs to be said right off the bat that for a movie with such a troubled start (the original directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord were fired weeks into the shoot), Solo: A Star Wars Story is still an entertaining and effective installment. It’s all thanks to veteran filmmaker Ron Howard, who took over the production after Miller and Lord’s exit.
In Howard’s hands, the pacing is tight. No time is wasted on lengthy expositions as the story dives into one action-packed set piece after another. There is a sequence involving a train heist that is particularly breathtaking. If Rogue One (see our review) evokes the heavy-handed drama of classic war films, then Solo is a light-hearted caper peppered with elements of the Old West.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously as compared to other installments in the franchise. Some fans may then feel that Solo doesn’t quite deserve to join the ranks of these modern classics but, personally, I think it’s part of its charm.
The other question on everyone’s minds is how Ehrenreich fares as Han Solo, a signature role of Ford’s and one of cinema’s greatest icons. While it’s unfair to stack up Ehrenreich against Ford’s performance, Ehrenreich manages to pull through with some charm and swagger, even though he looks a little lost at times and can’t quite nail Ford’s intensity and charisma. And at certain angles, he does in fact bear a striking resemblance to the young Ford.
That aside, the ensemble dynamics are electric! Lucasfilm has managed to gather some of the best, most exciting actors in the biz and there is genuine chemistry between them. This may be part of the reason Ehrenreich’s performance got diluted in the mix.
Harrelson’s Beckett is a bit of a scene stealer and Glover’s reputation as a cool artist (he’s constantly making waves with his music and his acclaimed TV series Atlanta) lends itself to Lando’s dandy smoothness. Clarke also channels the same allure and fierceness that made her character Daenerys Targaryen a fan favourite on Game of Thrones.
While Solo lacks the narrative depth and isn’t as satisfying as some of the other Star Wars installments, it still makes for one thrilling adventure and the fun is infectious. You just need to ditch the high expectations at the door.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is out in cinemas today. Catch it and let us know what you think below.