Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018): A Film with Few Surprises or New Ideas
Han Solo is one of the coolest and most charismatic movie characters in the history of film cinema, remaining lovable despite the fact that he is a scoundrel. A massive contributor to his likability was the fact he was portrayed by Harrison Ford, who remains the gold standard of cool even today. Which is why it was both exciting and concerning when it was announced that a Han Solo spin off was happening, with a lesser-known actor in the role of a younger Solo no less.
Han (played by Alden Ehrenreich) is a street thief trying to escape his past with his childhood friend and crush Qi’ra (played by Emilia Clarke). Han and Qi’ra are separated while escaping and never see each other for years. After becoming an Imperial Stormtrooper, Han is trying to escape the war with a band of thieving misfits led by Tobias Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson), who needs to pull off a heist in order to square a debt with an intergalactic crime boss. When deserting the Imperial army, he meets the wookie Chewbacca (played by Joonas Suotamo). With Han’s help, Beckett is able to put together a crew that can pull off the heist. But will the heist be enough to buy Han’s freedom?
This is a cast definitely worthy of a Star Wars film. With Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame and seasoned veterans like Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany in the supporting cast, it felt like nothing could really go wrong. Then we met Han Solo. Ehrenreich definitely gives a good performance as Han...if he were a cosplayer at comic con. It came off as him trying to be too cool for school and in actuality, Han is definitely too cool for school. Everyone else overshadowed him in terms of coolness and likeability; especially Donald Glover’s performance as a young Lando Calrissian. While no one can replace Billy Dee Williams as Lando, Donald steps into the role effortlessly and absolutely steals the show right out from under our protagonist. They could have called it “Lando: A Star Wars Story” and we probably wouldn’t have known the difference.
We all know how a Star Wars space opera goes: good guy fights bad guy and good guys prevail. But when it comes to Solo (2018), it feels too generic or extremely safe; safer than Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). They lean into the stereotypes of both westerns and Star Wars, but do nothing to build on them or add nuance to the story. I could probably tell you the plot of this movie and you would name far superior films that utilize both genre cliches better than Solo (2018). Not only that, but they included twists that EVERYONE could see coming, like when Beckett betrays Han and Qi’ra in the climax of the film. Even the script calls out all of the character’s predictability in this scene! Allowing for a by-the-numbers film betrayal that surprised no one. I will say though, I was caught off guard when Beckett got his comeuppance when Han shot first. But then again, it's in Han’s character.
Just because the story and characters are predictable does not mean there aren’t any glorious moments that definitely stand out within the entire Star Wars canon. Such as the Kessel Run when performed by Han and Chewie on their escape from the planet Kessel. Since the normal path is blocked by an imperial star destroyer, they have no choice but to travel into the enormous debris cloud surrounding the planet. Which contains giant creatures, planets crashing together, and even a black hole. This sequence alone makes the viewing of Solo (2018) salvageable, wracking up the tension and stakes to 11 and even including some comedy, like age dropping Chewbacca. Another moment that was pleasurable to Star Wars fans everywhere was the live action confirmation of Darth Maul as the crime boss Crimson Dawn. While his status as alive was confirmed in animated shows like Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-2014; 2020) and Star Wars Rebels (2014-2018), this was the first time he has been seen in live action in almost 2 decades. And it was beautiful!
Even though Solo (2018) was a solid action film, it was hit with several problems during production. The biggest of which was that Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) was originally supposed to be directed by the duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, of The Lego Movie (2014) fame. However, due to “creative differences” with the studio they were let go and replaced by the reliable Ron Howard. I do not personally think this hurt the film of Solo (2018), it certainly didn’t help as much of the film had to be reshot. Leading to the recast and redevelopment of the character Dryden Vos (played by Paul Bettany) which the original character was played by Michael K. Williams before he had to opt out due to scheduling conflicts.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is ultimately the most forgettable of all the Star Wars films. Not to say it’s bad, far from it, it’s actually really good. The story was just far too predictable to make any lasting impression upon the Star Wars community. In fact, I would qualify this as a by-the-numbers action heist film rather than a part of the titular space opera’s franchise. It was probably one of the reasons why it bombed at the box office, which is both a shame and not all that surprising. Alden Ehrenreich was fine as Han Solo, but he could never fill Harrison Ford’s shoes and was ultimately overshadowed by a more charismatic supporting cast. With several impressive scenes and solid fan service, Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is the film you watch when you are bored on a rainy day.