Solo: A Star Wars Story is a space western set sometime after the events of Revenge of the Sith. As the title implies, it focuses on Han Solo, originally a supporting character in A New Hope.
Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his lover Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) are “scrumrats” on the planet Corellia gathering resources for the slumlord, Lady Proxima (Linda Hunt). Han’s botched attempt to broker a deal with another gang leaves him with a powerful resource: the hyperspace fuel Coaxium. He and Qi’ra escape from Lady Proxima’s henchmen and attempt to get off the planet, only for Qi’ra to be apprehended before she can leave. Han swears to come back for her, but without any assets, commits to joining the Empire as a pilot. Without a surname, the imperial recruiter registers him as Han Solo.
Three years later, Han finds himself kicked out of the flight academy for insubordination and is now an infantryman on Mimban. When he approaches a gang posing as soldiers, he’s thrown into a pit with the intention of being fed to “the beast,” a Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Han reveals he can speak Wookie and they conspire to escape, narrowly making it onto a ship with the gang. After introducing themselves as Rio (Jon Favreau), Val (Thandie Newton), and leader Tobias (Woody Harrelson), they recruit Han and Chewbacca to steal Coaxium from an imperial convoy so all involved can get rich and part ways.
This part was my biggest concern with the whole film. It starts out just fine: the film is chasing a MacGuffin in the form of hyperspace fuel. But the execution takes the depth of the chase into confusion more than clarity. An opening title crawl (that’s unlike the traditional title crawl for Star Wars films) doesn’t seem entirely necessary, though I suppose an argument can be made that putting it there would be better than the characters explaining something they already know to each other for the benefit of the audience. Finally and most importantly is the flow of the traditional plot structure. Significant details are left out when they’re most necessary, particularly that Tobias and his crew are stealing for a high-ranking official of the crime syndicate Crimson Dawn. Instead of adding depth to the intent of the story, which is what I feel the production team was going for, the story becomes needlessly complicated and forgets what it was set out to do.
The development for most of the characters was actually my favorite part about this film. The introduction of new characters was exciting, despite knowing that only a few of them would go on to be a part of the bigger Star Wars universe. Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), gets much-needed development from The Empire Strikes Back as a Bespin administrator and former owner of the Millenium Falcon. He’s revealed to be a smuggler in his own right, with a personality that rivals Han’s but more of a reputation. Tobias Beckett and his wife Val are two of the new characters, working together to be free of their criminal ties and lead a simpler life. Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman) is the leader of a group called the Cloud Riders, who is similarly after coaxium fuel.
My favorite character out of the movie was one I wasn’t expecting. L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is Lando’s co-pilot on the Millenium Falcon with a keen sense of navigation. She also has more sass and determination for the rights for droids, which I’ll cover later. She quips with the best of them, and is much more interesting that the trailers give her credit for.
Perhaps one of my biggest concerns is that of Han Solo himself. In the original film, A New Hope, we find Han to be largely selfish and only wants to get out of the mess he’s in. It takes a good chunk of time for him to help the Rebels as a form of altruism instead of self-benefit. But by the end of this film, he’s going over the same beats of character. It forces the question of whether or not he actively forgets all of the good he’s capable of doing for others between this film and when he meets Luke and Obi-Wan on Tattooine.
One of the interesting things about Han Solo is his proficiency is speaking Wookie’s native language. This is briefly explored when Han and Chewbacca first meet. For that one scene, Han’s half of the conversation is translated for the benefit of the audience. Everything else in the movie with Chewbacca speaking will have Han as the mouthpiece repeating his statement. And as with other movies from the franchise, most other alien languages are picked up through context or droids used as translators. In a more toned down but consistent example, Lando Calrissian refers to Han as he does in The Empire Strikes Back.
And as a small bonus for the internet-dwelling geeks and nerds, L3’s full name of L3-37 is a deliberate reference to 1337-5p34k (Leet-speak) and it’s many iterations.
Despite the grand scope of the galaxy and everyone’s seemingly easy access to it, most of the characters yearn for a simpler life. Han and Qi’ra both mused about getting away from the slums and living comfortably before both are torn from each other and make compromises to get back where they were instead of where they want to be. Val and Tobias hold on to each other despite their profession of stealing important material for others. Tobias has a pet the dog moment of wanting to learn to play an instrument once he’s done with his last mission.
Betrayal and chronic back-stabbing is also prevalent in this movie. In a galaxy filled with criminals, it’s not that difficult to find someone you think you trust only to have them turn on you later. There are very few honest people in Han Solo’s line of work.
The last is a significant but short plot point about the treatment of droids which expands to the Star Wars canon as a whole. Think about all of the droids in the franchise and you’ll come to realize that a lot of them are treated horribly despite having sentience. C-3PO is treated as the butt monkey of almost every situation he’s in, including his head being replaced by an imperial droid in Attack of the Clones. If droids are needed to do work, don’t design them with personalities and ambitions. L3 exclusively fights for equal treatment of droids, which is something I never thought would come up in a film in the franchise because it’s been going on without much question for about 40 years.
Like Rogue One, the soundtrack and score mimic a lot of the core franchise but manages to keep things unique to the world. Lots of moments are built up with tension and has the music to back it up. Character themes are pretty prevalent as well.
As with the other Star Wars movies, a significant part of the movie takes place with space travel. The movie computer-generated and practical effects blend pretty well in universe, mostly in the form of practical costumes where necessary and computer generated when the aliens are non-humanoid. It’s everything I expected it to be.
There are plenty of high-profile actors in this movie. Emilia Clarke, best known for her role in Game of Thrones, is the supporting female character Qi’ra. Woody Harrelson, who’s been in genres spanning through action dramas and comedy horrors, plays the supporting role of Tobias. Donny Glover, who’s recently garnered a lot of attention for his newest single, plays the high-profile smuggler Lando Calrissian. There are several minor characters that have higher profile actors behind them, as well. Warwick Davis, who plays Wickett in Return of the Jedi, makes an appearance in this film. Enough to be noticed, but not so blatant that it distracts from the scene.
Many people were concerned that Alden Ehrenreich would not pass for a good Han Solo, with so many people exclusively thinking of Harrison Ford and what he brought the the character. While I don’t completely agree with the character, I found the acting to be excellent.
The direct demographic for this movie are those who’ve seen Han Solo in the original films and want to know more about his background. The movie is accessible to all with the war themes cut back severely in comparison to the other stand-alone story, Rogue One.
I enjoyed this movie, despite its bungled plot. It was a bigger character examination than it was a story.
With the amount of time between this film and the original and prequel stories (approximately in the middle of the 20 year gap between Revenge and A New Hope), there’s a good opportunity for this to branch into its own set of movies. This may be the case, with a Lando Calrissian movie already in talks. I don’t know quite how I feel about that, because as interesting as it would be, I don’t want more stuff to be thrown in the Star Wars franchise in fear of diminishing returns.