“Solo” is not the “Star Wars” movie you’re looking for.
If you’re expecting the unwatchable aftermath of the preproduction drama that has become the standard for Star Wars stand-alone films, you’ll be shockingly disappointed.
“Solo” works. Very well, actually. And it serves as a testament to the risk that Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy made with a very late-in-the-game director switch from Chris Miller and Phil Lord (“The Lego Movie”) to Hollywood veteran Ron Howard.
Kennedy and the rest of the company knew that “Solo’s” story was the real star, and that it didn’t need messing with. All Howard had to do was bring his years of directing experience and follow the instructions left for him by the folks at Lucasfilm.
Perhaps because the legend of Han Solo is intertwined with the fan-favorite performance of Harrison Ford, we were putting too much pressure on this film. Let’s be clear: Alden Ehrenreich is no Ford. But at this point in the life of Han Solo, he shouldn’t be. Heck, he’s not even Han Solo yet when the movie begins (and yes, we do find out where he gets the cool last name from).
“Solo” sees a young Han trying to figure out who he wants to be: He knows the life in front of him at the beginning of the film isn’t something he can accept as permanent. He wants more, and Ehrenreich is believable enough as a man trying to eventually become a galaxy legend.
There is no lack for star power as the film’s stellar supporting cast provides it in abundance.
Woody Harrelson’s Beckett is particularly enjoyable as the man who shows Han the swashbuckling ropes. Paul Bettany pulls off a great last-minute save, filling in for Michael K. Williams — who couldn’t work around “Solo’s” huge reshoot schedule — and is calmly cunning as villain Dryden Vos. (It is somewhat jarring to hear the voice of the Vision, whom Bettany plays heroically in multiple Marvel movies, be delivered with evil intentions, but kudos to Disney and Lucasfilm for realizing Bettany could turn off the hero switch.)
Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) shines in her time on-screen and is given a meaty role that merits close attention.
And Donald Glover … well, he’s Donald Glover. The actor-musician has been broadcasting his wide array of talents recently on television (“Atlanta”) and with his compelling “This is America” music video. While Ehrenreich isn’t ready to respond “I know” to someone who tells him they love him just yet, Glover’s Lando Calrissian has swag to spare — enough that the original Lando, Billy Dee Williams, can crack open a Colt 45 and know the role he helped turn into Star Wars legend is in good hands. (And yes, Lando should have his own movie at some point. Glover’s star burns bright enough in this galaxy to make that seem like an eventual wise decision.)
“Solo” starts slow, but picks up the pace once Han is introduced to his future space-traveling, bro-for-life Chewbacca. There are eye-popping surprises that are too good to spoil, but perhaps the biggest surprise is how well this movie sets itself up to be a multi-film franchise. This isn’t a one-shot like “Rogue One,” but rather the beginning of a bigger story that begins to connect to the larger Star Wars universe the further along it goes.
I’ll be the first to admit this was the first Star Wars movie I went into with lots of skepticism — not even Episode I’s Jar Jar Binks made me worry as much as this movie’s production drama did. (I kept dropping the famous Star Wars quote: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.“) But sometimes the best cinematic moments are when you’re pleasantly surprised, and that was indeed the case with “Solo.”
I think it’s fair to say this go-round solidifies that the Star Wars stand-alone films (“Rogue One,” “Solo”), despite both having more production drama than the last two new “episodes” (“The Force Awakens,” “The Last Jedi”), have smoother and more enjoyable final products.
The force is strong with this one. Disney and Lucasfilm couldn’t ask for more than that.