I will put my Sabacc cards on the table here: I never wanted Solo: A Star Wars Story to get made.
It not only sounded like it was going to trot out the most tedious of tales — the dreaded origin story — but also seemed like another instance in which people my age can't stop reviving, remaking or repurposing stuff we liked as kids. Better that, I guess, than come up with our own original stories.
But Solo was always going to get made, especially when there was so much as a dime for Disney to wring out of one of its properties. And having seen Solo in advance of its release this Friday (May 25) — and it shocks me to say this — I'm glad Solo got made, at least this version of it.
Oh, it's an origin story all right, and odds are, it's not nearly as elaborate as the one you've likely concocted in your head. You get your Han-and-Chewbacca meet-cute, you find out just how many capes Lando Calrissian owns (all the capes, it seems) and you get enough fan service to supply an especially attentive Star Wars-themed bed-and-breakfast for years. But you also get some strong acting turns, some clever direction and a crisp storyline that avoids the portent and pomp of your standard space operas.
MORE: I Just Fought Kylo Ren Using Lenovo's Star Wars AR Headset
At the end of the day, Solo is a fun trip to the pictures, and isn't that what we should hope for from another Star Wars installment? While trying our darndest to avoid spoilers — and yes, there are a few even for a movie that's meant to stand on its own — here's what worked and what didn't in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
It's a caper movie
The Star Wars films may be pillars of the sci-fi genre, but for me, they work best when they're drawing on other types of movies for inspiration. The original Episode IV is essentially a Western blended with samurai pictures and told like a Saturday afternoon serial. Rogue One is essentially a war picture that wouldn't be out of place alongside the likes of They Were Expendable or The Longest Day. (Well, except maybe for the AT-ATs.)
Solo is, at its heart, a caper movie, with all the cinematic conventions that requires. You've got your assembling of the crack team of untrustworthy thieves, the intricate scheme that inevitably goes awry, and the requisite double- and triple-crosses. That's fun in any movie but especially so when it's familiar characters like Han and Chewie giving us the Ocean's 11 treatment.
MORE: 14 Star Wars Stories We Want Instead of Solo
It also helps that this is the rare Star Wars movie in which the fate of the galaxy doesn't hinge on our heroes pulling off their heist. And while the stakes are smaller, they're intensely personal for the characters, which keeps the audience engaged from beginning to end — and that's important, since it's no spoiler to say that we go into Solo knowing full well that Han, Chewie and Lando are going to be alive long after the final reel.
Alden Ehrenreich does a solid Solo
It's challenging enough playing a role that someone else created, let alone playing a character as iconic as Han Solo. It would be tempting just to spend the movie imitating Harrison Ford and even easier — and worse — to do a pale imitation of him.
Alden Ehrenreich does not do this. It's very clear that he studied Ford's Solo work, from how he tries to smirk his way out of a jam to the way he holds a blaster. But Ehrenreich brings his own charm and charisma to the role, giving us a believable glimpse into how the pre-Episode IV Solo carried himself. It's not a demanding part, but you never think for a second that you're watching an impressionist — Alden Ehrenreich is Han Solo because he speaks and moves and reacts the way we expect Han Solo to act, while adding his own particular spin on the part.
While we're praising actors for finding something new to do with beloved characters, spare a thought for Donald Glover and his take on Lando Calrissian. Glover has nailed the intonations and cadence that Billy Dee Williams brought to the original part. But like Ehrenreich, he does his own thing as well, adding depth to a character that's been pretty much relegated to a supporting role in previous installments. It spoils nothing to say that at one point, we happen upon Lando dictating his memoirs, and if Glover signs on, that's a movie I'd line up to see.
Star Wars keeps finding interesting new creatures
After an ill-advised turn toward CGI characters in the earlier prequels, recent Star Wars movies have incorporated more practical effects, and thankfully, Solo continues this trend.
We're introduced to a new round of creatures — snarling, pig-like dogs; a street crime boss that's seemingly escaped from the Centipede video game; and a multiarmed co-pilot — that would fit right into the rogue's cantina that makes up the Star Wars universe. If you like K-2SO in Rogue One, you'll be equally delighted by L3-37, Lando's rabble-rousing robotic co-pilot voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Ron Howard directs a good chase scene
When Ron Howard was brought in as the replacement director for Solo, you knew two things: 1) Clint Howard was going to get work again, and 2) you're going to get a professionally polished movie. (It speaks well to Ron Howard's ability that for all the talk of Solo being a troubled production, there's no evidence of it on-screen. The finished product is cohesive and holds together from beginning to end.)
What you might not expect is that Howard really knows how to direct a chase scene, whether it involves a Landspeeder-style vehicle on Han's home planet of Corellia or a very thrilling train robbery that's complicated only somewhat by the simultaneous arrival of both marauders and viper droids. The action comes fast and furious in scenes like this, but thanks to Howard's steady hand, it never descends into a indistinguishable blur. You're always aware of who's doing what and what imminent danger lurks ahead when Solo cuts away to a chase scene.
So what didn’t work with Solo?
Ron Howard does not direct a good fight scene
The hand-to-hand fight scenes are a little less assured than the chases. Did you thrill to Rey and Kylo Ren teaming up to eviscerate scores of the Praetorian Guards in The Last Jedi? You will not get that here. It's a minor point, since Solo's biggest thrills occur when Han is at the controls of one ship or another. But the action sequences that involving fighting in Solo feel a little muddy (quite literally muddy in the instance where Han is first introduced to one character).
A little too much fan service at times
If you make a Star Wars movie, you're going to have nods and winks to the hard-core fans. That's part of the deal. As Chekhov once wrote, you don't show the Millennium Falcon in the first act without building up to which two characters will be sitting in the pilot and co-pilot seats by the end. While Solo has its share of cameos and references that will be appreciated by anyone who devours everything Star Wars related, it doesn't overdo it so much that casual fans will feel they need to watch the original trilogy right before the opening crawl appears on-screen.
Still, there are times when Solo comes close to crossing that line, with dialogue that's a little too on the nose. "You have any idea what it's like to live with a price on your head?" one character demands of Han early on in the movie. ("You will," the audience member can be forgiven for muttering out loud in their best Yoda voice. "You will.")
It's a little too long
No, we're not talking a Last Jedi-type runtime where you have to plan out your meals and leave word with your family so that they don't start worrying about your lengthy disappearance. But Solo comes in at a not-very-taut 2 hours and 15 minutes. There's not a lot of lag time in the movie, but if you're like me, there will come a point when you say, "Well, surely, that must be the end." Surely, you will be wrong.
Solo could very well have been a disaster, an unnecessary prequel that needlessly revived a beloved character for a cynical cash grab. It's not that at all. Instead, it's an engaging yarn that does right by Han and Chewie — faithful enough to the original material to please fans, yet confident enough to go in a different direction from the earlier movies to stand tall on its own.
If, like me, you were dreading Solo, you needn't be worried. This is a fine, if not necessarily essential, addition to the Star Wars saga.