Solo, the second stand-alone Star Wars anthology film from Disney/Lucasfilm since Rogue One (2016) features a young Han Solo that’s set exactly ten years before the events of A New Hope (1977) and his famous encounter in the Mos Eisley alien cantina with Luke and Ben Kenobi who hire him to pilot them to Alderaan to meet their destiny.
It’s also ten years after the end of the Clone Wars when all the Jedi have been killed or exiled by the Sith Lord Darth Sidious and his fallen Jedi apprentice Darth Vader. It’s a lawless time when powerful crime syndicates like Crimson Dawn are competing for resources and a few pockets of resistance are starting to rise up against the Empire’s authoritarian rule.
Solo is a solid coming of age adventure ride that harkens back to the Old West/cowboys-in-space vibe of the original films, taking us on a hyperspace journey through the darker underbelly of the Star Wars universe; from the industrial shipyards on Han’s home world of Corellia, to a war zone on the mud planet Mimban, to the dingy gambling hide-out of Fort Ypso on the snowy mountain planet Vandor, to the oppressive spice mines of Kessel, and ultimately a stand-off at a deserted oceanside refinery on a sand dune wasteland called Savareen.
Much has been made in the media about Solo’s production problems and questions of the need for a film about Han Solo’s backstory, but in the end none of that matters because the movie, like Solo himself, beat all the odds and works amazingly well showing no evidence of the behind-the-scenes turmoil. The story is exciting and emotionally engaging, giving us new insights into the Star Wars universe with many fun nods to the classic films and the expanded universe books.
Chewbacca and the Millennium Falcon are of course major characters in the Star Wars saga, and we get to see how these two iconic characters bonded and became synonymous with the Han Solo legend. For Chewbacca fans, we haven’t seen the Wookie fuzz ball get this much action since The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
Solo, which I suspect will be the first in a series of Han Solo adventures, stays generally, if loosely, faithful to some of the Han Solo lore that was established in the various expanded universe novels while also exploring new directions. It’s encouraging that Solo is proving new filmmakers are still able to find inspiration from the Expanded Universe stories and are not completely ignoring the non-canon books.
I’m happy to say that Alden Ehrenreich’s interpretation of Han Solo is in perfect keeping with the tone and spirit of the character created by Harrison Ford. He embodies the younger space pirate wonderfully giving a solid fun performance as the charming ambitious idealist smuggler who wants to make his mark in the universe with plenty of swagger.
Another standout performance comes from Donald Glover as the suave gambler and entrepreneur Land Calrissian. Glover was able to channel Billy Dee Williams smooth attitude with uncanny resemblance. In fact, the duo of Ehrenreich and Glover have great on-screen chemistry.
One of the coolest side-splitting sequences in Solo was the filmmakers’ attempt to explore droids’ rights issues, given that androids are generally treated as slave labor in the Star Wars galaxy. One droid in particular plays a fantastic role in Lando’s navigational co-pilot L3-37 played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge who has more personality than we’ve ever seen from other Star Wars droids.
The music score by John Powell ties Solo most closely with A New Hope (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980) with John Williams’ familiar themes being re-used here and there to instantly recall situations from the earlier films.
For fans, Solo has a revelatory ah-ha moment with the re-appearance of a popular villain long thought to be dead and who was resurrected in the CG Animated tv series The Clone Wars (2008 – 2014) that will be discussed for years to come and promises more intriguing stories in future episodes.
Solo can also be enjoyed immensely by the casual viewer as a retro/futuristic adventure heist film set in a galaxy far, far away that feels like a Western in space with memorable characters who seem strangely familiar. So, bring your best Wookie roar, your quickdraw blaster and enjoy the ride.