Solo: A Star Wars Story

Sarah Ward

This enjoyable jaunt through Han Solo’s origins charts expected territory, but the latest Star Wars side story still engages.
Solo: A Star Wars Story

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a roguish starpilot took his ship through a dangerous route. More than that – and the subject of much pride afterwards – he found a quicker, shorter, riskier way to make the trip. That Han Solo navigated the Millennium Falcon through the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs is one of the first pieces of information audiences discover about the character in in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, other than the name of his vessel, and it’s one that his swagger and self-assurance instantly appears to hinge upon. Han, played by Harrison Ford (Blade Runner 2049) in that first franchise outing, plus Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, has enjoyed other adventures and achievements since first bragging to Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness, Mute Witness) in the Mos Eisley Cantina; however, the Kessel Run, and the skill and confidence required to go through with it, couldn’t be more engrained in his persona. 

Indeed, the initial Star Wars trilogy showed viewers how that fast-flying escapade left its mark on Han; not by constant references to it, but by painting a picture of a man who had that feat on his intergalactic resume and walked taller as a result. Accordingly, with every additional moment spent in Han’s company, the saga fleshed out a brazen scamp of a character that audiences, naturally, wanted to spend more time with. Now Solo: A Star Wars Story offers fans the chance to do just that, plunging into its eponymous figure’s origin story. If recent Star Wars films have needed to juggle respecting the past with paving a new way forward, this tangential tale doesn’t have that problem – working through established and expected events, it simply needs to join the dots.

Before Han could boast in bars with blistering bravado, the much younger wannabe pilot (Alden Ehrenreich, The Yellow Birds) sped through the Corellian streets as a scrumrat beholden to local gangs. With his childhood love Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke, TV’s Game of Thrones), he dreams of getting off the industrial planet and travelling the universe, but their big getaway eventually leads them elsewhere, and separately. Han teams up with a gang of thieves led by the kindly Beckett (Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), while Qi'ra finds herself in the employ of ruthless criminal kingpin Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, Avengers: Infinity War). As luck would have it, Beckett and his crew have been hired by Dryden to pilfer a trainload of sought-after fuel – although, when their early attempt goes haywire, they’re forced to make other plans.

Veteran Star Wars scribe Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens) and his co-writer son Jonathan (The First Time) might have the easiest jobs in the galaxy, layering the foreseeable aspects of Han’s backstory over a heist-oriented space western. The overarching narrative could furnish an unrelated film – and, like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it’s not designed to fall into the regular episodic canon – while every detail fans have anticipated eventuates. As well as taking on the Kessel run, Han crosses paths with both loveable wookiee Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, Star Wars: Episode VIII –The Last Jedi) and suave smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, Atlanta) for the first time, giving viewers somewhat of an origin story for each as well. There’s little that comes as a surprise in the script, or in Ron Howard’s (Inferno) efficient direction. And yet, while it mightn’t work in the more comedic way that the movie’s first helmers, Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie), likely intended, it still works.

In the absence of anything especially new or unexpected, Solo leans into its tried-and-trusted elements. It’s not trying to outshine the main saga; rather, the film savours getting to know its iconic characters at an earlier time in their lives, enjoys placing them in an adventure-fuelled effort and knows that ticking the requisite boxes – story-, catchphrase- and personality-wise – can bring thrills anyway. In tone, that approach results in a movie closer to the 1977-1983 instalments than the darker later episodes, all set to an appropriately upbeat tempo. Still, the feature never feels like mere fan service. A sky-high train heist sequence, as thrillingly staged and shot, might remain its clear highlight, but everything else about Solo looks and feels the part. The weight and gravity of its immediate predecessors is ultimately missing, and noticeable, particularly coming so soon after last year’s The Last Jedi; however the film successfully stakes its claim as a jovial jaunt with long-beloved figures, as opposed to a future-thinking continuation. 

Like any step back into an established protagonist’s past, or two, much still relies upon on the cast – and, specifically, upon the suitably roguish Ehrenreich and the charisma-dripping Glover. The latter’s task is easier than the former’s, purely given Han’s greater prominence across the franchise, but both handle their parts in a fitting manner. Neither tries to mimic their predecessors. Instead, each inhabits versions of Han and Lando that feel like they’ll naturally evolve into Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams’ respective portrayals. Around them, everyone else conforms to the Star Wars standard – an alien thief voiced by Jon Favreau (Spider-Man Homecoming); Lando’s droid companion L3-37, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Goodbye Christopher Robin); and Beckett’s paramour Val, played by Thandie Newton (Westworld) included – in keeping with the movie’s affectionate, engaging, throwback air.

3 stars ★★★  

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Director: Ron Howard

US, 2018, 135 mins

Release date: May 24

Distributor: Disney

Rated: M

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, Metro Magazine and Screen Education. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay