Prequels are always a gamble. This is evidenced by box-office flops or critically panned movies like Oz the Great and Powerful, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and…well…the Star Wars prequels—most especially The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Due to the franchise’s checkered past, Lucasfilms (and Disney) needed to be especially careful with Solo—another Star Wars prequel. Overall, they succeeded. Solo: A Star Wars Story is pretty good. More importantly, it’s not actively bad.
Solo focuses on the origin of—you guessed it—lovable rogue Han Solo. Through the movie, fans of the franchise get to see how Han met Chewbacca, how he met Lando Calrissian, and how he got the Millenium Falcon. The story also introduces originality into the mythos of Star Wars. The movie introduces new characters, places, and ideas that don’t have a large role in the film universe. This results in a film that feels fresh and interesting for audiences largely unfamiliar with the larger universe, while also including the tie-ins, nods, and Easter eggs that more ardent fans came for. Solo has its stumbles—it’s not a great movie, but it’s definitely enjoyable and it’s definitely not the worst Star Wars movie.
Solo opens on the world of Corellia, where Han (Alden Ehrenreich) scrapes to survive by stealing and swindling for one of the local gangs. He dreams of escape with his love and partner in crime, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). The movie wastes no time getting to the action. Within the first five minutes, Solo features a lengthy and indulgent chase scene in which Han and Qi’ra struggle to evade the bad guys and get off the planet. Han manages to get through the security checkpoint, but Qi’ra is held back. Han is forced to leave without her, but swears to return. He still dreams of becoming a pilot, and sets his sights on obtaining a ship and coming back for Qi’ra. In order to do this, he joins the Imperial Military.
At this point, Solo has really skipped over the “origin” aspect of this origin story. Thankfully, we don’t see Han as a child—Ehrenreich plays the character throughout the entire story, taking place over the course of a few years. Solo doesn’t drag audiences through Han’s upbringing, tragic backstory, or anything else so usually tiresome. Instead, most of Solo’s admittedly lengthy runtime is spent in what appears to be months before he begins working for Jabba the Hut (as seen in A New Hope).
Solo is also much more contained than the other Star Wars films. This is as it should be—it doesn’t need to strangle itself in the tangled webs of the main franchise. It is a side-story, and it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. The stakes are relatively low—we all know that Han, Chewie, Lando, and the Falcon make it out of each and every scrape alright, because we’ve seen Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, and Billy Dee Williams play the roles in later movies. Solo instead presents tension and suspense in the fates of previously unseen characters like those played by Clarke, by Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, and others.
The film has its shortcomings, to be sure. Certain characters appear and disappear throughout the plot with relative impunity, some dialogue is cheesy or a little forced, and the sheer coincidence of certain strokes of fate requires just a bit too much suspension of disbelief. Yet, all of these things are not out of place in any Star Wars movie. The original trilogy has reached divine status in the eyes of many of its fans, but each of those movies has similar growing pains of its own. If anything, Solo features the talents of more already-established actors than much of the original trilogy.
Solo does well not to aim for some sweeping sci-fi epic. It is, at its heart, a heist movie. The science fiction is a paramount aspect of the film, but its essence is that of a team trying to make a score, pay off its debts, and ride off rich into the sunset. The same enjoyable aspects of watching a crime play out on the big screen are in full force here, with all of the improvisations, twists, and cheeky dialogue as any other film like it. But, by far, the best part of Solo is its ability to avoid tarnishing—and even adding to—the character of Han Solo that we all know and love.
Featured Image by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures