Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) are struggling to survive on the mean streets of Corellia. When Han runs afoul of a local criminal, they go on the run. Split up by circumstance, Han enrolls to fight for the Empire if it reunites him with Qi’ra.
Instead, he spends three years in the trenches, where he runs into Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Beckett hires Han and a Wookie named Chewbacca to help him steal a shipment of coaxium, a precious fuel. But other parties are also after the coaxium, including the Empire. Soon Han comes across old friends and new — including Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) — as he learns a valuable lesson: trust no one.
The material isn’t weak, but there’s a pacing issue that leads to an anticlimactic feeling. The movie focuses on Han’s relationships with Qi’ra and Chewie. Which, unfortunately, means we don’t get many scenes spent on Han’s relationship with Lando. What we do get is good, though.
The movie generally does a great job of not feeling like an “Important Moments in Han Solo History” checklist. There are a couple of obligatory fan-service moments that don’t stick the landing. But they’re rare, and front-loaded anyway, making them easy to forgive.
‘We’re Fine. How Are You?’
It’s well known by now that Phil Lord and Chris Miller started at the helm of Solo. But Lucasfilms replaced them with Ron Howard, making this the first Star Wars movie helmed by an Oscar-winner. Solo isn’t exactly an Oscar movie. But Howard brings a firm understanding of pacing, action, and character.
John Powell’s score is excellent, making use of the existing Star Wars themes. When he does use them, they shine. The cinematography by Bradford Young is a bit dark, but lights and colors look great when they need to. The visual effects are well done, but with a reported production budget of $250M, that’s less impressive than expected. Production design, sound design, and costumes are all aces, as you’d expect.
At 135 minutes, the movie flows relentlessly up to a point. The film climaxes with the famed Kessel Run but goes on for another half-hour to tie up loose ends. Of course, it’s also obligated to open the door to a couple of potential sequels.
The big question: how is Alden Ehrenreich? He’s fine. He’s not great or fantastic. But he nails the attitude and swagger of Ford’s iconic interpretation. The one thing Ehrenreich whiffs on is the voice.
Donald Glover, on the other hand, is terrific and nails Lando. In fact, he’s so good that there are lines I thought Billy Dee Williams may have dubbed the lines. The voice, the speech pattern, the duplicity — Glover is a chameleon.
Emilia Clarke emerges as the movie’s surprise MVP, essaying a character that is tough, sexy, and not as cherubic as she appears. Harrelson sleepwalks through the part; he’s not bad, but it’s not very demanding work. Thandie Newton isn’t given much to do. Phoebe Waller-Bridge (L3-37, via performance capture) is funny and not overused.
The Bottom Line: A thrilling if unsubstantial Star Wars spinoff. Solo may not offer a story anyone needs to know, but it’s a damn fun ride for those willing to take it.