Considering the well publicized production issues that plagued “Solo” — which saw its original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“The LEGO Movie”) fired due to creative differences midway through production and replaced with Ron Howard (“Rush”) shortly after — having the finished product be at the least watchable is a victory. And by some miracle, it’s actually good.
“Solo” is a fun, one-off story that doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It’s a heist movie in space with a loveable cast of characters and more than enough terrific set pieces to go around. The shoddy pacing and subpar first act make it the weakest of the new wave of “Star Wars” movies but those looking for another adventure in a galaxy far, far away will nonetheless find themselves more than satisfied.
Beneath its heist trappings, “Solo” plays as part origin story and part fictional biopic for everyone’s favorite smuggler-turned-war-hero, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich, “Hail, Caesar!”). After escaping the dystopia of his homeworld of Corellia, Han runs into a band of crooks, led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”), who allow the young Solo to tag along.
When a theft goes wrong, forcing them to embark on a dangerous mission together, we see the beginnings of Han’s partnership with his Wookiee co-pilot, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”), the suave, but two-faced, businessman Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, TV’s “Atlanta”) and the Millennium Falcon, the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.
The role LucasFilm hopes the anthologies will play is clear with two saga films and two of these “Star Wars Stories” under their belt. While the episodic films like “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” will continue to carry “Star Wars” forward and ensure its longevity, the “Star Wars Stories” exist to recall the original trilogy and allow us to continue to play in that sandbox.
For better or for worse, “Solo” does just that. The interactions between Han and Lando are a joy to watch as both Ehrenreich and Glover inhabit their characters perfectly without resorting simply to impressions. Han’s cockiness and snark, Lando’s status as the smoothest of criminals — it’s all there. Even better, there’s the start of what can only be described as a bromance between man and Wookiee since “Solo” does more for Chewie as a character and his friendship with Han than any other “Star Wars” movie.
The weaker fanservice is less prevalent and apparent than in, say, the prequel trilogy, but the first act still packs in a groan-worthy moment of revelation that ranks among the worst in the franchise. It may not be “a scientific explanation of the Force” bad, but I’d argue it is “prepubescent Anakin Skywalker built C-3PO” bad. In fact, the entire Corellia set first sequence has clunky moments of nostalgia that do no favors for the rest of the movie. As opposed to the sci-fi crime movie that follows, these scenes play more like “Oliver Twist” in space and if the first 10-to-15 minutes of the movie were cut, “Solo” would likely be better for it.
From there on out, director Ron Howard ably plays to the strengths of his cast and his characters alike. A heist early on is an homage to Han’s origins as a western archetype. Another sequence set on Kessel — a name that should be familiar to die-hard “Star Wars” fans as the place where Han made his name as one of the greatest pilots in the galaxy — should certainly be in contention for the best set piece of 2018.
Like its title character, “Solo” is a little rough around the edges and prone to the occasional overindulgence, but like Han himself, it’s also charming, charismatic and liable to win over even the most cynical among its audience. Overall, it’s a sustained thrill ride that starts fun and only gets more and more bombastic and fantastic the longer it goes.
I’ll admit that I was apprehensive as the lights went down and the LucasFilm logo lit up this time around — both because of the firing of previous directors Lord and Miller and the collapse of the “Star Wars” fanbase post-“Last Jedi” into toxic anarchy — but credit is undoubtedly due to Howard for righting the ship and delivering a movie that, for the most part, reminded me why I fell in love with this franchise in the first place.