I grew up watching Star Wars (the original, A New Hope, Episode IV, whatever you want to call it) over and over again. I loved that movie so much. I am sure I watched Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi often as well, but it was the original that got the most play time. The story was simple and easy enough for a kid to follow, yet also pulls you into the incredibly complex world George Lucas created.
And the characters. Who didn’t love the androids? Luke Skywalker is the perfect hero archetype. Obi-Wan, played by the incredible Sir Alec Guinness, brings such gravitas to the story. Princess Leia, a different kind of damsel than had been portrayed before, who maybe didn’t really need rescuing. And of course Han Solo.
I must admit, Han Solo was not my favorite character (unpopular opinion). Maybe it’s because he felt so antagonistic to Luke, with whom I had decided to identify with. I definitely rooted for Luke and Leia to get together (I didn’t understand that they were siblings yet). He felt brash and mean, a little too self serving, and obviously wasn’t the main hero of the story. I eventually also just prefered Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones.
Of course, overtime and as I got older, I grew to really appreciate Han Solo, and Harrison Ford’s portrayal of him. When the prequels came out, there were no characters even close to being able to touch the iconicness of the original characters. So Lucasfilm, and Disney, were smart to bring the whole crew back for the new trilogy.
Spoiler: Han Solo dies in The Force Awakens. It was a devastating end to a beloved character; death by the hand of his own son. But even as the powers that be were planning and filming the character’s demise, they were also working on an “origin story”.
Look, I hate origin stories. They tend to over-explain character quirks and idiosyncrasies that actors bring to characters and take complex characters and flatten them out. Sometimes giving more story to a character makes them less interesting not more. A lot of sequels do this too, and end up ruining the first movie by over-explaining everything that left audiences with a question (I’m looking at you, Finding Dori and Independence Day: Resurgence).
The Star Wars Universe has gotten this right at least once, however. Rogue One is a brilliant piece of filmmaking that expands your view of the originals without taking anything away. So, while I was torn about them doing an origin story for our beloved Han Solo, I had muted faith that they would get it right.
Well, they did and they didn’t.
Solo: A Star Wars Story does fall into the trap of over-explaining Han Solo to us. It focuses on character details that at once seemed significant, then when explained feel forced, or worse, cheesy. Danny Glover also falls into a Lando impression instead of making the character his own. At the beginning of the film that seemed like a good idea, but in the end, nothing new was brought to Lando.
Han and Chewy’s relationships feels very forced as well. There is a kinship in their respective quests, but it seems to come on too easy for two characters that have been going it alone for so long. I think a building of their trust and camaraderie over the course of the film would have been more interesting. Instead they are thrown together rather quickly and join forces just because Han understands and speaks a little wookie.
BUT there are things to really like about this film.
For a prequel, in which most of the main characters appear in stories later in the timeline, the film does a really good job of establishing stakes and tension with all the other characters. We don’t know their fates, and early on its established that everyone is expendable.
The movie also doubles down on a direction that The Last Jedi and Rogue One have started the franchise down: the plight of the normal inhabitant of this universe. This is a controversial take. Most people love Star Wars for the Jedi and Sith, battle of good and evil. There was a lot of backlash against The Last Jedi for kinda throwing a lot of that out.
I like the world building. Not everyone that populates this universe is super powerful, or comes from an established family. That doesn’t make them insignificant, and Star Wars is starting to explore that a bit. What are regular people doing while all of this is going on? I want to know! It look like future Solo movies are going to explore this in detail.
Speaking of future movies, I was surprised by how overtly this film set up future installments. There is clearly a lot more story here to tell, and it would seem to be along the lines of the paragraph above, which would be a big departure for the saga, and I am into it. There were also surprising twists and revelations in the film that I had to go look up on the internet afterward. I am not up on all the cannon, and this is the first movie that requires it.
I am intrigued to see how these out-of-saga-films start to interact. Perhaps Jyn Erso (from Rogue One) will show up in a Solo sequel (she was in prison for smuggling at the beginning of that film). Or perhaps other characters will weave in and out that we don’t expect. This film definitely opens the door to those possibilities. I liked that. The producers and filmmakers are having fun with the universe.
And how about Alden Ehrenreich as the titular Solo? Look, he is not trying to impersonate Harrison Ford (because why even try to do that?). He is trying for the essence of the character. At first, it feels weird that people on screen are even calling him Han. But give the guy credit, he keeps working it, and by the end of the film accomplishes the impossible (at least in my eyes): he is Han Solo.
It’s definitely a shaky start for this new franchise, but it exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations, and thankfully doesn’t ruin the character we all love. I’m intrigued to see the direction they decide to take Han. Now that all the intros are out of the way, maybe the filmmakers can have a bit more fun world building.