Too few people saw the Coen Brothers comedy “Hail, Caesar” back in 2016, but those who did witnessed a terrific breakthrough performance by actor Alden Ehrenreich. Somebody saw how well he played a cowboy from 1950’s Hollywood and decided that he’d make a great cowboy from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. And thus he was cast as a young Han Solo for a film that takes place between Episodes III and IV of the “Star Wars” series. I really liked Ehrenreich in this movie. I never felt like he was doing a Harrison Ford impression, nor did I feel like he was giving “his take” on the character. Instead, I simply saw a young Han Solo. Good on Ehrenreich for slipping so seamlessly into one of the most famous roles in movie history.
We follow a young Han as he escapes a life of forced servitude, trying and failing to bring his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) with him. He joins the Imperial Army, but ditches them when he begins to realize that they may not be the good guys. As punishment for his desertion, he’s dropped into a pit to be fed to the hungry beast Chewbacca, but he instead curries the favor of the Wookie, the two escape together, and a lifelong friendship is born. The two team up with a crew of bandits (Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, and a creature voiced by Jon Favreau) to rob a train, but the robbery goes sideways and Solo finds himself indebted to crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), whose top lieutenant happens to be Qi’ra. Han offers to square things with Vos with another robbery and Vos agrees, provided Qi’ra comes along to supervise. Fine by Han, as this means he gets to spend time with his old friend, though he could probably do without the life-or-death ramifications.
The movie is perfectly average by “Star Wars” standards up to this point, but things pick up when Han tries to procure a ship. He tries unsuccessfully to win the prized vessel of celebrity smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) in a card game, but Lando lets him and his team borrow the Millennium Falcon anyway in exchange for a cut. It is here that we meet L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Lando’s confrontational droid navigator. The advertising for this movie has played up Han, Lando, and even Woody Harrelson’s character, but it’s the activist L3 who steals the show. She’s funny, she’s spunky, and she wants to lead a robot uprising. She can liberate my appliances any day. As for the rest of the movie: adventure, moral conflicts, betrayal, and showdowns ensue. It’s standard “Star Wars” stuff, minus unpredictability since we know that at least three characters are going to make it to canonically later installments.
It’s hard to talk about “Solo: A Star Wars Story” at this stage without discussing its disappointing box office performance. The film has made “only” $83 million in its first three days, which by “Star Wars” standards practically makes it a flop. It doesn’t deserve to be. Ehrenreich and Glover make excellent younger versions of their iconic characters, and the newer players are much more interesting than say, “Rogue One’s” disposable ensemble. I think it comes down to the fact that this is the fourth “Star Wars” film in two and a half years and the second in less than six months. Even the most dedicated fans are starting to feel a bit burned out. Some day, when fans can watch these movies at their own pace without having to worry about the demanding nature of the release calendar, they’ll decide that this was an underrated installment. Until that time, give this movie a shot and try to find something to like among the expected chases and shady dealings.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence. Its running time is 135 minutes.