During an adventure into the criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion. (from IMDB)
Ever since Disney purchased Lucasfilm, pop culture has been flooded with anything and everything Star Wars, and the Mouse House has promised a new Star Wars film every year for the foreseeable future. Aside from continuing the Skywalker storyline with additional episodes (The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, with Episode IX due out next year), the franchise launched its first standalone story in 2016 with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But these “standalone” movies actually fit within the known, existing Star Wars saga. Rogue One led directly into Episode 4, A New Hope, while the newest entry, Solo: A Star Wars Story takes place sometime after Episode 3, Revenge of the Sith and before Rogue One.
It’s risky business to be so bold as to cast someone in such an iconic role as Han Solo – a character that has only been played by Harrison Ford for 40 years. While I’m sure he’s thrilled that someone can take over the role from him (since he has wanted to be done with the role for years), it’s still bizarre to see someone else playing his character. As a child of the 80s myself, and Empire Strikes Back being my favorite Star Wars film, Ford has been and always will be Han Solo. It seemed rather arrogant of Disney and Lucasfilm to want to do a Han Solo film without Ford, but given the actor’s age, there is no other way (aside from maybe making it an animated film with his voice) to put Ford in the role of a younger version of the character. I was nervous about a “young Han Solo” movie from the moment it was announced, but for some reason, I remained hopeful enough that it could end up being good. The initial announcement that Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directors of The LEGO Movie and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, would be taking the lead on the film intrigued me, but when they were fired last summer, it was cause for serious concern. Furthermore, having director Ron Howard take over left a lot of questions — how much would he keep of the original footage? How will it be different? Will it be a total mess? And after the same thing pretty much happened with last year’s Justice League — which resulted in a very chaotic, stitched-together end product — it was even more concerning.
Thankfully, the end result of Solo: A Star Wars Story exceeds the worrisome expectations. It promised to be a fun ride, and for the most part, it really is. It’s not as goofy as it probably could have been, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously either. However, it leaves much more room for Howard and company to push the envelope on content and tone for a Star Wars film — including language and sexual content. (But more on that later.) Solo: A Star Wars Story is a lot like Rogue One in the sense that it has a different look and feel from the episodic entries of Star Wars. The movie opens on Corellia with Han being not much more than a “street rat” of sorts. He meets what is basically a slumlord (which is a gigantic slug type creature) and the entire film’s palette is saturated with dark blues and grays. The tone of the movie isn’t necessarily “dark,” but the look certainly is. This film is the the epitome of a “side story” in that the characters exist and dwell in more of the “underbelly” of the galaxy. They encounter the Empire on occasion, but the Empire is never a real focal point of the story. We never see significant Imperial characters, especially not recurring ones. It’s interesting to see a Star Wars almost entirely from the perspective of the smuggling lifestyle. It’s so interesting in fact, that it left me hoping we’ll see more of this in the near future.
Solo: A Star Wars Story gets off to a bumpy start. Alden Ehrenreich turns in a different take on the character from the get-go, but slowly seems to slip into the character as the movie progresses. It makes Solo feel much like what Casino Royale did for James Bond; it introduces the character to audiences before the character is who we know them to be. Casino Royale showed Bond learn to not trust people and even nurse a broken heart — all things that helped shape who he would become (and humanized his usually rather one-sided character). Solo shows Han as much more “green,” and he’s happier, more trusting, and even emotional. I would have loved to see what a younger Ford would have done with this kind of character development, but Ehrenreich certainly gives the character more depth. Solo ends in a way that sets up the character to be more like the Han we know, but there’s certainly room for another movie or two to continue that process. Han is a bit cantankerous or grumpy in the films we know him from (albeit still lovable), and Ehrenreich’s Han is far more friendly and agreeable.
The story offers plenty of action from start to finish, so anyone fearing a politically-charged prequel-style film won’t have to worry about that. The opening speeder chase sequence is decent, but it isn’t until the train heist sequence that the film feels equal parts Star Wars and equal parts something new. It has a bit of an old west train robbery feel set in a more futuristic sci-fi world. Of course, the action scenes involving the Millennium Falcon are the highlights of the film, being the most fun and exciting sequences. The finale itself isn’t quite as big or thrilling as the sequences before it, but it still works as a finish for the film.
The cast supporting Ehrenreich is all-around quite good. Emilia Clarke is charming as Han’s love interest, Qi’Ra, while Donald Glover turns in a spot-on impression of Billy D. Williams’ Lando Calrissian. Woody Harrelson is solid as a smuggler (and scoundrel) named Tobias Beckett to serve as a sort of mentor for Han, and the always reliable Paul Bettany is appropriately intimidating as Dryden Vos (although his performance, surprisingly, does teeter on being a little too over-the-top at times). And there’s one completely unexpected cameo appearance from a known Star Wars saga character near the film’s end which will surprise – and confuse some – viewers. Fans who’ve kept up with the cartoon shows will be thrilled, while others will wonder if they’d missed something.
The content takes advantage of the PG-13 rating pretty well, with Solo: A Star Wars Story, by far, having the most profanity of any film in the franchise to date (maybe even if you added all of the others up, this would still surpass the total). In addition to an incomplete “Ohh shhhh–” from Lando, there are around 10 uses of “h*ll,” 6 of “d*mn,” 1 “cr*p” and one “*ss.” Furthermore, with the recent controversy sparked on social media from the film’s cowriter about Lando’s intended sexual orientation (cue exaggerated eyeroll), there’s definitely some weird things happening on screen with Lando. His female-voiced droid L3-37 alludes to some romantic thing between the two of them, and Lando expresses some awkward passion for the character at one point. And when L3 is trying to get Lando to focus on flying and not be talking to Han, she tells him to “stop flirting.” There are also quite a few passionate kissing scenes between Han and Qi’Ra, including one that looks like it was going to possibly escalate beyond passionate kissing before they’re interrupted. Finally, there’s also plenty of violence, with some characters dying on screen by blaster wounds or getting blown up. A character is also stabbed to death with a blade, although it’s mostly off screen, and we some additional war/battle violence. There’s even a pay-off gag where we hear some violent sounds off screen and Han looks over to see that Chewie has ripped the arms off of another character (it’s not gory, but we do see him holding two dismembered limbs for a moment before dropping them). Some characters die seemingly a bit too early on in the story to care much for, while one of the deaths is overly dramatic to the point where it seems like everyone involved with the movie wants you to care way more than you do (or should).
For the most part, Solo: A Star Wars Story appears to defy all odds to become a mostly successful and worthwhile addition to the Star Wars franchise. It’s more intense than the episodes, for the most part, and is more in line with the grittiness of Rogue One than some of the other films. I’d venture to say it’s still worth a look for some of the naysayers who wrote it off before giving it a chance, but those determined to not like it from the start probably shouldn’t bother. For young Star Wars fans, I recommend exercising caution as it is a visually dark film with some violent scenes that may disturb some viewers (and the cussing doesn’t help either). But when all is said and done, Solo: A Star Wars Story was a sweet enough surprise to make this diehard Harrison-Ford-Han-Solo fan interested in seeing another high-flying adventure featuring this younger Han and Chewie in the Falcon’s driver seats.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 5/25/18)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Qi’Ra and Han share several very passionate kisses in the film; Beckett and Val kiss passionately briefly; Qi’Ra wears a very lowcut top when Han reunites with her; L3-37 makes a few comments about how Lando loves her and that he “wishes” they could have a relationship. She then comments that it could work between them, which prompts a puzzled Qi’Ra to ask how, with L3 suggestively insisting that it could work; When L3 is trying to get Lando to focus on flying and not be talking to Han, she tells him to “stop flirting” and get his “*ss” in the driver’s seat; Han and Qi’Ra meet up in Lando’s closet on the Falcon and start kissing passionately, including Han pushing her up against the wall. Lando walks in, however, interrupting them; SPOILER WARNING: Lando acts annoyed by L3 for many of their scenes, but when she’s injured, he reacts strongly and rushes to save her. He then passionately cradles her head as her lights go out in a way that hints that more was going on between them than just a man and his droid. (It’s a bit over-the-top)
Vulgarity/Language: At least 1 incomplete “Ohh shhhh–“; 10 “h*ll,” 6 “d*mn,” 1 “a” word, 1 “cr*p”
Alcohol/Drugs: We see characters have drinks on many occasions, in bars and in more fancy club settings.
Blood/Gore: Han has some bloody cuts and marks on his face when we first meet him; A slug like creature’s skin starts to turn red and burn in the sunlight; We see the remains of armor in a pit where a beast beats and kills prisoners; We see a burned, branded symbol in the wrist of a character; An alien character suffers a laser blast to the shoulder which shows a burned spot on their body, and then they die from their wounds; We see Chewie holding two dismembered arms up after he rips them off a character (which happens off screen); Dryden Vos has lines on his face that may be scars or burns, or just part of his species’ look; A gigantic monster is sucked into a swirling vortex and it looks like its skin is stripped from its body as it struggles to not get sucked in (revealing bone or muscle? It’s hard to tell)
Violence: Lots of action violence. Han has some bloody cuts and marks on his face when we first meet him. He’s captured by some thugs and hit a few times. He then tosses a rock through a window which lets light in, burning the skin of a caterpillar-type monster; Troopers pull a woman away from a man who gets locked on the other side of a gate and we see him screaming for her; We see some battlefield violence with explosions and troops in trenches; Han is thrown into a cage to be eaten by a beast and we see the armor remains of previous victims. The animal then throws Han around before they break out and escape together; There is some action on a moving train with lasers and troopers. A character sacrifices themselves in an explosion after being pinned down; A character is shot in the shoulder and then dies slowly of their wounds (a burn from a laser blast); A large explosion detonates on a mountainside as a ship flies away to safety; A fire fight breaks out in a prison camp where Lando and Han fire on opposing troops. Chewbacca rips the arms off of a character off screen and we see the arms dangling in his hands. Chewie attacks some guards and slams one down on its head; There are many explosions as well; A droid is shot and wounded. As a person rushes to carry it away, the droid breaks in half; A character is shot in the arm with a laser; When we first see Vos, he’s in the act of stabbing a man. He pulls out the blade and the person falls to the floor; The Falcon flies through a large storm with a gigantic tentacled monster trying to grab the ship. TIE fighters also attack the Falcon as the crew tries to evade them; Some characters attack thugs in a small desert town; A man attacks and tries to stab/slash another man with a blade; A woman knocks a man over and holds a blade on him. She then turns around and fights another man with a blade and stabs him in the chest, killing him; A man shoots a man in the chest with a laser blaster. The victim talks briefly before falling over, dead; And other sci-fi action violence.