Similarly to Rogue One, Solo: A Stars Wars Story has the challenge of enriching the franchise without the freedom of narrative development, unable to take the story forward, instead covering old ground, telling us a story we sort-of-know already, delving into the past and providing us with background information, with no bearing on the future. In turn, the film relies heaving on its entertainment value, and it’s unwavering commitment to pure cinematic joy becomes its prime motive, and it’s here the film truly comes into its element, as an unrelenting thrill-ride with little respite.
Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is a cynical scoundrel turned smuggler, who has dreams of becoming the galaxy’s greatest pilot, but knows in order to fulfil his dreams he needs to escape his hellhole planet, and venture into the unknown. Alongside his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) hatch an ambitious plan, but it’s only the former who makes it out. Serving the Empire, it’s here he meets likeminded thieves and fighters Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Val (Thandie Newton), and wile they remain reluctant at first to take on this renegade new recruit, as he comes equipped with new friend Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) they agree to allow him on board as they seek to undertake a mission on behalf the nefarious tyrant Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) with an illustrious cash prize at the end of it. But first they need a ship, and this is where Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) comes into the picture.
The film, now directed by Ron Howard, was originally set to be helmed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who departed the project due to creative differences. While this may have originally seemed like a somewhat disastrous move for the studio, given how late in the day the change occurred, tonally it’s a move that makes sense, for while there remains a light edge to proceedings, a sense of adventure, full up of the quirks that makes the Star Wars universe so popular, at the same time this is far from being a comedic offering, which is apparently where the directing duo had intended to take it. We need a semblance of sincerity, and a dramatic core, and Howard takes the material seriously, while proving himself, as expected, to be a incredibly reliable pair of hands.
The film’s playful sense of adventure is thanks to the blissful optimism of our charismatic, eponymous protagonist. He’s a hopeless romantic, with a contagious sense of enthusiasm, where he almost craves peril, he gets a kick out of impossible situations, which is handy, because so do we. But the characters works because he’s like us in some ways, of course we’d struggle to domineer the Millennium Falcon in quite the same way he manages, but he’s something of a chancer too, a flawed human in a fantastical landscape. Ehrenreich does a remarkable job bringing the role to life too, with such a great screen presence that does Harrison Ford proud – and we can’t pretend to be surprised, for the actor’s charm and charisma was there for all to see when he stole the show in the Coen Brother’s Hail, Caesar!. Considering this such a renowned cinematic creation, and one ingrained into the fabric of film culture, for the actor to portray him and ensure the audience never question that this isn’t Han Solo, is an achievement of itself.
Much of the narrative focuses on the Han chasing the love of his life Qi’ra, desperate to be reunited after they’re tragically split up in the opening stages of the film. It’s here the film maintains its heartbeat, and it’s true of all films within the Star Wars franchise – it finds a strand of humanity to cling onto, and while we can’t relate to piloting ships around the galaxy, we can relate to love, and this keeps the viewer on board and invested throughout.
The film is faithful to the brand too, though playing with fire in how it covers such precious ground. We witness how Han first becomes a pilot, how he first becomes the owner of the Falcon, and how he first meets Chewie – and we even learn of how Han Solo first got given his iconic name. Yet, and despite the Star Wars faithful being somewhat protective of the series, to do all of the above without ever offending or disrupting the world we know so well is highly commendable. This is a film that enriches the Star Wars experience, it doesn’t ruin it – and for that we’re eternally grateful, and really rather hopeful now of a sequel.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is released on May 24th.