For anyone wondering why in the Sam Hill Solo: A Star Wars Story even exits I would submit to you the character of Han Solo was always primed for a prequel. There's plenty of backstory mentioned in the original Star Wars trilogy to get fans wondering about Han. We already know he won the Millennium Falcon in a game of chance. He famously completed the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. And Chewbacca is his co-pilot! How did that happen? If you're a Star Wars fan, you should be nodding along. If not, why are you here anyways?
Star Wars fans have been waiting a long time for this era, and, now, four movies in, it's safe to say, well, we're safe. The stench of George Lucas's prequel trilogy is slowly fading away. The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Last Jedi, and now, Solo, have ushered in a new faith in the Force.
Directed by Lucas's old American Graffiti star Ron Howard, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fast-paced sci-fi western that fans of the franchise will eagerly inhale. Not only does the film get into some (maybe all) of the fanboy details listed above, it seamlessly tells a heroic underdog tale, something the best Star Wars movies do as well.
The Solo script, written by Lawrence Kasdan (co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back) and his son, Jonathan, is a simple one made overly complicated by two or three twists too many. The story won't blow you away, but it will keep you guessing. There's nothing overly predictable about Solo.
The film opens with young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) escaping from a fascist planet, but he's forced to leave behind his love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). After enlisting to fight in the Empire's growing army (so he can find Qi'ra again), Han goes a different route. He joins up with Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Val (Thandie Newton), two thieves who teach him a thing or three. It's during this time Han meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). They don't start off as besties, but they bond quickly under intense circumstances thanks to something Han knows about Wookiees. It's a brilliant sequence for fans.
Han then learns Beckett is working for Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), a slithery gangster with not one, but five scars on his face (take that, Al Capone). One thing: Han is stunned to find Qi'ra also works for Vos. Their reunion is an awkward one, but she introduces Han to Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), a slick gambler with no love for the Empire. With Lando and his ship, The Millennium Falcon, in tow, the new squad heads off on a dangerous mission for Vos that only ends in more double and triple crosses. "Don't trust anyone." Beckett tells Han.
Solo unfolds in typical Star Wars fashion. The real joy of the film, however, is in the detail. Howard and his crew have inserted some memorable creature designs that recall 1977's Star Wars in the best ways. There's a giant water-worm, a crooning fish/lady singing duo, a branchy gambler with tons of eyes whom Han keeps a close watch on, and another gambler with a wood-chipper mouth that'll have you howling. However, the best new alien has to be L3 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a "female" droid who's in love with Lando. She's constantly learning, and is much more three-dimensional than she has any business being.
The Star Wars universe is also faithfully adapted. Howard does a fine job creating the world for his characters to live in. Buoyed by talented lenser Bradford Young (Arrival), Solo has its own look (like Rogue One) while staying true to the franchise. The action sequences are par for the course, but you'll notice Young's influence. Certain shots are much more artful than they need to be. The snowbound scenes are particularly beautiful (they recall Inception).
All the details in Solo are well-executed, but the movie wouldn't work without the cast, who all have their moments. Glover is simply perfect as Calrissian, even better than the original, Billy Dee himself. Harrelson brings charisma and a sense of strange to Beckett. The character will remind you of his Haymitch Abernathy from the Hunger Games franchise, but Beckett is a more rounded person. Newton delves into her Westworld intensity to play Val. She's an alluring presence. Chewie is as amazing as ever. Qi'ra is the film's most mysterious character, but Clarke finds a way to make you buy into her. (She also looks very similar to Felicity Jones's Jyn Erso from Rogue One — a weird coincidence.)
And then there's Ehrenreich. His Han Solo is a worthy incarnation of the older Han we know and love. Harrison Ford gave the character an innate confidence and charm that spoke to Han's years of experience talking his way out of tight spots. Solo shows us those tight spots, and Ehrenreich displays the same swagger as the younger version. He's also just as hypocritical and arrogant. He claims to be his own man while relying on friends the entire film. It's a savvy reverse bookend to Han in Star Wars, which portrays him doing the same thing. That's Han Solo's big secret: He claims to need no one when he really needs people. We see ourselves in him, which is why he's such a beloved movie character. Solo does him justice.