When Star Wars creator George Lucas chose to make the prequels (“The Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith”), exploring Luke and Leia’s genealogy and the evolution of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, CGI effects often overshadowed character development. Lucas put the resources of Industrial Light & Magic into creating fantastic scenery via the latest technology. But, despite the visually lush settings, the storytelling lacked memorable characterizations- unless you count the annoying Jar Jar Binks!
This changed when Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy decided to re-boot the Star Wars film franchise. Beginning with “The Force Awakens,” she urged emphasis be placed on character development and diversity. As fans of the series know, the original trilogy was strong on character, captivating audiences with heroes including Luke, Leia and Han Solo, and villainous Darth Vader.
“The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” clearly benefited from Kennedy’s character emphasis, introducing new heroes to the canon including Rey, Finn, and Poe. The latest movie addition to the Star Wars saga, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” successfully continues that trend, drawing on familiar characters and adding new ones.
Directed by Ron Howard (who replaced original picks Christopher Miller and Phil Lord in June 2017),“Solo” provides the backstory of one of the most popular characters in the Star Wars universe. Cool anti-hero Han Solo, originated by Harrison Ford in “Star Wars: A New Hope,” is here embodied by Alden Ehrenreich. When introduced in 1977’s original film, Solo was a detached, cynical smuggler interested in making money but not in becoming involved in rebellion against the Empire. “Solo” provides entertaining and plausible explanations as to how and why its hero came to develop such a hard shell.
The script by the team of Lawrence Kasdan and son Jonathan Kasdan successfully balances action, humor and romance. If the film’s timing seems reminiscent of the pacing of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” that should be no surprise. Lawrence Kasdan penned that film’s screenplay along with “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” Both he and Jon have kept the adventure intriguing, the humor amusing, and the plot twists believable in a way that entertains the audience and respects the Star Wars canon.
Han Solo is first introduced as a street-wise, quick minded runaway on planet Corellia, adept at hot-wiring speeders and “borrowing” items when needed. He will develop those skills even further after he meets mercenary mentor Beckett (Woody Harrelson in a nicely understated portrayal). And, Solo will first step aboard the Millennium Falcon in its “new car” state while it’s owned by Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).
“Solo” incorporates key moments which help define its hero’s personality. These include his hilarious first meeting with sidekick Chewbacca, Solo’s record-setting Kessel Run, and his love for beautiful fellow-runaway Qi’ra (charming Emilia Clarke). While Solo and Qi’ra are well-matched in terms of intelligence and skills, she has a clearer vision of what she wants from life.
Taking on well-established and well-liked characters is always a risk. Fortunately, the cast proves up to the task. Ehrenreich’s portrayal of Solo is true to the Ford version without being a copy, giving youthful Han Solo a risk-taking curiosity and bravado that mesh nicely with the smuggler’s future moves. Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca continues the Wookiee’s appealing mannerisms. And, Glover as Calrissian captures the gambler’s smooth “player” style.
Composer John Powell has taken on the equally formidable task of scoring a new entry in an iconic series famous both for its stories and its musical themes. He nicely integrates John Williams’ original themes at key moments in the action which connect to “A New Hope” and beyond. In addition, Williams’ composed “Han’s Theme” specifically for “Solo.” Powell’s original compositions for the film complement Williams’ iconic pieces while adding new dimension to the film’s action and characters.
Enhancing the mix are new characters. Harrelson’s Beckett has the detachment and moves Solo will subconsciously adopt. Droid L3-37 (voice of Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Calrissian’s rebellious, droids’-rights advocate co-pilot, adds both humor and spirit to her scenes. And Rio (voice of Jon Favreau), Ardenian pilot for Hackett, wins audience loyalty in just a few brief scenes with his ironic wit.
“Solo” is both a welcome addition to the Star Wars saga and an entertaining adventure film. As a successful backstory, it adds to a popular character’s legend while remaining true to Lucas’ original trilogy. And (spoiler alert), its ending leaves the door open for further exploration of the exploits of Solo and Chewbacca, which should please Star Wars fans.