Movie Review: 'Solo: A Star Wars Story'

Solo: A Star Wars Story is an origin story about Han Solo, the cynical galactic smuggler played by Harrison Ford in the first Star Wars trilogy.

May 24, 2018 - 3:45 am

By Bill Wine

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- Hey, maybe that galaxy wasn't so far, far away after all.
   
Because here we sit over forty years after the release of Star Wars, and the Force is still with us.
   
Two years ago, the stand-alone, action-oriented, science-fiction-adventure prequel, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, landed and entertained both longtime fans and new recruits.
   
Solo: A Star Wars Story, also a prequel, is a bit more directly aimed at viewers who have a sense of the franchise mythology, but it doesn't exactly disenfranchise others.

3 stars

   
Solo: A Star Wars Story is an origin story about Han Solo, the cynical galactic smuggler played by Harrison Ford in the first Star Wars trilogy to come our way.
   
Played now by Alden Ehrenreich, this younger version of wannabe top-pilot and wisecracking swashbuckler Solo, tries to join the Empire but stumbles at the Imperial Flight Academy.
   
Along with his partner-in-crime, Qi'ra, played by Emilia Clarke, who's also an outlaw, he stays one step ahead of the mining-planet authorities who pursue him as he explores a dark criminal underworld that seems straight out of Charles Dickens, with or without the Oliver twists.
   
It's during his attempt to assemble a team for a dangerous heist that he meets and bonds with a Wookiee named Chewbacca, played by Joonas Suotamo (inheriting the role from Peter Mayhew), who would become his trusted co-pilot, and which suggests as an alternate title for this space western, something like When Han Met Chewbacca.
   
He also encounters a fellow charismatic adventurer named Lando Calrissian, played by Donald Glover (originally by Billy Dee Williams).
   
And articulating one of the film's major themes is Solo mentor Tobias Beckett, a scoundrel played by Woody Harrelson, who advises:
   
"Assume everyone will betray you and you will never be disappointed."
   
This action-adventure fantasy spinoff ended up in the reliable hands of veteran director Ron Howard, who won two Oscars for A Beautiful Mind and was Oscar-nominated for Frost/Nixon, when he replaced The Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller several months into the shoot.
   
The script that old pro Howard works from -- which comes from father-and-son screenwriters Lawrence (his fourth Star Wars screenplay) and Jonathan Kasdan -- is based on George Lucas's original characters, and mixes combat, betrayals, and double-crosses with star-crossed romance.
   
It's a high-spirited, light-touch adventure thriller that zips right along, boasting impressive visual effects, as expected, and the cocky swagger that Harrison Ford introduced many moons ago.
   
Unfortunately for the film and its fans, leading man Ehrenreich tries to convey this quality with little more than a tiresomely arrogant smirk.
   
More successful and appropriate is Glover, whose scene-stealing and nearly-film-stealing turn is a highlight.
   
There's not much that's new here, but the narrative is simultaneously propulsive and engaging and nostalgic: it is, in other words, comfort food that's not risky but frisky.
   
And while the film preaches trusting no one, it turns out that director Howard is an exception.
   
So, as Solo: A Star Wars Story attempts to enrich the ultimate Star Wars experience, does it make a case for its own necessity?  Not quite.  But it's still welcome and pleasureful.
   
Which is why we'll trust 3 stars out of 4 for Solo: A Star Wars Story, a confident, competent intergalactic adventure that knows it's not an epic and still wins us over by delivering the expected.