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But seriously; Solo has been through a lot, from a highly scrutinized casting process to director shakeups to our own doubts from the first full trailer. But Mashable’s Chris Taylor (who literally wrote the book on Star Wars) says the new film will delight even hardcore fans, and in her spoiler-free review, Angie Han claims she was “fully on board” within minutes.
For more (spoiler-free) reviews of Solo: A Star Wars Story, read on.
Han and his squad
What works best in “Solo” are the performances, from droids voiced by Jon Favreau and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”) to the utterly charismatic Ehrenreich and Glover. Ehrenreich proved his old-school star quality with his daffy and charming performance in “Hail, Caesar!” and here he pulls off the daunting task of stepping in for Harrison Ford, masking the character’s commitment to seemingly lost causes with devil-may-care insouciance… The “Star Wars” movies always criminally underutilized Billy Dee Williams as Lando, but Glover sweeps this film off its feet as often as he can, swanning through it like the Cary Grant of Outer Space.
Harrelson is somewhat muted in the role of Tobias Beckett, a longtime thief initially resistant to bringing Han and his new pal Chewbacca (Joona Suotamo) into the fold. So much of “Star Wars” is about giving into the necessity of other people, and even Beckett has to recognize the use of a bright-eyed youngster with serious flying skills. His Beckett isn’t some scenery-chewing caricature of a smuggler; he’s a hard-bitten guy who has lost a lot along the way and isn’t shy about doling out chestnuts about never trusting anyone or how people are always predictable.
The man who took the job, Alden Ehrenreich, does not look or sound like Ford, and it’s difficult to adjust at the beginning. You can’t help but scrutinize every gesture, every smirk, every aside as you try to get used to him. Eventually you do, and the talented Ehrenreich wins you over with his execution, capturing Han’s spirit, his sarcasm, egotism and charm with apparent ease.
The performances are largely excellent. Harrelson’s Beckett is better and more lived-in than his Haymitch from the Hunger Games movies — he’s always striving to find new modes of weirdness. The only thing wrong with Thandie Newton’s performance is that there’s not enough of it. I’d watch her in anything.
The Nostalgia factor
Audience members could be handed little hotel-desk bells that they could hit every time the movie lays out some bit of “Star Wars” lore. Han Solo meets Chewbacca for the first time? Ding! Discussion of the Kessel Run, complete with parsecs? Ding! Deep-cut reference to one of the Lando Calrissian novels? Ding ding ding!
As an origin story, Howard’s film has to line up a series of expected beats — how Han got his name, where he learned to fly, how he met Chewbacca and Lando, when he acquired the Millennium Falcon, — but “Solo” crams all that stuff into an entertaining package that can also stand alone.
There’s a lot for fans to digest as the film speeds through a check-list of Han’s origin components, like how he meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and how he comes across the Millennium Falcon. There are other key elements that probably are best left to the experience.
Where it fits in the franchise
“Solo” is less a movie than it’s that page in Highlights Magazine that makes you feel good for finding the chair and the bicycle in the hidden picture. As an intergalactic adventure, it’s mostly adequate, with some very successful elements, but if you stripped the “Star Wars” names and places and put it into the world as a free-standing sci-fi-action movie, it’s doubtful that it would spawn much excitement, let alone sequels.
It’s not as dark as the franchise’s other standalone film, the satisfying and sad “Rogue One,” and even without lightsaber battles or Jedi or anyone aligned with the formal Rebellion, it still captures a humor and pace “Star Wars” audiences expect.
Bigger, louder, and more, more, more seem to be the guiding principles of the film and while on their own they might make a pleasurable romp, it’s dubious as to whether or not these pre-Skywalker adventures have really added anything of value to the character. There’s an argument to be made that it might even undermine his hero’s arc in the first film.
Solo premieres in theaters May 27.