It could have been called Young Han Solo or, better yet, When Han Met Chewie. Instead, the film is Solo: A Star Wars Story, which pretty well sums up the good and the bad. On the plus side, we're getting a new adventure featuring Han Solo from the original Star Wars trilogy. One the bad side, the name "A Star Wars Story" suggests that Walt Disney, which bought out the franchise for billions, is trying to wring out every last dollar from its investment, as if it were a wet rag dripping cash.
What do the marketing wizards have in store for us next month? Maybe… Bigfoot Ain't Got Nothing on Me: A Wookie's Tale, or maybe Jedi Nights. But at least there's nothing here so embarrassing as the Star Wars Christmas Special.
Taken in isolation, Solo is not a half-bad film. The strength lies in its cast, starting with the choice of Alden Ehrenreich in the title role. This actor looks nothing like Harrison Ford; he's shorter than Woody Harrelson, who plays a fellow rogue, whereas Harrison Ford would tower over Woody. But what he lacks in stature he makes up for with swagger and slyness. He's not trying to do a Harrison Ford impression which would be hard to imagine in any case.
In a way, we've really come full circle. George Lucas' one big success before Star Wars was of course American Graffiti, which starred Harrison Ford and Ron Howard. And now that same Ron Howard has directed this new Star Wars film.
Ron Howard and the writers throw a number of bones–or perhaps I should say "highs"–to Star Wars junkies. There's a sequence showing how Han meets the eight-foot Wookie, Chewbacca, for the first time, as well as how he meets Lando Calrissian… Donald Glover reprising the Billy De Williams role and nearly stealing the film in the process. And there's the ultimate fan-boy trivia: how Han's ship, the Millennium Falcon, actually "made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs."
Emilia Clarke, from Game of Thrones, does a nice turn as Han's love interest, and a smart operator in her own right: this time wearing her naturally dark hair, pulling off her role nicely without help of dragons, blonde hair, or naked scenes. Now that's versatility.
So why isn't the overall film better? Perhaps in its obsession to connect all the Star Wars dots, Solo throws too much at the audience. Instead of a simple plot to rescue a princess and escape from the Death Star, there's twist upon twist dealing with the theft of some strange substance that can be refined to create some super explosive device which can blow up who-knows-what for who-knows-what reason, and it's all done to pay off some debt accrued because of the last attempt which was botched because… Oh never mind. All you need to know is that there are a ton of close shaves with death and a lot of things crashing into each other and blowing up. The Force is not so much with us this time.