Go West, Young Han
By Mikhail Lecaros
Another year, another Star Wars prequel. Ever since the House of Mouse bought up the Star Wars franchise, they’ve released a film every year since 2015. How does Solo: A Star Wars Story hold up in a franchise that’s largely been hit and miss whenever it diverges from characters named Skywalker?
With The Last Jedi receiving a decidedly mixed reception from critics and audiences barely six months ago (disclaimer: I loved it), it is no exaggeration to say that fan excitement was at an uncharacteristic low for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Was it because the title character was being played by someone other than Harrison Ford? Surely it wasn’t the lack of Jedi, as Rogue One had proven that there was an audience for compelling, well-made stories set just outside the main Saga. Maybe it was the fact that it seemed odd to be doing a backstory for a character that never really called for one.
For whatever reason, this was the first Star Wars film in twenty years that audiences just didn’t seem all that interested in seeing, and that is a damn shame; Solo, for all its flaws, is a surprising, enjoyable throwback to the sort of old-school western romp that helped inspire the original Star Wars in the first place.
A (SOMEWHAT) LONG TIME AGO, IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY
Solo: A Star Wars Story delves into the backstory of everybody’s favorite outer space scoundrel (not named Star Lord), his earliest adventures with his (literal) partner-in-crime Chewbacca, and his first run-in with one Lando Calrissian (Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover, TV’s Atlanta, Community). Along for the ride are an amoral career criminal (Woody Harrelson, Zombieland), a cantankerous droid with aspirations of rebellion (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), and a femme fatale who’s (by definition) more than she seems (ably played by Game of Throne’s Emilia Clarke). That everything culminates onboard the Millennium Falcon during the legendary Kessel Run was something you probably saw a mile away, but the fun definitely lies in seeing how it all comes together.
Unlike previous entries in the franchise, whose mostly-unknown casts helped sell the notion of a galaxy far, far away, Solo boasts names like the aforementioned Harrelson, Clarke, and Glover, while throwing in Thandie Newton (Westworld, Mission: Impossible 2) and Paul Bettany (Infinity War, Wimbledon) for good measure. While potentially jarring for some, the franchise newcomers not only largely impress, but even manage to make one wish they had more screen time.
A WESTERN AT HEART
Gunfights at ten paces. Smoke-filled saloons populated by characters of ill repute. Scoundrels and outlaws trying to stay a step ahead of the authorities in a largely lawless landscape. More than any of the films that came before it, Solo embraces its roots as a western, not the least of which is a train heist that goes very, very wrong. At the center is Han Solo himself, played by Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!), who is, at this point in his life, somewhere between an idealist and a realist who believes he can save the love of his life from a life of crime. With his trademark gunbelt and character’s natural swagger in place, a lot is riding on Ehrenreich’s young shoulders for his first blockbuster role.