By Karen Gordon
Han Solo was arguably the standout character of the original Star Wars trilogy. He was dashing, and as, played by Harrison Ford, had a casual sexiness that came from presenting as a bad boy, a smuggler and an outlaw, but with a moral compass that he couldn’t override.
(And I say that firmly believing that he shot first when confronted by Greedo the bounty hunter.)
And his relationship with Chewbacca didn’t hurt. The two were besties to the end. Who doesn’t love that kind of loyalty?
But in the original series, Han didn’t really have a backstory. He was all boast, but the past was foggy. We knew he’d pissed off the master criminal Jabba the Hutt, that he had past history with the cape-wearing rogue-apparently-gone-straight Lando Calrissian.
And, we can probably all recite some version of the line “The Millenium Falcon? That’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.”
All of this makes the prequel Solo: A Star Wars Story inevitable. But, as always there are dangers there. Can you open the files on such an iconic character, so identified with one actor, and give the audience something they’ll believe?
Well, we are in the era of franchises. And, for better or worse (call it a draw), Disney, the studio that now owns the franchise, couldn’t resist. But they also clearly weren’t willing to take any chances by messing with the tried and true.
It’s been a bumpy ride. Well into filming, Disney fired the directing duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller over differences in tone and direction, and veteran director Ron Howard was hired to take over.
So here we are, with what is, in essence, the Han Solo origin story in maybe too-familiar hands. We meet Han (Alden Ehrenreich) as a young man living on a planet where life is like a futuristic version of a Dickens novel. The people there seem to be in some kind of servitude to a miserable and fascistic alien race. He and his girlfriend Qu’ra (Emilia Clarke) have an escape plan. But, it doesn’t go completely as planned. The lovers make a run for it with law enforcement on their tail.
And so sets in motion the scoundrel on-the-run motif that sees our young anti-hero try his hand at playing soldier with the Empire, joining one band of brigands (cue Woody Harrelson and Thandie Newton), running afoul of an even bigger villain (Dryden Vos, played by Paul Bettany) and eventually meeting young, roguish Lando (Donald Glover), Chewie and the ship-of-his dreams, the Millennium Falcon.
The script was co-written by Jonathan Kasdan and his father, the mighty Lawrence Kasdan, the latter of whom wrote the The Empire Strikes Back (thought by many to be the best of the original three) and Return of the Jedi (thought to be the worst). The elder Kasdan also co-wrote the terrific opening film of that kick-started the new era: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
For sure Kasdan knows the territory, and director Howard knows how to make the film move.
But for all the characters, chases, card games, twists and turns, the story itself is, surprisingly, ordinary, and even a little dull at times. Given the mischief that’s part of Solo’s charm, one wishes the film had taken some more chances with the storyline.
Word is that Ehrenreich struggled with the role for a while during filming, but he is engaging and charismatic. And although he doesn’t really channel Harrison Ford, he does captures the character’s swagger.
Most of the rest of the acting is solid, although one wishes that Woody Harrelson’s character had a bit more to do than be a cautionary plot device. And Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos is a bit wan and fragile, not scary at all and unconvincing as a criminal mastermind.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a much less exciting story than I hoped for, and lacks some of the depth of the best of the series. But it’s entertaining enough and is certain to generate the box office that guarantees the sequel invited by the movie’s loose-ends.
Solo: A Star Wars Story. Directed by Ron Howard. Written by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan. Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clark and Donald Glover. Opens wide Friday.