Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★
Credit to Alden Ehrenreich for making the correct decision of not simply imitating Harrison Ford to play the younger version of Han Solo. With such an iconic role, it is best to step away from the long shadow and deliver a performance that, in its essence, true to the character but at the same time different in its own right. Word had gotten around that Ehrenreich required an acting coach on set, but fear not: the performance is solid because it captures the type of swagger we have come to love from the original interpretation of the title character. This time, the swagger is youthful and occasionally uncertain, not yet so arrogant and bitingly sarcastic. One could see Ehrenreich growing into the role if a sequel or two were to happen.
Like all “Star Wars” pictures, Ron Howard’s “Solo” is teeming with colorful and interesting personalities, from the familiar characters like the adorable but physically strong Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and the smooth gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) to new additions like the warm but mysterious Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and Han’s headstrong mentor named Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). When these personalities are on screen together and taking a jab at one another through dialogue, one is challenged not to smile from ear to ear. Their wonderful chemistry keeps afloat a screenplay that requires further character development.
A challenge when it comes to telling an origins story is to find a way to distract the audience from certain facts in order to create an experience that does not feel predictable. I’m not convinced that this challenge is overcome because as the busy and well-choreographed action set pieces unfold, the gnawing suspicion of a possible betrayal lingers in the mind. Han is a character who is almost defined by having trust issues, certainly someone with issues against figures of authority, and so we anticipate one or two sudden left turns. The events occurring on screen, for instance, needed to have been more heightened and so full of tension that we forget our destination. On a scale of one to ten, it is functioning on a seven rather than on an eleven.
The photography is beautiful. Although numerous images look rather dark most of the time, I did not find it frustrating that certain things are difficult to see. Particularly wonderful are scenes that take place indoors or underground and we are tasked to look closely at alien faces or robotic designs as complex action sequences unfurl. This approach is immediately noticeable during the opening sequence in which Han and Qi’ra attempt to escape their shipbuilding planet and start a new life together. The film is shot by Bradford Young and he has a knack for using lighting, sometimes the lack of it, to lure the audience into a world that is both dangerous and full of wonder.
Although the picture can be criticized for being episodic—being composed of one mission after another that build up to a finale—those familiar with “Star Wars” films and its very nature as a series would likely not take an issue with this strategy. However, I yearned to learn more about the new characters, particularly Qi’ra who is hinted of having done “terrible things” in order to ensure her survival over the years.
While flashbacks and speeches are not at all necessary, the specifics of her struggles could have been communicated in other ways such as how she deals with herself and others when the going gets tough, when she is left with no one else but silence and her thoughts, the discrepancies in her personality from the time we meet her and till several years later. Writers Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan take a gamble by saving most of these necessary details in the possible follow-up of Han’s story.