Solo: A Star Wars Story has finally been released, so the origin story of the scruffy-looking nerf herder Han Solo is currently playing in theaters. It’s been criticized for bringing “nothing new” to the Star Wars universe, but one thing’s for sure – it’s a heck of a fun time at the movies. If you want to kick back with some popcorn and go on a colorful space adventure filled with alien creatures and laser shootouts and planet hopping, then look no further. This is the kind of stuff that the magic of cinema was invented for. The movie has its ups and downs. Here are 7 things in the movie that are great and 3 that are not so great. And don’t worry, this is a SPOILER-FREE review.
10. The door is left too wide open for sequels
When Lucasfilm first announced Solo: A Star Wars Story, they promised that it would focus “on how a young Han Solo became the smuggler, thief, and scoundrel whom Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi first encountered in the cantina at Mos Eisley.” However, now that this movie has actually been made and released in theaters, the producers have decided to leave the door open for any sequels that might follow with Alden Ehrenreich’s young Han Solo on other adventures. This is fine, since it would clearly be a lot of fun to spend more time with him, but they may have left that door a little too wide open, meaning that nothing in the movie really gets wrapped up. It’s all so inconsequential with the promise that it will all get explained in later movies, but those movies might never happen now, since Solo is underperforming at the box office. Plus, it takes away from the satisfaction of this moviegoing experience to not properly tie up all the loose ends at the end of the movie. You know, you went along for the ride and you had a great time, but with a lot of things left vague or unresolved at the end of the movie, you come out feeling a little dissatisfied.
9. We know how everything will end
This is an inherent problem with prequels altogether. If you tell the story of what happened leading up to a story that’s already been told, then you already know how it’s going to end. If it doesn’t end exactly where that other story started, then you at least know which characters are going to die and which ones aren’t. We’ve seen the original Star Wars movie, so we know that Solo: A Star Wars Story will end somewhere near Han and Chewie headed to Tatooine, where they’ll get tangled up with Jabba the Hutt and eventually meet Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi and set out to take down the Empire. We know that Han and Chewie and Lando are all safe. They’re not going to die or be defeated, no matter what happens. And we know that no matter how much danger they’re in, it’s all going to turn out okay. The stakes are high, but since we know how it ends, none of that matters. The big climactic moment involves Han needing to make the Kessel Run in less than twenty parsecs. We’re not exactly on the edge of our seats, wondering whether or not he’s going to make it.
8. The villain is pretty two dimensional
The Star Wars franchise has a history of creating layered villains with a real human side to them. Darth Vader is evil, but we get it. We see him as a real person. We know where he came from and how he ended up becoming a Sith Lord. Kylo Ren isn’t just pure evil – he’s clearly conflicted about the path he’s chosen to take in life, and more than a few times, he has almost turned to the Light Side. Unfortunately, the villain from Solo: A Star Wars Story, Dryden Vos, is too two dimensional to be interesting to watch. He’s sort of a cliché. His plans are never really explained. It’s fine if he’s just a bad dude, because some people are just like that, but we don’t know exactly what he wants. It’s all just vague boilerplate Hollywood villain stuff, which is frankly disappointing. One wonders what the original version of the character, who was to be played by Michael K. Williams from The Wire and would’ve been half human and half mountain lion with CGI, might have been like. Unfortunately, Williams was not available for the reshoots, so they had to recast and tweak who the character was.
7. The production design is phenomenal
One of the things that set Star Wars aside back in 1977 was the set design and the general aesthetic of it. It felt so unique. In other space movies, the other planets and the futuristic societies all lived in perfect, pristine, chrome environments. And yet, in Star Wars, Tatooine was a dusty, run-down wasteland. The metal was rusted. The paintwork had faded. It felt lived-in, which helped to immerse the audience in that world. And the Death Star did have that clean, shiny, chromic aesthetic of the other sci-fi movies of the time, but it had distinctive neon colors and Imperial symbols. That helped to establish the Empire as a Nazi-like organization. Anyway, whoever was in charge of designing those sets was some kind of visionary. The movie had a look and feel entirely of its own, and that was mostly thanks to the incredible production design. The production design teams on all the subsequent Star Wars movies have done a great job of maintaining that same feel – and Solo: A Star Wars Story is no different. The slums of Corellia are beautifully realized as murky, dangerous criminal badlands. The mines of Kessel are shown as a dank, muggy, steamy slave plantation. The production design is phenomenal.
6. Solo doesn’t feel marred by the change of directors
If you’ve been following the production of Solo: A Star Wars Story closely, then you’ll be aware that Ron Howard was not always the movie’s director. The guys who brought you The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, were originally helming the movie. Halfway through the production, they had a disagreement with Lucasfilm over the tone of the film, as the directors wanted to make the movie more like Guardians of the Galaxy and Lucasfilm wanted to make the movie more like Star Wars (fair enough, right?), so Lord and Miller left the project and Howard came aboard to salvage it. Considering the fact that he joined a movie that was midway through filming and tonally all over the place, Howard has done an astonishing job of smoothing things over. There is markedly more humor in Solo than in your average Star Wars movie, but other than that, it does feel like a Star Wars movie. And more importantly, it feels like a movie. The plot moves organically, the tone is clear throughout the whole thing. Given the circumstances, how this was almost a goddamn Alan Smithee movie, Howard has really knocked it out of the park with this one.
5. It’s really about Han and Chewie’s bromance
One of the biggest delights about the experience of watching the Star Wars saga has always been the bromantic relationship shared by Han Solo and Chewbacca. Their banter and their fun back and forth have always been one of the greatest joys of watching these movies. But in the original trilogy, when we first meet them, they’re already friends. Han is already fluent in Wookiee language and Chewie is already his co-pilot in the Falcon. So, we never really got to see their relationship develop – until Solo: A Star Wars Story came along. In this movie, we get to see them meet for the first time. Han is thrown into a cage to be eaten by a monster, and that monster turns out to be Chewbacca. Like he does with every sticky situation, Han manages to talk his way out of it – and what we witness is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Throughout the whole movie, they keep getting closer and closer to one another until the very end, when they’ve grown so close to one another that you can’t imagine they would be able to live without each other. It’s a great hook to have at the center of the movie.
4. The action sequences are spectacular
The action sequences in Solo are spectacles to behold, although given the history of the Star Wars franchise, you wouldn’t go in expecting any less. You’ve probably seen clips from the icy train heist sequence in the movie’s trailers and the scene itself does not disappoint. It’s not only one of the best scenes in the movie, but it may even be one of the most thrilling and visually stunning sequences in any Star Wars movie ever. The battle scenes are incredible, too. The battle sequences in George Lucas’ original Star Wars movies were inspired by the iconography of the Second World War’s dogfights. And then when Gareth Edwards made Rogue One, his beautiful, colorful, tropical vistas as backdrops to savage and fiery battles were inspired by the aesthetics of the Vietnam War. The battle scenes in Solo: A Star Wars Story take us into the trenches of Imperial warfare, with influence taken from the First World War. The action scenes in the movie are all so visceral and exciting and brilliantly framed. You wouldn’t expect any less from a visionary director like Ron Howard, but this one goes the extra mile by organically escalating the action sequences to keep you engaged.
3. The actors are terrific
Whoever was in charge of casting for Solo: A Star Wars Story did a really great job, because they got exactly the right person for every role. Alden Ehrenreich anchors the movie brilliantly with his portrayal of the lead role. He really embodies the role of Han Solo and does the impossible – he makes us believe that this is genuinely the younger version of the character that Harrison Ford immortalized on the big screen as an icon. Ehrenreich walks a fine line to do this. He’s not doing an impression of Harrison Ford per se, he’s just playing the same character with all the same nuances and traits as Ford. And he really nailed it, from the way he smirks all the way down to his body language, like the way he stands in a doorway. It’s quite incredible. Donald Glover has the smooth charm that Billy Dee Williams brought to Lando Calrissian back in 1980 when he was introduced in The Empire Strikes Back and he’s always a joy to watch. Emilia Clarke plays her role of Qi’ra wonderfully, since we’re not supposed to know what the character’s intentions are the whole time and Clarke’s seductive air of mystery keeps us guessing throughout the movie. Even the supporting cast, like Woody Harrelson as Han’s mentor or Thandie Newton as a scrappy criminal, give terrific performances.
2. The movie is full of fan service
Remember the recurring appearances of Yoda’s Force ghost in The Last Jedi and how it didn’t really do anything for the narrative, but was a lot of fun anyway? Well, that’s what’s known as fan service – and Solo: A Star Wars Story is full of it. We get to see how Han met Chewie and how Han met Lando Calrissian and how Han got a hold of the Millennium Falcon and where Han learned to shoot first and trust no one and how Han managed to make the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs (if you round it down). There are all kinds of callbacks and Easter eggs that link Solo into the wider Star Wars mythology. We even get to see how the Falcon came to have one of the best navigation systems in the galaxy and why it’s so mean to C-3PO. It’s all so glorious! Anything that Han Solo has made a passing reference to in the saga over the past forty years is fleshed out and depicted here. Sure, all of these Easter eggs and callbacks make the whole thing very predictable, but for Star Wars fans, it is sure to be a hell of a moviegoing experience.
1. This is pure Star Wars
The greatest thing about Solo: A Star Wars Story is really just that it’s a Star Wars movie, through and through. It has all the wacko alien creatures and big, spectacular set pieces and chases through outer space and laser gunfights and shady villains and good triumphing over evil that have made the Star Wars franchise a pop culture phenomenon. The story jumps from planet to planet and takes us through intergalactic wars and alien slave revolutions and everywhere from deep underground in the mines to way out into the farthest reaches of space. The characters are always getting into all kinds of predicaments with villainous organizations and space monsters and the Empire and having to come up with creative ways to get out of them. Solo: A Star Wars Story is an adventure movie of the truest form. All things considered, minor plot and pacing flaws aside, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a cinematic spectacle and a heck of a fun adventure across the stars, so it’s essentially the ideal Star Wars movie – and the ideal Star Wars movie is the ideal summer blockbuster movie. It’s not perfect, but it is well worth checking out. Purely as a moviegoing experience, you won’t be disappointed.