Was this movie necessary?
No. It doesn’t add anything appreciably to the Star Wars canon. It embellishes the backstory of a few important series characters—namely, Han Solo, Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian—but not in any truly surprising or revelatory way. It’s not so much the tale of how Han Solo became the person we first met on Tatooine in Star Wars: A New Hope as it is an explanation of how he obtained a few of his accessories, such as Chewie, the Millennium Falcon, and even the surname “Solo.”
We already knew most of this, though, didn’t we? I mean, you and I did, since we’re both true Star Wars nerds. We knew Han won his ship from Lando in a sabacc game. We knew Han rescued Chewie, for which the Wookiee believes he owes the scoundrel a life debt. We knew Han came from Corellia and was a cocky, brazen pirate who would shoot first (he did shoot first) and ask questions later. We also knew he made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, a George Lucas script mistake that is now retconned Star Wars gospel.
Therefore, this movie wasn’t necessary at all.
After its relatively bleak reception way back in 2018, I was prepared to hate this movie when I finally got around to watching it.
I didn’t hate it.
In fact, I rather liked it. It may have benefited from the halo effect of my having watched the first season of The Mandalorian (review under construction) and the documentary Empire of Dreams, both of which certainly put me in a Star Wars frame of mind. Solo: a Star Wars story scratched an itch. It was recognizably a Star Wars movie, featuring some familiar characters and situations, while having the advantage of being something I’ve never watched before.
This younger version of Han Solo is played by Alden Ehrenreich, who was an unfamiliar actor to me before this. He channels enough of Harrison Ford’s mannerisms that I accepted him in the role only a few minutes into the movie. It’s a little like accepting a new actor playing James Bond or The Doctor—different, but the same. Donald Glover was a more familiar face, and he nailed the voice and cape-wearing swagger of Lando Calrissian. Chewbacca is played by Joonas Suotamo instead of the late Peter Mayhew, but that’s not as obvious a change under all of the special-effects makeup and prosthetics.
Many of the characters who are new to me are played by actors I recognize as well. Somehow, this adds to the verisimilitude of the story for me, for reasons I can’t quite articulate.
The movie begins on the shipbuilding world of Corellia just six years after the formation of the Galactic Empire. Han and his love interest, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, in the first post-Game of Thrones role I’ve seen her in), attempt to escape from crime boss Lady Proxima in a rousing chase sequence. The two young lovers are separated while trying to leave Corellia, and Han is forced to enlist in the Imperial Navy to make his escape. He wants to be a pilot, of course. It is the Imperial enlistment officer who gives him the surname “Solo,” since he doesn’t have one and he is—er-hem—alone in the world.
This immediately gives Han several story goals. Escape from Corellia. Become a pilot. Reunite with his lost love Qi’ra. There’s no central story thread for this movie yet, but it’s a start. Plus, the action sequence is engaging.
Time-jump to three years later. Han has been kicked out of the Imperial flight academy for insubordination (which is in keeping with his character), and is serving in the Imperial ground forces on the swamp world of Mimban. Han is not a loyal soldier, of course. It is on Mimban that he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), and his companions Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio (voice-acted by Jon Favreau, who has been shortlisted for King Nerd of Geek Mountain). Beckett’s crew are disguised as Imperial soldiers, but they are in reality thieves who are planning a heist. Han desperately tries to join their crew, but Beckett turns him over to the Imperials as a deserter.
Han is locked in a pen with a “beast” who turns out to be Chewbacca. Here, the two form their lifelong bond and escape captivity. Beckett’s gang, which has stolen a hauler for their heist, rescues Han and Chewbacca at the urging of the gang’s pilot, Rio.
It’s difficult for me to determine the real act structure of this film. I feel like we’re still in Act One, because we’re still assembling our characters and the real central plot of the movie hasn’t taken off yet. So far, we’ve had two escape sequences (perhaps two-and-a-half) and we’ve brought Han together with Chewbacca and Beckett’s gang. I don’t believe Act One ends until the conclusion of the next big action set piece, which is the failed heist by Beckett’s gang on the planet Vandor. The heist is foiled by Enfys Nest and the Cloud-Riders, a rival gang. Beckett is working for the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate. Han’s new story goal is to earn enough money from the heist to buy his own ship.
At the conclusion of this sequence, Val and Rio are both dead. Beckett has to go face the leader of Crimson Dawn, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) with his failure. Han elects to go with him and, of course, Chewie goes where Han goes.
It is this fateful meeting with the menacing Vos, and the discovery that his trusted first-lieutenant is none other than Han’s lost love Qi’ra, that kicks off Act Two, in my opinion. Since this is a full third of the way into the movie, I’ll accept the argument that Act Two begins with the Vandor heist sequence, but it doesn’t feel right to me. It is here, with Vos, that the main plot of the movie begins. This movie isn’t about Han reuniting with Qi’ra. That’s already accomplished now. It’s about helping Beckett obtain the coaxium to pay off his debt to Vos.
This is where Qi’ra joins the team, at Vos’ behest. We have new story goals. They need to obtain a fast ship to complete their next heist on Kessel, because the coaxium—this movie’s McGuffin—has to be refined quickly before it blows up. The plan is to steal the coaxium, get it quickly to Savareen, where it can be refined, then get the now stable cargo to Vos, where all debts will be paid and then Han will have enough credits to buy his ship and, presumably, fly off into the suns-sets with Qi’ra.
Of course, there are complications. As far as the fast ship goes . . . Qi’ra knows a guy, as it turns out. This is, of course, the roguish Lando Calrissian, and the fast ship is the Millenium Falcon. Along the way, we complete the fabled Kessel Run, instigate a slave revolt, and once again face off against Enfys Nest and the Cloud-Riders. There are the expected double- and triple-crosses. Han, of course, doesn’t end up with the girl. We knew that because she wasn’t in A New Hope. But, he does eventually end up beating Lando in a game of sabacc and winning the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.
Oh, there’s a lot of other stuff that happens. Qi’ra reveals herself to be a strong, independent woman. Darth Maul makes an appearance, although I thought he was already dead by this point. I know, he supposedly survived his apparent death according to stories I didn’t see or read, and apparently became the leader of Crimson Dawn. An Easter Egg for fans of Clone Wars or other animated Star Wars properties, perhaps, but it left me temporarily confused.
I could mercilessly pick this movie apart the way countless others have before me. The structure of the movie makes me think that it may have been more effective and, certainly, more cohesive as a television series. My thoughts on this may be influenced by The Mandalorian, of course, but the episodic nature of this movie’s plot structure seem perfect for modern television. Episode 1: “Escape from Corellia”. Episode 2: “The Deserter”. Episode 3: “The Vandor Heist”. And so on, until the finale episode fades out after Han lays down his winning sabacc hand.
I don’t pretend to have the writing chops of Lawrence or Jon Kasdan. I thought the movie was entertaining and true to its roots. It just felt more episodic to me. Of course, this may be due in part to some of the movie’s production woes. The original directors were fired and replaced by Ron Howard, who had to reshoot approximately 70% of the movie. Paul Bettany was brought in to replace the original Dryden Vos actor, who wasn’t available for reshoots. You know, stuff like that.
In spite of these problems, I don’t think this movie was a failure at all. I realize that all of the headlines declared it a flop, but I’m sure, in the end, it made a profit and will continue to make money in the future, if that’s our true measure of success. As for me, I liked it much more than I did Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Firewater’s Always-Pretend-To-Have-a-Thermal-Detonator Report Card: B+
A pleasant, entertaining, if not wholly necessary, diversion.