Solo: A Star Wars Story sports all the hallmarks of a “safe” Hollywood movie. Three cleanly separated acts, coupled with story beats we’ve seen countless times, point to a structurally sound but thematically and emotionally barren film. People want risks because they’re exciting. They want them because they indicate boldness and confidence. With the exception of The Last Jedi. Fans see that film as lower than dung beetle shit. While The Last Jedi ranks among the franchise’s best efforts (in my super humble, super correct opinion), the other in-canon nonconformist (my only point of reference here), Rogue One, does not. That means quality is up to the film and its cast, not to risk or the absence of it. With Solo, director Ron Howard delivers an honest, exciting, and thoroughly enjoyable blockbuster packed tight with everything that makes Star Wars the phenomenon it is.
Its inherent value as a film becomes clearer only after closer inspection. Nobody should need to work that hard to recognize a movie’s merit, especially when the movie itself is solid. Unfortunately, it’s necessary with Solo. The movie has had to move mountains just to get people into theater seats, which is odd considering people turned out in droves to watch Lucasfilm explain a decades-old plot hole for two hours. Sure, the production team behind Solo had to hire an acting coach for star Alden Ehrenreich. And yes, original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller left after creative differences with Lucasfilm. That being said, though, Solo is vastly superior to the Gareth Edwards-directed shitfest. It’s an unpopular opinion, but it’s one I’ll stick to until my eyes explode and my computer keys are smoking craters in my laptop.
Donald Glover coats his performance in the sliminess of every Imperial-era smuggler, albeit with the added touches that make Lando Calrissian so charming. He channels Billy’s Dee…I mean, Billy Dee Williams in a way that’s respectful but very much his own. A standout in every role he takes, Glover’s screen time is limited but his presence is not. Emilia Clarke and Woody Harrelson show off their chops as well, making their respective characters, Qi’ra and Tobias Beckett, memorable additions to the Star Wars universe. They’re both driven by their will to survive. Beckett’s got some sound but tragic philosophies that make him a bummer, but he certainly helps shape Han into the scoundrel he is. As Han’s best friend and lover during his formative years, Qi’ra proves herself a valuable teacher with all the tools necessary to break his heart. Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos is a convincing (if rarely present) villain with every quality we love and hate in a sci-fi baddie. He’s ruthless and mostly apathetic, his soft spot for Qi’ra the only glimmer in his black soul.
Now… our leading man, Ehrenreich. He’s got some crazy good chemistry with Joonas Suotamo’s Chewbacca, an element that Howard needed to nail to make this film work. Aside from that, his performance is stilted and his charisma is elusive, but he absolutely has his heart where it needs to be. He also lands some killer quips, an absolute must for this universe. Granted, he’s no Harrison Ford, but anyone who expected that needs a thorough reality check. He’s a better, more compelling protagonist than Jyn Erso was, but that’s because he’s got years’ worth of material from which to pull.
Solo: A Star Wars Story may be a wholly unnecessary character study, but it’s an impressive, inspired, and insightful entry in a franchise that needs that ball to keep rolling for it to survive. Ron Howard has achieved the impossible: he made a competent standalone Star Wars.