Let’s get this out of the way. Solo was what a Star Wars movie should be. It was fun. It had the feel of a Saturday morning serial made by a guy who couldn’t get the rights to Flash Gordon. Oh, wait. That’s exactly what George Lucas was going for back in 1976.
It’s hard to talk about a Star Wars movie without spoiling it, but I’ll try here.
For starters, the Han Solo in this movie is a kid, pure and simple. They might have found an actor who resembled Harrison Ford better, but I doubt he would have done much better than Alden Ehrenreich. Anyway, Ford, when he created the role, was already rough around the edges and a bit crotchety. Ehrenreich works with what he has and picks up the Ford-created mannerisms as he goes along. His job really is to collect everything that makes Han Han. His chemistry with Emilia Clarke (Yes, Danerys Stormborn on Game of Thrones and no, most definitely not a blonde here) is perfect as they begin the film as two street urchins trying to escape Corellia, where the Empire builds its starships. When they are separated in their attempt, Han decides the only way out is through. So he joins the Imperial Navy, bragging he’s the best pilot in the galaxy.
But if Harrison Ford taught us anything, Han does not take to authority well and winds up a trooper in the Army instead. (Not a Stormtrooper. He doesn’t rate the white armor, but then he’s also a good shot. Make of that what you will.) Again he tries to desert and ends up in a cell with Chewbacca, his jailers hoping the Wookie will tear him to pieces. Han has other ideas, ideas the 190-year-old Wookie agrees with. From there, he ends up in a life of smuggling with Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson), doing a job for gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, in a role that requires surprisingly less makeup than usual), and matching wits with a scoundrel named Lando Calrissian.
Beckett is world-weary and blythely paranoid. He’ll double cross anyone and believes everyone will do the same to him. But he sees that Han and Chewie are, in fact, different. Bettany’s gangster is typical of a powerful man with lots of muscle. Once isolated, he’s a coward, and Bettany plays him to smarmy perfection. Other performances that shine are Thandie Newton’s Val, Beckett’s wife and the conscience of his group (if it can be said to have one), and Jon Favreau voicing the crab-like Rio Durant, who seems to be the long-lost crustacean brother of Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Rocket, though he has his own quirks.
Another standout character was L3, a female droid who demands equal rights for her mechanical brethren. She also has a rather “complicated” relationship with Lando.
It’s Donald Glover who is the standout in this. He completely sells us on a younger, more vainglorious Lando with an uncomfortable attraction for L3. “How does that work?” Clarke’s Kira asks. “It doesn’t,” says L3, who immediately becomes Kira’s feminist bff. He cheats at cards, never stops scheming for a bigger cut of the job, and is busy writing his memoirs.
As for the movie itself, we find out what we expected to learn: How Chewie met Han and why they are so loyal to each other, what Corellia is like (Detroit from Robocop on a bad day), how Han got the Falcon, and how the Falcon made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. (And no shit, Sherlock, parsecs are a unit of distance not time. What? You thought Ford’s Solo didn’t know that? Shame on you.) The movie is almost nonstop action though the end does go on longer than I’d like. Still, there’s a sense that, in a galaxy where everyone has become unrelentingly cynical, this particular cynic has more to him.
Overall, I’m getting the impression that it’s more fun to watch the anthology movies than the new trilogies. There always seems to be a reference to Rebels within to the point where a Thrawn movie might not be a bad idea. (Lucas would definitely approve.) But Disney needs to keep stability in their ranks. This movie went through three directors, settling on Ron Howard in the end. This doesn’t exactly encourage the hardcore fans, who are sometimes annoyingly pessimistic about the enterprise as it is. Also, Disney releasing this against Deadpool 2, a property they partially own, and Avengers: Infinity War is not wise at all. Solo should have been released at Christmas, like the last three movies. Besides, six months after The Last Jedi borders on saturating the market. Solo‘s flaws are not that it’s a prequel (Don’t ask for a story, then complain you know how it turns out, a common fan trait of late) or in its execution (Howard needs to direct the Obi wan or Boba Fett movies.) It’s that it’s too much too soon. Great for the eventual marathons, but not for landing in the middle of the summer blockbuster season. Even Star Trek has kept to the once-every-three-years rhythm so that Beyond‘s disappointing numbers still turned an immediate profit.
Disney is correct in that Star Wars can become like the MCU, but only if handled properly. Overwhelming the audience with a movie every six months will not work. Marvel is so large it needs two studios and one a year to keep up with demand. But franchises like Trek and James Bond let their fields lay fallow, which has kept them viable even in the face of changing tastes and competing versions of their mythologies. (Trek moreso than Bond, which has been almost exclusively EON since 1981.)