Solo: A Star Wars Story doesn’t exactly break new ground. But it does offer up a pleasant enough excuse for a journey back to a galaxy far, far away. It’s a prequel and a sequel and an origin story designed to shed light on the beloved scoundrel who – several years later – delivered Luke, Leia, C-3PO and R2-D2 to the Rebel Alliance and helped them attack the Death Star (or something like that). It’s hard to picture anyone other than Harrison Ford as sarcastic pilot-extraordinaire Han Solo, but Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) creates a believable precursor, with a cockiness and swagger that cloaks a deep desire for family, connection and doing the right thing.
The movie balances an all-new adventure with a wink and a nod to elements of the decades-long franchise. There’s sentimental fun in discovering how Han first bonded with his burly co-pilot, the wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and how the pair came to fly the Millennium Falcon, a ship that belonged to notorious gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). That Star Wars comfort food is served with a side of fresh, low-hanging fruit that drives the space narrative, which is, in essence: Who can you trust? (hint: probably noone).
The supporting cast includes: Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones, Me Before You) as Qi’ra, a complicated young woman who grew up with Han in a bleak Oliver Twist-like environment; Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as Han’s mercenary mentor Beckett, engaged in a deadly battle with an inter-galactic crime syndicate; Thandie Newton as a bad-ass member of Beckett’s crew; and perhaps best of all, Phoebe Waller-Bridge in a funny and poignant motion-capture performance as a feisty, self-made droid named L3-37.
Solo: A Star Wars Story was written by the father-son duo of Lawrence and Jon Kasdan, the former being a veteran of Star Wars lore as co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens. Director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) inherited Solo late in the game after the original directors were fired for “creative differences”, but Howard has proven himself rather skilled at crafting a solid character-driven yarn infused with humor, drama and action. And that’s what Solo is. It’s a worthy, though far from awe-inspiring addition to the franchise that never dies – even when central characters do.