STAND-ALONE “SOLO” A FUN RIDE IN THE “STAR WARS” UNIVERSE
A Film Review by Tim Riley
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (Rated PG-13) Cynics might view the latest “Star Wars” chapter, based on the characters created by George Lucas, to be another big payday for the franchise now in the hands of Disney, but “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” focused on a young Han Solo, is likely to be a crowd-pleaser. That Alden Ehrenreich as Han has no tangible physical similarity to a younger version of Harrison Ford, a beloved figure who could not easily be substituted by another actor, is relatively immaterial given that he plays the role with a familiar cocky swagger and self-confidence.
When we first meet Han he is a street urchin living in the intolerably totalitarian state of servitude to the hideous Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt) running a slave labor camp on the desolate industrial planet of Corellia. Self-assured enough to believe that he can pilot any purloined vessel, Han boldly attempts an escape in an exciting levitated speeder chase in the company of his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Circumstances conspire to foil their mutual flight.
Eluding the stormtroopers on his own, Han finds his only viable option to flee is to join the Imperial Army. Talking his way off the hellish Corellia, there’s a nice tidbit about how Han the street person gets his last name courtesy of military enlistment. Vowing to become a pilot so that he may return one day to rescue Qi’ra, Han’s scheme is delayed for about three years while serving as an infantry soldier for the Empire, fighting a senseless battle that looks doomed to failure.
This reluctant call to duty causes him to fall in with dodgy officer Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his partner Val (Thandie Newton), who are running a band of smugglers planning a heist of a highly volatile super fuel known as coaxial. Before “Solo” kicks into the high gear of a heist caper on a dangerous mission of a train robbery in a snowy mountain pass, Han meets his soon-to-be lifelong friend and co-pilot Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) under a less than desirable situation fraught with menace.
While Han is a maverick scoundrel with a good heart, he and Chewbacca, demonstrating impressive skills, are recruited into illicit activity by the temperamental Beckett for the sole purpose of repaying debts to the odious Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). What Han wants more than anything is to own an airship and he figures that his share of the coaxial bounty will allow him to fulfill his dream and return to Corellia. As often happens with a criminal scheme, things just don’t work out as planned. Getting on the wrong side of Dryden Vos leads to some surprises on his space yacht filled with the beautiful people, one of whom turns out to be Qi’ra, now elegantly dressed as the second-in-command to Vos, much to Han’s dismay. In many respects, “Solo” has the feel of a classic Western, where Han has a gun strapped to his hip as if he were about to engage in a High Noon showdown. Han’s swagger comes naturally when he struts into a tavern with the look of a gunfighter.
That Western appearance is vividly on display when Han saunters into a saloon at Fort Yspo and ends up in a rigged card game with notorious gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) before returning later for a bet in which he wins the coveted Millennium Falcon. With the help of Lando’s cruiser, Han convinces Vos that his compatriots should live to see another day if they can steal raw coaxial on the mining planet of Kessel and getting it refined on Savareen while on the way to completing this dangerous mission.
As a reluctant partner, Lando exudes mystery as the suave rogue who has a great sense of humor in his scheming persona. The mission introduces his robot pilot L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a greatly memorable character, among a few, in this science-fiction canon. What might be missing for many aficionados of the franchise is that there is no truly villainous character of any stature like Darth Vader or even Supreme Leader Snoke? We have to satisfy ourselves with Lady Proxima and Dryden Vos, neither of which is all that remarkable.
It may not matter much to “Star Wars” fans to note that “Solo” was a troubled production, rescued by director Ron Howard who had to redo most of the film when the producers fired the pair of original directors in mid-shoot for being too loose with the essential elements. To Howard’s credit, the dangerous escapades for Han, Chewbacca and assorted allies are filled with endless twists and turns, insidious betrayals, forceful showdowns, and close calls where many scenes are one cliffhanger after another. “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” surviving bumps in the road during filming, turns out to be a credit to the franchise. The fully-developed origin story for Han and Chewbacca works well in the backdrop of relentless excitement that undergirds the slick thrills of non-stop action.