If you’re going to introduce a prequel to the Star Wars saga in a different way than anyone has tried before you’d better deliver the goods. Despite its well-documented production problems, Solo: A Star Wars Story does exactly that. I think the magic key can be summed up in one word: casting. Series veteran Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan are credited with the final script, which Ron Howard directed in a last-minute change of personnel (following the public firing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller). But without Alden Ehrenreich as a young Han Solo and a talented lineup of actors the movie wouldn’t work at all.
Ehrenreich has proved himself many times over, but I doubt that most Star Wars fans have seen him play clean-cut heroes of the 1950s in the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! or Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply. He seems so at home in those straight-arrow roles that I wasn’t sure he had the swagger and humor to take on the character made famous by Harrison Ford. I needn’t have worried; he nails it. Ehrenreich’s devil-may-care, cocky charm carries Solo through some of its bumpier moments.
What’s more, he is surrounded by talented and (yes) well-cast players: radiant Emilia Clarke as his long-lost love, roguish soldier-of-fortune Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton as a gutsy compatriot, and Donald Glover as a youthful Lando Calrissian, who’s as cagey and charismatic as Han Solo. Special mention must go to Joonas Suotamo, who inherits the role of Chewbacca and does him justice. And while there is no towering figure of evil like Darth Vader, Paul Bettany exudes his own brand of villainy quite well.
The action and chase scenes are expertly handled, with some breathtaking stunts and visual effects. I could do with fewer of them, especially as the film heads toward the two-hour mark. Some judicious trimming could have made this an even better movie. The climactic action is positively relentless. I’m glad I chose to see this in 2-D; a 3-D screening might have left me gasping for breath. (I feel the same way about the last few spectacles I’ve seen. Hasn’t anyone heard the old saying about too much of a good thing?)
But these points are minor and debatable. What matters is that Solo captures the sense of humor and adventure that George Lucas imbued in the original trilogy some forty years ago. It gives us new characters to care about and root for. A new Star Wars series is off and running and I think people are going to love it.