By Dave Smith, Contributor, US DailyReview.
“It’s risky, but it’s worth a try…” – Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke)
Making a back-story movie about one of cinema’s most beloved characters was indeed risky: Han Solo, as previously portrayed by Harrison Ford in the Star Wars saga, is an icon, and star power is hard to replicate. But, buoyed by the success of the first stand-alone movie from the Star Wars “universe”, 2016’s Rogue One, Lucasfilm Ltd. (now owned by Disney) gave the go-ahead to the next “Star Wars Story” about the scoundrelly smuggler. The result is Solo: A Star Wars Story.
The results are mixed.
The movie is a fun, action-filled jaunt. Part science fiction, part classic heist film, Solo is fast-paced and features interesting characters old and new, with a very talented cast. Woody Harrelson plays Tobias Beckett, a cynical, veteran thief and smuggler who becomes a mentor of sorts to Han. The beautiful Emilia Clarke – best known as Daenerys Targaryen on TV’s Game of Thrones – plays Solo’s love interest and co-conspirator Qi’ra. Thandie Newton has some good scenes as a world-weary companion of Beckett. And we get to meet the young Lando Calrissian, played with suave aplomb by Donald Glover.
The opening narrative explains that with the rise of the Empire, crime syndicates are still powerful. The plot opens with Han escaping the slums of his home planet Corellia to join the Imperial Navy and become a pilot, but, unsurprising given Han’s lack of appreciation for authority, he ends up in the infantry (not all of whom are stormtroopers, we learn) and then thrown in a pit to be eaten by “the beast”.
In typical Han Solo fashion, he escapes, makes a new friend named Chewbacca, and thus begins the heist portion of the movie. Along the way he encounters a space yacht, a crime baron with a shadowy overlord, Qi’ra again, and a mysterious marauder named Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman). Of course, being a Star Wars movie, Solo features a droid character, but like Rogue One’s K-2SO, Lando’s copilot, the social justice warrior L3-37, is a positive addition to the story.
Like any good heist movie, there are some twists, turns, and surprises. The action scenes are tightly filmed and paced, and the characters under Ron Howard’s direction are interesting and well-acted.
There’s only one problem, and it’s nobody’s fault: nobody in the movie is named “Harrison Ford”. The problem with taking on the role of any iconic character, much less one of the most iconic in cinematic history, is that it’s nearly impossible to live up to the original. Alden Ehrenreich has been the subject of much criticism for his portrayal of Han Solo, and I think some of it is undeserved. If the character were named “John Jones” or anything other than “Han Solo”, this movie would be much better received on its own merits. Ehrenreich adeptly plays a street hustler who’s accustomed to talking his way into – and out of – tough situations. But this isn’t just any character, it’s Han Solo. Harrison Ford demonstrated with his screen time in The Force Awakens that he’s still a super star – a leading man among leading men. Ehrenreich simply doesn’t fit the bill.
Overall, the movie is still fun to watch. Fans of the Star Wars universe will find much to like in the movie, as will fans of the action-heist genre. The film was a risk, and only time – and the box office receipts – will tell if the risk was worth the reward.
Born in the same county as Davy Crockett in East Tennessee, Dave found his way to Texas where he works in the petrochemical industry. He’s written and spoken about politics on various media outlets including Fox, ABC, and Townhall. He is a graduate of Tennessee Tech with a degree in chemical engineering. Follow Dave onTwitter: @semperlibertas.