Han Solo — spoiler alert — was killed off three Star Wars movies ago, in The Force Awakens. But in the world of mega-budget franchises, such a demise warrants not a eulogy, but rather a rebirth.
Thus the spinoff Solo, an origin story that answers some questions only the most ardent fans would care to ask. Still, this amusing and exciting installment is a sufficient appetizer while the anticipation among devotees builds for the ninth and final episode of the original series next year.
Alden Ehrenreich (Rules Don’t Apply) capably fills Harrison Ford’s iconic shoes by finding the right balance of charm and charisma as the intergalactic outlaw and smuggler.
As you’d expect, the film provides context to some key background elements in Han’s story, such as how he got his name, how he met his Wookiee sidekick Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and rogue pilot Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), how he developed his cocksure bravado, how he came to own the Millennium Falcon, and how he made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.
Those come within a story that sees Han’s loyalties torn while navigating a criminal underworld in which he’s separated then reunited with his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and a cautiously forms an alliance with a mercenary (Woody Harrelson) for a round of adventure.
The screenplay co-written by Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back) mostly sticks to tried-and-true formula instead of venturing into anything radically new. However, any meaningful connections to the primary Star Wars films are mostly only hints, with few recognizable faces along the way.
Although the stakes don’t feel as high without the clearly delineated heroism and villainy of the Jedi and the Empire, things become seriously nostalgic once we’re riding with Han in the cockpit of the Falcon, eluding a pack of imperial tie fighters and a giant shapeshifting space creature while waiting for the hyperdrive to kick in.
Fortunately, there’s little evidence of the behind-the-scenes turmoil that led to the departure midway through production of original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie) in favor of veteran filmmaker Ron Howard, who oversaw extensive reshoots on a tight schedule.
Overall, it’s a film more concerned with visual spectacle than narrative intricacies, often detouring into extraneous subplots and eschewing character depth in favor of effects-driven chases, confrontations, and death-defying escapes. Yet those are minor quibbles, especially as the thrills and twists escalate in the final hour.
After all, Han would sarcastically tell you he deserves his own movie. While hardly a classic, Solo stays true to the mythology and gives its protagonist a worthwhile turn in the spotlight.