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Solo – A Star Wars Story: the triumphal return to former strength

Luca Fontana
Zurich, on 23.05.2018
Star Wars is known for great stories about the ultimate battle between good and evil. «Solo – A Star Wars Story» breaks with this tradition. A bad idea? Absolutely not. The best thing that could have happened to the movie franchise.

June 2017: Lucasfilm fired the director duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Why? Creative differences. While this is nothing unusual in the film industry, the timing was rather unusual: Four months into shooting a new movie and only three weeks before finishing it. The directors were gone and a new movie needed to be made – in record time. Great. Experts and fans were sure that this movie was going to flop.

May 2018. The credits are rolling and I'm grinning from ear to ear. I'm happy. Not because I got to see a Star Wars movie, but because I didn't get to see a Star Wars movie. At least not the typical «The universe is at stake and the chosen one needs to save it» film. No. «Solo – A Star Wars Story» is an easy-going, dauntless space adventure that will hardly cause a stir, but is a lot of fun. And that's a good thing. ## Once upon a time in a galaxy far far away...

«Chewie? We’re home.» Han Solo in «The Force Awakens»
«Chewie? We’re home.» Han Solo in «The Force Awakens»

Young and rebellious Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is fighting for the Empire in the Imperial Army when he meets a group of smugglers led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Beckett, impressed by Han’s skills, takes Han under his wings. He soon becomes Han’s mentor and teaches him the ways of the smuggling world.

This is the start of an adventure involving explosive smuggled goods, charming characters, hairy companions and what's probably the most famous scrap mill of the galaxy. And one of the most feared smuggler routes ever finally takes centre stage.

Ron Howard to the rescue

 Ron Howard was offered the job of directing «Star Wars – Episode 1: The Phantom Menace», but turned it down.
Ron Howard was offered the job of directing «Star Wars – Episode 1: The Phantom Menace», but turned it down.

«Solo – A Star Wars Story» lasts two hours and fifteen minutes and this time flies by. It's action-packed and fast-paced and its lightness reminded me of the beginnings of «Star Wars» in 1977. A triumphant return to old strength, so to speak. If you didn't know how troubled the process of filming of this movie was, you wouldn't guess.

Who’s to thank for that? Ron Howard. Not every Star Wars fan approved of this choice of director; although the Academy Award-winning filmmaker has directed masterpieces such as «Apollo 13», «A beautiful Mind» or «Rush», he’s also directed flops such as «The DaVinci Code» or «In the Heart of the Sea». With Howard, you’re never quite sure what to expect.

«Solo» definitely ranks in the better half of his filmography. It’s very obvious that the director of this movie is experienced and had things firmly under control throughout the making of this movie. The action scenes are on point, the speed in which the story unfolds is just right and the movie takes the necessary time to really get to know the main characters, their background and motives.

Pistol duel à la «High Noon» in Star Wars? Yes, that’s reality now.
Pistol duel à la «High Noon» in Star Wars? Yes, that’s reality now.

Howard gives «Solo» the feel of a small indie film – films that are produced independently of a film studio. Extraordinary settings, costumes, locations and astonishing creatures become somewhat of a side effect. Don't be surprised if you question every now and then if it really is a Star Wars movie you're watching. Don’t get me wrong: This movie cost a lot of money and you get to see every penny of it on the screen. But «Solo» is to be understood as a spin-off that definitely has Star Wars DNA – for example when Stormtroopers rush across the screen or when John Williams’ iconic musical theme is heard – but is a story in its own right. A story far off from Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker or the fight between Jedi and Sith or good versus evil. A story that unfolds in a rather modest way to start off. It’s a real breath of fresh air.

Young Han Solo

Alden Ehrenreich plays a young version of Han Solo.
Alden Ehrenreich plays a young version of Han Solo.

Alden Ehrenreich took on the challenge of bringing to life a young version of Han Solo, one of the most iconic fictional characters ever. The good news first: He gives a worthy performance. He resembles Han Solo from «The Empire Strikes Back» and his body language is astonishingly similar to that of Harrison Ford’s version of Han Solo.

But Harrison Ford’s famous mischievous grin… nope, he didn’t manage to reproduce that.

Anyways, you’ll never say: «That’s it, nobody but Ehrenreich could have played young Han Solo so well.». So much was clear after the trailer was released. But to be absolutely honest, there’s no replacement for Harrison Ford, in my opinion. His charm, arrogance and grit are unparalleled. Despite all the cynicism Ford brought to Han Solo, you have to love the cult smuggler – he’s a good guy at heart.

Ehrenreich nails Han Solo’s body language and resembles Harrison Ford in «The Empire Strikes Back».
Ehrenreich nails Han Solo’s body language and resembles Harrison Ford in «The Empire Strikes Back».

Ehrenreich lacks this unique combination of cynicism and charm. But this makes sense, as «Solo» plays quite a few years before «A New Hope», so Han has many adventures to master before he becomes the rogue smuggler we meet and love – the one played by Harrison Ford. Nevertheless, Ehrenreich makes Han relatable and likeable and I like his impudent stubbornness, which reminds me a little of Ford.

Donald Glover, who plays Lando Calrissian, stands out all the more: He's charming, slick and has refined manners and language. Jackpot! Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett quickly becomes the father figure that Han Solo never had, and immediately grows on you. Emilia Clarke, known from «Game of Thrones», displays a performance that proves – for the first time ever – that she can take on other roles than the Queen of Dragons. The memory of «Terminator: Genisys» remains a distant shudder.

Danny Glover as Lando is a great choice. And the creature design also excels.
Danny Glover as Lando is a great choice. And the creature design also excels.

Only Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos doesn't have the impact he should. He plays the leader of an evil smuggling syndicate and he's supposed to be something like this movie's version of Darth Vader or Kylo Ren – the classic bad guy you don't want to meet in the dark. But with an estimated screen time of ten minutes, that just doesn't work.

Fortunately, the film also works without any real antagonists, and this is due to the hairy engine of «Solo». Oh yeah, you know who I'm talking about.

Chewbacca – A Star Wars Story

Someone upstages them all: Chewbacca, Han Solo's big, hairy companion who's played by Joonas Suotamo. This is his first time in this costume and he's a great addition to the movie. Chewbacca doesn't only look younger, he also moves in a younger way, is more agile and more active than Peter Mayhew. Mayhew had been playing Chewbacca since 1977, but most recently, in «The Force Awakens» and «The last Jedi», seemed to be getting a bit old. Not so in «Solo»: Chewie effortlessly jumps from one cover to the other, fights with his fists and tears out arms at the same time.

At times, the movie seems to be on the verge of becoming a Chewie show – especially when he starts a little Wookiee rebellion or comes up with funnier one liners than Han Solo. This movie devotes a lot of time to establishing Chewie as a character and making him more than Han's sidekick. One thing is clear: Chewie is, maybe even for the first time ever, Han's equal. This works so well that I find myself wishing for a Chewie spin-off. «Uuuuuuaaahhhhrrr!»

«The Adventures of Han and Chewie»… or something like that.
«The Adventures of Han and Chewie»… or something like that.

What’s great is that Han Solo and Chewie need to build trust and establish their friendship and companionship. The connection between the two never seems unnatural or staged. They work hard for every «hero moment» and it becomes clear what makes this companionship so special: Chewie is just as ballsy as Han. They are brothers in spirit; tough on the outside and soft on the inside. They both act like villains and as if nothing could hurt them, but they never forget who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan did a great job in this respect. Unsurprisingly; he wrote the scripts for «The Empire Strikes Back» and «Return of the Jedi» back in the day. If anyone knows how the notorious smuggling duo works, it's him.

Verdict – Is the movie any good?

The Adventures of Han and Chewie… or something like that.
The Adventures of Han and Chewie… or something like that.

«Solo» lives up to the cinematic promise «Rogue One» made in 2017 but didn't quite keep, as this first spin-off only worked within the Star Wars series as a kind of «Star Wars: Episode Three Point Five». Although this never bothered me, I must admit «Solo» is the first spin-off that actually stands on its own. This becomes clear from the fact that the movie takes place somewhere between the times of «Revenge of the Sith» and «Rogue One», but we're not quite sure when exactly. Plus, you'll only know this if you're a fan and have all the necessary background knowledge. If you don't know every detail about Star Wars, you’ll still enjoy the movie just as much.

If I had to summarise my opinion of «Solo – A Star Wars Story» in one sentence, it would be: The movie is fun, tons of it.

And this although so-called critics and online forum users thought to be certain it would fail miserably. Tabloid press even reported that Disney classified the movie a flop and is reducing marketing activities to a minimum.

Nonsense.

The film has its heart in the right place. This becomes especially clear in those scenes that clearly reject George Lucas and his mad idea to mess up his own works in retrospect. I don't want to spoil the movie for you, I'll say just that much: "Han shot first", and this is the last, great truth.

Ehrenreich as Han Solo vs. ...
Ehrenreich as Han Solo vs. ...
Ford as Han Solo.
Ford as Han Solo.

The right actors were chosen for all the roles, even the one of Han Solo. Sure, Ehrenreich doesn't have the charm of Harrison Ford, but then again, who does? He gives us a worthy version of Han Solo.

The biggest surprise of the movie? «Solo» is the Chewbacca movie we wished for but never got. Chewie is surrounded by countless stories about guilt and bravery, courage and pure frenzy – in other words, more than enough material to fill a movie. Anyone who loves Chewbacca will love «Solo, but actually totally Chewbacca’s film – A Star Wars Story».

What more to say than: «Uuuuuuuur. Aaaaaahhhhrrr. Uhrr, aaahhrr. Aaaarhg.»

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Luca Fontana
Luca Fontana
Editor, Zurich
I'm an outdoorsy guy and enjoy sports that push me to the limit – now that’s what I call comfort zone! But I'm also about curling up in an armchair with books about ugly intrigue and sinister kingkillers. Being an avid cinema-goer, I’ve been known to rave about film scores for hours on end. I’ve always wanted to say: «I am Groot.»

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