SOLO: A STAR WARS story is a familiar animal; it is the latest in the “standalone” installments from Disney and had its production troubles that were over-reported by any and every online outlet possible. It was a sure foolproof failure they said. Disney was preparing for its first misstep after acquiring the brand. The online echo chamber clamored at the prospect of a Star Wars film failing. That very well could have been the case, then came Ron Howard.
The film, constructed by one of modern cinema’s best writers, Lawrence Kasdan (assisted by his son Jake who most know form his recurring role as the auteur drugged out filmmaker on Showtime’s Californication), forged a taut narrative through the tropes and archetypes of three different genres: World War I, film noir, and westerns. Using an amalgam of these genres, Kasdan sewed together a film about not who Han Solo was, but what he became.
This is not your templated, cookie cutter origin film; this film is the birth of an outlaw. Alden Ehrenreich is Han Solo. It does take a few moments to warm to the idea, but he portrays Han in such an organic and natural way, he blends himself into the character and propels the film forward with his wit, looks, and charm. He doesn’t skip a beat. Then there is Donald Glover. Glover embodies Lando Calrissian in an exhilarating performance. He speaks with the same coolness and cadence as Billy Dee Williams; surpassing expectations of how the young smoothie should be portrayed.
The cast is rounded out by Emilia Clarke as the mysterious love interest, Paul Bettany as the sadist villain, Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the tongue and cheek nod to an aspect of the contemporary political climate as the new droid L3, Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca, Thandie Newton as the alpha female of the crew, and Woody Harrelson as Han’s mentor. The cast is stellar, with two wonderful voice performances from Jon Favreau and Linda Hunt. The film isn’t without its fan service, striking an incredible balance of familiarizing the audience with old characters embodied by new actors, yet distancing itself rather far from the canon that we have previously seen from Disney. It’s more of a pivot away from the saga films than Rogue One.
Cinematographer Bradford Young builds a world of Imperial control, dilapidation; yet Howard and Kasdan rarely show us the Empire’s force. Instead, the film populates itself with pirates and gangsters as the backdropped antagonists. There is one moment in the film, a moment that is as jarring as it is brilliant. There is a cameo that is completely unexpected. It is the epitome of “outside of the box”, it is an idea that is so audacious, that it ties almost all aspects and Star Wars canonized mediums full circle. Without getting into spoiler territory, it is shocking.
Howard, Kasdan, May, and the remarkable cast of Solo keeps the film fresh and engaging. The film plays itself like a fluid ven-diagram, showing us two worlds; one that is familiar and another so completely different and removed, and as the film progresses, the two worlds blur into one creating a truly unique experience that forgoes nostalgia for a compelling high-stakes adventure.