MPAA Rating: PG-13
USCCB Rating: A-III
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 reels
Premiering less than six months after the last Star Wars installment and still reeling from backlash over Last Jedi’s thematic deviations, critics and fans alike wondered if the Star Wars franchise was experiencing fatigue. If box office receipts are an indication, there is certainly truth to the idea. However, while the series itself could never be ignored, it is important to judge a film on its own merits as well. While Solo does not have the Shakespearean grandeur of Return of the Jedi or tight narrative of The Empire Strikes Back, it is an enjoyable Star Wars film and, I think, one of the few spinoffs that deserves its own sequel.
As the title suggests, Solo is a classic origin story about that lovable scoundrel played to great acclaim by Harrison Ford in the original Star Wars trilogy, here performed by newbie Alden Ehrenreich. Poor Han has a tragic childhood as an orphan working for a centipede crime lord that leaves him with more than a little baggage. He manages to escape, leaving his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) behind but vowing to return. After three years in the Imperial army honing his flying and fighting skills, he teams up with a group of criminals for a heist—a job that will get him more than enough money to make good on his promise. “If you do this, you’re in this life for good,” the leader Tobias (Woody Harrelson) warns. Han responds with a smile that could launch a thousand starships.
Solo, which was originally produced and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (most famous for The LEGO Movie), has no aspirations of being anything more that rousingly good time, which serves greatly in its favor. Ehrenreich gives a fine performance as the youthful Han at a time when he is less jaded and more jovial, gleefully dodging laser blasts and flying recklessly with the flare of Errol Flynn or Jack Sparrow. A morally sensible person would not approve of some of his actions, but the audience knows he has a good heart and that, in the end, he will defend the innocent. For Christians rightly suspicious of criminal activity, it is important to remember that such a genre depends on archetypal patterns that should not always be applied to real world situations.
The action in Solo is straight out of the great serials of the 1930s that also inspired Indiana Jones: daring escapes, wisecracking remarks, underground crime lords, femme fatales, and plenty of double crossing. The art direction, costumes, and makeup design are amazing, creating new worlds that fit well in the Star Wars universe yet seem fresh in a genre filled to the brim with options. Especially fun are the Sabbac card games between Han and Lando, surrounded by aliens, one of whom has an interesting method of cheating.
Solo is less operatic and more frenzied than other Star Wars films of recent memory, which may account for a little of its lackluster opening but is a refreshing return to the origins of the series when it was a low budget space flick rather than a cultural phenomenon worth billions. The backlash was most likely due not to the film itself but its troubled production, which saw Lord and Miller fired for their light-hearted tone and replaced a more traditional director. There is no way to know for sure, but I suspect the best scenes bear their mark.
Despite all this, what matters are two simple questions: did they get Han Solo right, and was fun to be had by all? Yes, they did—and, yes, it was.