The Star Wars universe is immense. Following Disney’s acquisition of the property some years ago, there was a hard reboot on the expanded universe which saw much of what was once considered canon being rebranded as “Legends”. Since then, there have been several Disney-sanctioned pieces of media which repaint the history and future of the main Skywalker storyline. Ron Howard’s Solo, which was plagued by reshoots and bad word-of-mouth, is the newest installment in the Disney-era of Star Wars, shedding some light on the backstory of a certain scruffy-looking nerfherder.
Solo, as the name suggests, follows a young version of one of the most illustrious smugglers in all of cinematic history: Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) as he narrowly escapes a life of squalor in the Empire-controlled planet of Corellia. Han longs to save enough money to buy a ship of his own and reunite with Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), Han’s femme fatale love interest. Han enlists with the Imperial army for some time to earn money until he is expelled and ends up joining a group of the biggest scoundrels you’ve ever seen, including the charming Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Val (Thandie Newton). Naturally, familiar faces begin to emerge and we see the beginnings of Han’s iconic relationship with the wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Seeking a ship to repay the shot-calling gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the ragtag team go in search of the infamous Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his Millennium Falcon.
While there was hesitation leading up to the film’s release about certain casting choices, the performances stand out as one of the best parts of the film. It should be no surprise that Harrelson’s Beckett is a scene-stealer, as most of Harrelson’s characters tend to be. Emilia Clarke is a gem as the duplicitous Qi’ra who will keep audiences guessing as to whether or not she actually does love Han or is just serving her own interests. Donald Glover brings some A-list intergalactic charm to Lando much in the same way his predecessor Billy Dee Williams did. As for Solo himself, Ehrenreich does an admirable job at channeling the arrogance that Harrison Ford brought to the character decades ago, but he is no Harrison Ford — and that’s okay.
While the film is being cited as a bust for its poor box office turnout, it really is better than its being credit for. It may be likely that audiences still have a sour taste from The Last Jedi in their mouths, but Solo deserves to be viewed without any predispositions. Solo does, admittedly, at times feel like a bit of fan service, but it does what these one-off anthology films are meant to do: expand on the canon universe of the main Skywalker storyline — and it does so admirably.
Though often brief and in small doses, one of the more satisfying aspects of Solo is how it grants audiences glimpses into how different corners of the galaxy function under Emperor Palpatine’s tyrannical rule. Whether it’s in the form of a huge slave colony on Kessel or the revelation that different Empire-sanctioned crime syndicates oppress different populations in the name of the Emperor, Solo paints a picture of the conditions across the galaxy that lead to the formation of the Rebel Alliance that propels much of the original trilogy and Rogue One. That said, Solo barely scratches the surface of the world of trouble Han Solo has seen that shapes him into the jaded and untrusting cynic he is when he meets Luke and Obi-Wan on Mos Eisley nearly 10 years later, leading to the assumption that there might be more Solo-related stories to tell.
An incredible amount of credit should go to the production design team, as Solo bares some striking scenic shots across all the different archetypal snow or sand-ridden worlds and, most notably, does a lot in terms of putting some interesting characters on the screen. There is a considerable amount of attention paid to the detail of the aliens and peripheral character throughout the film than in any of the last few Star Wars movies. It may not mean much to casual viewers, but one of the fun parts of Star Wars has always been character and creature design, even in the prequel trilogy. Following suit with the likes of BB-8 and K2-SO, Solo introduces a memorable new droid in the form of L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). L3 is a master navigator, liberator, and desperately in love with Lando, though she’d never openly admit it.
For all the talk of Star Wars fatigue, Solo holds up well enough with Star Wars lifers and has done a lot in terms of hyping up a potential Lando one-off and the possibility of the much-anticipated Obi-Wan anthology film. While far from perfect and rather predictable at times, Solo is a solid addition to Star Wars canon and warrants a watch from fans who may have become disillusioned by other entries in the main Skywalker storyline.
Mario Avalos is a senior at Florida International University, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature, along with certificates in Film Studies and Professional and Public Writing.