SOLO: A Star Wars Story (Directed by Ron Howard, 135 minutes, USA, 2018)
BY JON SOLOMON & MAGGIE SOLOMON-SCHELLER It was 1978. Maybe 1979. I was sitting in my chair at Johnson Park Elementary School looking at my full name written on a piece of paper. Suddenly, I gasped quietly. ??Born Jonathan Solomon, and fully immersed in the orbit of Star Wars for at least a year by this point, I wasn’t sure how I hadn’t noticed it sooner.?? I put a finger on my left hand over all but the last three letters of my first name. ??I put a finger on my right hand over all but the first four letters of my last name.?? There it was.?? HAN SOLO.?? There was no one else on the playground who could ever make such a solid claim to be this character again when we all played Star Wars.
Almost 40 years later, and less than six months since The Last Jedi hit theaters, Alden Ehrenreich gets to play Han Solo on a far more expensive playground in the fourth film released since Disney’s 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm – Solo: A Star Wars Story. I have a daughter now. Her name is Maggie and she’s a year younger than I was when Return of the Jedi came out. She’s won Star Wars trivia contests against peers and adults equally. Like I was at the exact same age, this galaxy is exceptionally important to her. We listen to the podcast Star Wars Minute in the car together, read the latest Star Wars novels at bedtime and talk about elaborate theories involving ancillary characters at dinner with my wife.
My daughter doesn’t care that Chris Miller and Phil Lord were removed as directors of Solo late into the production. She doesn’t know that the film was rumored to be a mess by anonymous “insiders.” She barely grasps what a Ron Howard is. She’s just excited about more Star Wars.?? She liked Solo a great deal. ??Quite possibly more than I did. What could have just been a series of checked boxes, actually doesn’t give you as many answers as you might fear. Solo is not a movie either of us needed, but it also isn’t a movie that replaces what might have been in our minds with backstory that negates anything enjoyable from the original trilogy (I’m still looking at you, Revenge of the Sith).
For example, though you see how Han Solo and Chewbacca first meet, the words “life debt” are never uttered. Is this particular adventure why Chewie sticks around? Or was that something that happened off-screen down the line? While it is initially hard to process that this loveable rogue talking his way out of close shaves from the planet Corellia on is the same Han Solo I wanted to be on the playground, Ehrenreich thankfully opts to not do a straight impersonation. By the back half of the film it is easier to accept that this is the character Harrison Ford made iconic.
My daughter did admit afterwards that although the portrayal was very decent, partially through she forgot that the main actor was Han Solo and not someone new we had never met prior. Yes, they traverse the Kessel Run in the Millennium Falcon, but instead of total fan service and endless cameos, Solo: A Star Wars Story discerningly connects what you’re watching with the classic trilogy, the Clone Wars series, the terrific Star Wars Rebels, the Disney-era universe and even the prequels. ??On more than a few occasions my daughter and I nudged each other or pointed at the screen, wanting to make sure a sly nod didn’t slip past either of us. We caught a bunch, but I’m confident we missed a few that won’t be apparent until a second viewing. The ties made to the animated Star Wars programs were noticeably stirring to my kid.
Lando Calrissian — current Falcon owner, intergalactic bon vivant and cape enthusiast — is along for the ride, and whilst Donald Glover rightfully absconds with every scene he’s in, he also isn’t in an exceptional number of them – something you might expect or want based off the trailers. While Ron Howard’s film never reaches the same heights as the best movies in the series, Solo: A Star Wars Story is most certainly a good time and sometimes rollicking is more than enough. The stakes aren’t especially high (you know going in Han, Lando and Chewie make it out unscathed) but there are unexpected twists and deep cuts along the way. It was surprisingly refreshing to watch a Star Wars without the equivalent attached weight and gravitas as the episodic Skywalker-centric nonology offers.
Is it fun? Yes. ??Does it make me want to see these actors playing these roles in further adventures? More so than I expected going in honestly. Are there moments where it feels like Ehrenreich, Glover, Emilia Clarke and Woody Harrelson et al. are “playing Star Wars” instead of being characters in a movie? Perhaps. Did I think fondly about a bunch of the bonkers 1977-1986 Marvel Comics Star Wars stories and the original trio of Han Solo novels while watching the caper unfold? Absolutely.
It was the Friday after we saw Solo: A Star Wars Story that I picked up my daughter from school and I noticed she had a colorful, pointed piece of cardboard in her backpack. The movie had inspired her to fashion her own version of one of the new weapons wielded by the crime boss Dryden Vos in the film. Even though her friends had yet to see it, she had already been playing Solo on the playground, just like her dad did with Star Wars a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY NOW PLAYING IN AREA THEATERS