Just coming out of my first viewing of SOLO: A Star Wars Story. Time to share my first impressions with you! Is it any good? You bet it is!
I went into this film essentially unspoiled and pretty much without expectations. As a “since ’77” Star Wars fan for me Han Solo was always the less important one of the trio. For sure I liked his character a lot, but I couldn’t get excited over whether he shot first or not and I pretty much avoided the EU novels starring him. I just didn’t have much of a connection to his character other than really liking him in the Original Trilogy. So I guess it is fair to say that SOLO would be the “Star Wars Story” that was lowest on my wish list, well perhaps a Boba Fett film would feature even lower.
When this film was announced I at first didn’t really know what to think of it. Did we really need a Solo-prequel? But as the release date drew nearer and I saw the successive trailers I not only liked what I saw but above all I started to appreciate not having any expectations. That was a first for me: going into a new Star Wars film without any expectations other than seeing Han and Chewie of course.
The First Third
I like the way the film opens as it sets the tone for much of the rest of the story. There is quite a bit of ‘action’ in this film and overall those sequences are well-paced, dosed with enough humour to work without it ever losing its grit. There is not a lot going on in terms of character-introductions but you get used to that quite quickly and the screenplay makes up for that by using some of the quieter moments for some exposition on who these people are. It was only during the first third that the atmosphere in the scenes felt a little uneven at times making me wonder (afterwards) whether this is due to the directorial trouble this movie has seen. But it never took me out of the story.
One of the things which I like about Ron Howard’s direction, in his best movies (in my view) such as Apollo 13, is his steady hand and how he allows images to do the talking without spending a lot of time on mere visuals. It is short shots of environments, gestures and facial expressions that are delivered with great confidence and that generate a mellow and smooth storytelling. He is good at that and in my view he delivers that again very much so in SOLO as you get deeper into the first third.
I am simply not much of a fan of the Kasdan style of script-writing and I think it is occasionally very “jumpy” throughout the entire film. But Howard’s directing style is a very good anti-dote to that and most of the time in the film it works very well. I really enjoyed the set-up of Han and Chewie meeting. That was fun, original and well-done. With the characters introduced to one another it is time for some plot. And this is what the middle section takes on.
The Second Third
This is where we get introduced to the story’s central villain. The move into this section happens in anther great action sequence that has featured in many of the trailer material. I really enjoyed it and it felt appropriate that this sequence also contains ‘some deaths with consequence’. It won’t surprise you (or spoil you) that SOLO is not a martyr’s fest like Rogue One. But it is also good that not everyone leaves this film unscathed. The everts that kick-off the middle section are a good reminder of this and they raise the stakes that will remain high for the rest of the running time.
Paul Bettany’s villain is a good one. I agree with those who say he has short screen time overall but then he doesn’t need much time to appear a real and ominous menace. A few well-placed shots make clear this guy is lethal. To me his credible threat hangs over the rest of the film until the final act in the last third. Woody Harrelsons character was one I warmed up to slowly. I love how the way he was introduced and then subsequently treated made sure your view of him slowly evolves to a point where his behaviour in the final act not only becomes very credible but also provides an excellent counter-point to where we know Han will go in the future.
Lando’s introduction is a delight and Glover’s Lando is well-played. As the second third progresses the tone of the film sometimes seems to hesitate between Han and Chewie buddy movie or Han and Lando buddy movie to come out finally fully in Han and Chewie mode. At first I thought for a moment that this was another sign of the directorial events shaping this movie. But it is actually a nice although subtle storytelling device which gets a good pay-off in the final act.
The Final Third
There has been a lot of debate about whether Alden Ehrenreich would be convincing as “Han”. But by the time the third act starts he is Han for me. I like the way how the typical mannerisms of Han Solo emerge gradually as we follow his arc. Sure his swagger is there from the start. But the first two thirds also contain plenty of stuff where we see Han being shaken. Moreover, we see how Han’s development is also seriously influenced by his evolving friendship with Chewie.
The final third contains a number of reveals, most of which concern characters from this particular film. For me they all work well including the one about the second ‘villain’ of the film Enfys Nest. I found the conclusion of the main plot of the film thoroughly satisfying. The story is no in depth character study of Han’s psyche, one we also would not have wanted to see. It is also not a story that tries to explain everything about Han as we see him in A New Hope. And although there are connections to Han’s future storyline, unlike Rogue One the story of SOLO does not seek to end where A New Hope started.
There is one final reveal involving Qi’ra and a well-known character at the end of the film that took me entirely by surprise. It surprised me in particular because I was somehow thinking SOLO was closer in the timeline to A New Hope. After seeing this reveal, very nicely illustrated audibly with a que from a well-known Star Wars score, I have come to the conclusion that SOLO is much closer to Revenge of the Sith than I thought. That makes some of the earlier plot points suddenly make a lot more sense. In the first third there is a battle sequence containing dialogue that made me wonder about this. But when this great Star Wars character suddenly popped up at the end of SOLO it made sense.
I really enjoyed SOLO: A Star Wars Story. The score was never a distraction but also never as impactful as for example Rogue One‘s score. The Galaxy is a dark place in SOLO but the story is fairly light-hearted due to the real chemistry between Han, Chewie, Lando and Qi’ra. So it is a fun film to watch, it gives us a new window into Han’s past that is welcome despite the fact that there was no need for it. But it does make you think again about our favorite nerf-herding scoundrel and … an hour or so after leaving the theatre … I do believe it adds some very welcome nuance to the character of Han Solo.
If there were to be more Han & Chewie sequels and they are going to be as much fun as this one: then I will remain happily not-expecting but enjoying them.