Many people only know a handful of things about Han Solo: He flies the Millennium Falcon, he's friends with Chewbacca and, most importantly, he shot first. Do we really need to know much more than that?
Honestly, no. For the most casual of Star Wars fans, the ones who just care about the Skywalker family and maybe some other Jedi here and there, the story of how Han Solo becomes Han Solo is not required viewing. It's flawed, often predictable and never necessary.
Still, while it might not be the brightest light in the Star Wars pantheon, it's hard to deny that it's a fun ride
That's a bit of an accomplishment, considering the movie's rocky journey through development. Despite a dramatic change in directors mid-filming and constant rumors of drama and turmoil behind the scenes, the fact that the end product is so enjoyable is a pleasant surprise.
The stakes in Solo: A Star Wars Story are lower than those in any other major Star Wars movie -- and that's a good thing. The film is never hung up with drama about how every tiny action could shift the balance of the universe. The fate of the galaxy does not depend on any single event in this plot (unless you want to write an essay about how without Han showing up in A New Hope, Luke would have failed to destroy the Death Star and the Empire would have won, but don't e-mail me to say that). Solo is, instead, focused on pure excitement, and it's better for it.
It takes a little while to get going, though. Solo is a long movie, and it drags most in the beginning and near the middle. We first meet the young Han (Alden Ehrenreich), who doesn't even have a last name when the film opens, on the planet Corellia, where he's living in slums and trying his best to survive while dreaming of an escape with his girlfriend, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke). They're both under the thumb of a Jabba-like crime boss and plotting about how they will eventually buy a ship and run away together.
Han escapes. Qi'ra doesn't. He vows to come back for her, not realizing just how bumpy of a road he'll have before they can be reunited.
Then, for a few brief moments, Solo flirts with the idea of being a World War II-esque story on a galactic scale. Han, now a member of the Imperial army (after being kicked out of the Empire's flight academy for having a mind of his own), happens to bump into Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), the leader of a group of bandits who, after a bit of convincing, becomes a mentor to our heroic smuggler.
It's here, when Han gets his big break at "one big job" that he hopes will turn his life around, when Solo really gets into full swing. It's also when we begin to see the major origin story moments that the character's biggest fans will care most about. The biggest standouts? Han's first meetings with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).
Much has been said about Glover's appearance as Lando since the casting was first announced, and he doesn't disappoint. Beyond simply embodying one of the most charismatic smugglers in all the underworlds of sci-fi, Glover enhances Ehrenreich's own performance as Han. The scenes with the two of them together, doing things as simple as playing cards, are some of the film's highest points, and even Glover's delivery of Han's name is perfect.
Unfortunately, one of the lower points is also a longtime piece of Star Wars lore: the Kessel Run. Han Solo boasts about how his ship made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs in the original Star Wars movie, and fans have been imagining it ever since. The on-screen result is, frankly, a bit confusing and a bit underwhelming, despite the amount of spectacle it tries to throw at you.
There is also a moment late in the film that is clearly tailor-made to induce a freak-out from Star Wars' most hardcore fans -- the ones who obsesses over the stories beyond the movies. It accomplishes that goal, but it won't do much (except, perhaps, induce confusion) for the viewers that don't much care about the series' books or television shows. It's unnecessary, and the story would have been stronger without the blatant fan service.
Like Han Solo himself, Solo is rough around the edges. Under the grime, though, is a fun romp through space that's more lighthearted than you might expect from Star Wars. If Han hadn't previously told us to never tell him the odds, we would say the odds are good that the series' biggest fans will find something to like here.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (B-)
Rated PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action/violence). 135 minutes. In wide release.