I’ve long been a fan of Scooby Doo. There’s this scrumptious nostalgia I get to bite into whenever a classic episode comes my way. As a kid, I must’ve seen nearly every episode of both the “Where Are You, Scooby Doo?” and “What’s New Scooby Doo?” varieties, but even I wasn’t a big enough fan that, if a 7,451-piece Lego set of the Mystery Machine came out, I would take the time to build it.
For Star Wars fans ravenous enough for the series to build a Lego Millennium Falcon, now they at least get to see the ship’s origins in Solo: A Star Wars Story. This is the second installment in the Star Wars anthology series, where a young Han Solo goes through a whole series of adventures to become the swindling, savvy smuggler people first came to know back in 1977. In a cinematic compendium of space slugs and heroes’ journeys, Solo is a solidly entertaining film that can’t filter out the old magic from its new story.
Solo was a kinked muscle from the start with behind-the-scenes drama during its production. After being ousted for creative differences, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord were replaced by Ron Howard for the director’s chair. In what felt like a misstep for Lucasfilm, this shuffle in direction caused me as much grief as its troubling subject. There was some fun to the mystery of Han’s past, and building a moving narrative can be daunting when it’s clear which characters are going to make it to the end of the film. Suffice to say, this film did little to boost my confidence before its release.
Ron Howard has himself a pretty decent entry, despite my fears going in. The faults and strengths of this film ultimately come down to its appreciation for the first trilogy. If the seventh and eighth films in the Star Wars “Skywalker Storyline” opted for the sleek stylings of the prequels (minus the extensive sand commentary), then Howard’s Solo carries the rugged craftsmanship of the original films. Practical effects are at the forefront of almost every scene and character, with costumes and puppetry breathing rusticity into each setting. If this film’s approach could be any more pragmatic, then I’d be afraid to find George Lucas unnecessarily slapping on a poor CGI Jabba the Hut on what otherwise feel like authentic moments for a now scrubbed-down universe.
The story is straightforward and true to the arc of Han Solo. Alden Ehrenreich takes over for Harrison Ford in the lead role, and while their performances aren’t spitting image of one another, Alden fits the character nicely. His story also helps smooth the differences with its presentation of a younger, less jaded Han. It’s a smart direction for a character as iconic and signature as Solo has come to be. Other familiar faces include Chewbacca in all his shaggy glory, and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover is predictably fantastic in the role). The chemistry between these three is palpable, and their interactions had me in quite the GiggleFest for much of the film. Newcomers to the Star Wars franchise include Woody Harrelson, acting in a convincing, if basic, mentor role, and Emilia Clarke, who doesn’t do much to elevate a middling love interest for Han. It’s unfortunate that more wasn’t done for her role during the regime change in the writing room, as the character comes off as flat for much of the movie. Rounding out this cast is a surprisingly woke robot voiced by the wonderful Phoebe Waller Bridge. Not to be outdone by Alan Tudyk’s K2SO in Rogue One, Phoebe brings a vulnerability and power to her droid, and even brings up some interesting questions about the place of artificial sentience in Star Wars’ turbulent society.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a service to the fans of the franchise, which is a good thing about two thirds of the time. The film falters occasionally when it drags plot transitions away from plausibility and toward its idea of “fun wishmaking.” What is meant to feel like honest origins comes off as something of slapped together birthday gift from that uncle who only knows you like Star Wars and figures a clone trooper thermos is good enough. These moments cheapen towards the beginning of the film, but everything feels richer when the second half rears its head. Where this movie soars, it is because of the smart connections to an already massive universe. Han’s curve throughout the film is so good because it takes where we first found him back in 1977, and tries to break down what would have to happen to get this guy to where he is. There’s a conscious thread throughout Solo that knows where it's going and exactly what it needs to be in order to pull that off. There are hiccups and a few moments that fail to stir up the nostalgia they hope to, but Solo: A Star Wars Story triumphs well enough to earn its audience’s approval.
Bottom Line: A soft 7 out of 10.