Solo: A Star Wars Story

 

            The latest addition to the “Star Wars” saga is really a prequel.  It tells the story of Han Solo, and how he grew up rough, and became a bandit in a world that was dark and chaotic and dangerous.   But somehow through it all he maintains his rogue-ish, cavalier air, and develops a resiliency and self-reliance that will serve him well in a cynical and sinister age.

            What we like about him at first is his brash self-assurance, and how he is utterly confident in his own abilities.  He's also quick toimprovise and somewhat impulsive and at least at first, a hopeless romantic.  It seems he has a crush on an amazing young woman, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), who's also got a taste for living on the edge, and together they plan to escape their miserable surroundings and make a bright future together.  But circumstances intervene, they get separated, and take different paths.  Han meets up with a little bandito gang headed up by Becket (Woody Harrelson), who warns Han not to trust anybody, or get attached to anyone.  Of course Becket doesn't heed his own advice.  He's attached to Val (Thandie Newton), his partner in crime, and they reluctantly add Han to their crew, along with his newfound friend Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), whom he met in a wrestling pit.

            What feels different about this particular Star Wars episode is that we don't hear anything about The Force.  There are no Jedi, or even anybody training to be one.  There's not officially any Dark Side, either, but there's enough hint about where we're headed with its development.  Presumably, the next time, the Universe will somehow arrange a positive Force to equal whatever Dark Side arises.  In the meantime, here we hear only faint echoes of the familiar theme music.  We aren't even introduced by the famous scrolling prologue, rather, the brief forward is strictly a linear prose.  But there are plenty of other familiar characteristics, such as alternating between intense personal drama and then soaring into hyperspace into unchartered galaxies.  There are creatures who resemble humans, droids with human voices, and predators who bear no resemblance to anything in our natural world.

            But the real reason this episode works is because Alden Ehrenreich is perfectly cast as the young Han Solo.  He's charming enough to talk his way out of some trouble, but resourceful enough to anticipate the difficulty to be avoided.  He's handsome enough to attract the ladies, but he's too independent to settle down with anybody.  He's persistent and perceptive, and beneath the wise-cracking, superficial exterior is somebody who cares more about the underdog than he's willing to admit.  Ehrenreich is able to convince us of all of these traits, while exhibiting a physicality to rival the old James Bond adventures.

            So, we now have a much more fully developed Han Solo character, which is appealing, though somehow we've lost some of the whimsy of a C3PO.  We don't have the strong inner conflict of an Anakin Skywalker.  And we're missing some of the magic of the a young Jedi just learning the mystical ways of The Force.  It's more like a Western in space, where we're rooting for Billy the Kid, but at the end, we're not comforted by any sense of a moral compass.  It's intriguing, it's stylish, it's even swashbuckling, but it lacks soul.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association