The problem with prequels is that you already know what you’re getting, because you already know what’s going to happen to certain characters within the canon, so, “Solo” doesn’t pack much surprises. I will say though for arguably safe genre entertainment, it’s exciting and also delivers some well timed twists within its narrative. After the much ballyhooed problems during the making of the film, “Solo” ends up being a surprisingly competent popcorn movie that keeps a brisk pace, and channels the original tone of the episodes IV-VI better than the previous prequels/mid-quels (?).
“Solo” is set many years before “A New Hope” where we meet a young Han who has grown up an orphan committing crimes for a vicious syndicate. After falling in love with Qi’Ra, one of his fellow orphans, he decides they’re going to escape their horrible lives and pursue a life out in the galaxy. Han eventually comes across a trio of likeminded scoundrels, all of whom are planning a major heist involving a very sought after source of power. With his new allies (including a certain “fuzz ball”), he hopes to use the heist to begin a new life outside of the grasp of the Empire.
With Han Solo being the canon’s cowboy, “Solo” is primarily a space western that transplants a lot of exciting tropes of the Western saga in to the Star Wars Universe. Han is even something of a braggart gunslinger that almost always seems to get himself in to more trouble than he can handle. Hell, there’s even an epic card game that I just had a ball watching since it holds a strong relevance to the back story of the character. Alden Ehrenreich is fantastic as young Han Solo, giving a performance that stands out specifically as his own interpretation while channeling Harrison Ford in many scenes. Ehrenreich is a top notch Han Solo, and he masters a lot of Ford’s fun idiosyncrasies including his ability to approach every situation with a combination of improvisation and incredulity.
The rest of the cast are bang up including Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, John Favreau, and Emilia Clarke who is a compelling love interest as Kira. The stand out though is Donald Glover who is memorable as young Lando Calrissian, a fellow scoundrel and pirate who is every bit the con man Han Solo is, except so much more suave. Glover works much in the plain of Ehrenreich where he makes Lando his own, but also channels Billy Dee Williams. “Solo” excels as popcorn cinema despite its inherent problems. The climax falls apart once Han completes his famous Kessel run, and the winks and nods to the original trilogy felt tacked on just to grab a reaction from the fans.
That said, “Solo” isn’t just an origin tale. It also provides a lot of reasoning behind Han’s mistrust of people, his sudden reversion in to a hero in “A New Hope,” and his reluctance to maintain the hero status through the very end. I wouldn’t call “Solo” a masterpiece per se, as it’s a film wrought with flaws and a bit too much fan service. But out of all of the prequels set before “A New Hope,” I would definitely say that “Solo” is my favorite. I loved “Solo” it to pieces mainly because it’s such a fun, simple space western that also coincidentally tells the story of one of the rebellion’s greatest heroes.