Like its title character, Solo: A Star Wars Story often threatens to go wildly off track and ruin everything it has going for it, before it comes back with charm and skill, ready to save the day despite its rough edges. The second, after Rogue One, of the so-called Star Wars anthology films—stories that take place within the broader Star Wars universe but are not necessarily directly tied to the events of the main films—Solo plays like an old-fashioned summer feel-good blockbuster, from the era when franchise tentpoles weren’t being released every three months. It’s a movie full of engaging performances, creative visuals, daring heists and double-crosses so tense you’ll forget you already know which characters make it out alive.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
PG-13, 143 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
The story follows Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) from his humble origins as a slave on a scrap planet to the rogue we came to love. During a botched escape attempt, Han and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) are separated, and it becomes his life’s mission to save her. His enthusiasm for theft and smuggling, and his inability to quit in the face of adversity, catches the attention of a crew led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who owes a very large sum to Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), leader of crime syndicate and near-paramilitary organization the Crimson Dawn. To pull off a heist big enough, they employ the help of suave gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), owner of the Millennium Falcon.
It’s tough to say if Solo would work as a stand-alone film had the other Star Wars movies never come out, but there are several scenes that capture the excitement of the original trilogy, and some sequences would even work in a non-SW story. A twist on a classic train robbery immediately stands out, and at least two other extended sequences make this well worth the price of admission. Ehrenreich sells Han’s hunger for the next adventure and bigger scores, grounding his key character traits and testing them with clever moral dilemmas. Harrelson, Clarke and Bettany all appear to be enjoying themselves as well, but the true scene-stealer is Glover. As Lando, he brings life and humor to the iconic part, elevating the role beyond mere imitation of key quirks. On the downside, the movie is about 20 minutes too long, and the notion that every trait of Han Solo’s has its origins in a single story is a little corny, answering questions that no one asked, simply as exposition for its own sake.
Much has been made of Solo’s troubled history: Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie) were fired after most of filming had already been completed, with apparent disagreements between the team and the studio over tone, working style and the level of improvisation on set, with substantial changes to the screenplay by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan. Ron Howard was brought on to reshoot approximately 70 percent of what had been completed so far. The inclusion of Lord & Miller had been an early selling point for Solo, showing Disney was willing to take risks with the newly acquired Lucasfilm, but the sudden replacement with a more-or-less safe filmmaker like Howard, plus casting concerns, led many to doubt Solo in advance. If this had not been in the news prior to Solo’s release, none of it would have been apparent in the final product, which is tight, exciting, consistent and most important of all, a heck of a lot of fun.
Playing this week
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
Avengers: Infinity War, Book Club, Deadpool 2, RBG
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
A Quiet Place, Avengers: Infinity War, Breaking In, Book Club, Deadpool 2, Life of the Party, Pope Francis-A Man of His Word, Show Dogs
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Avengers: Infinity War, Book Club, Deadpool 2, Disobedience, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, Isle of Dogs, RBG, Show Dogs, Tully