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Solo: A Star Wars Story – a spoiler free review

Han Solo is back in Solo a new Star Wars movie from director Ron Howard and the talented folk at Lucasfilm. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” tells the origin of the roguish scoundrel space smuggler we all fell in love with in the first Star Wars film ‘A New Hope.’ Along the way we encounter a smuggler’s ransom of fun, treachery, and adventure… everything you want in a Star Wars film.

The story is familiar. A young kid raised on the streets has aspirations of greater things. They find and lose love, lose the thing they think matters most to them, and then discover what actually matters and are willing to do anything to fight for it. That’s not to say ‘Solo’ is formulaic, but it is intensely rooted in great storytelling and Jungian Hero’s Journey that you expect to get from Lucasfilm.

Alden Ehrenreich takes on the iconic role of Han Solo and part of the joy of the movie is watching as the Han we know and love develops out of the experiences he has in the film. Ehrenreich is handsome, charismatic, and adorable. Thankfully Ehrenreich doesn’t try to channel Harrison Ford’s take on the character, but rather uses the space the ‘origin story’ provides to make Solo his own. By the end of the movie the Han we know and love is there smiling wryly out of the screen.

Along for the journey are some familiar faces, Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian feature prominently, and a slew of new characters. Some of my favorite moments from the film involve Han & Chewie. Their first encounter was not at all what I expected and it seemed natural to the characters. On the other hand, the moment when the pair encounter the Millennium Falcon for the first time was just as I expected – perfect.

Donald Glover slips into the role of Lando Calrissian like it is one of the many capes hanging in the wheeler and dealer’s closet on the Falcon. Glover resists the easy temptation to go over the top with Calrissian instead keeping it cool and lowkey. It pays off when the character has a big emotional moment and you really feel it.

One of the new characters is Qi’ra played by Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones). We meet her early in the film and her story arc is as involved as Han’s, even if much of it takes place off screen. I can’t say much about how she fits into the film without spoilers, but I was surprised by the final reveal.

Woody Harrelson’s character Beckett is the underground criminal Han latches onto as a way out of a sticky situation and Beckett ends up serving as a mentor as well. Beckett has a crew, Val and Rio, who are some great Star Wars characters. I kinda wish they were in the film more.

Another standout new character is L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). She’s a droid built by Lando to have an enlightened view of her own independence and containing the galaxy’s most advanced navigation chart, useful if you’re a smuggler like Calrissian. L3-37 delivers some of the best laughs in the movie and ends up with an important place in Star Wars history.

The rules of the universe created by George Lucas are present in Solo. This means there is some goofy humor, non-bloody violence and death, and plenty of outrageous space creatures. Ron Howard’s direction captures the youthful light energy of the original trilogy, but the look and feel is very different, more akin to the previous Star Wars story – Rogue One. As with Rogue One, Solo continues the tradition of having no opening crawl, but there is a prologue, so don’t be late to your seat.

‘Solo’ is at its best when it’s a ‘we’re getting a gang together’ heist movie and a bit slow when it ventures into more traditional Star Wars genre of a ‘space western.’ The movie runs a bit long at 2 hours and 15 minutes and it definitely won’t please everyone. But Ron Howard and Lucasfilm know how to tell great stories and the story of Han and Chewie’s friendship is up there with the best of Star Wars.

The promise of the stand-alone ‘Star Wars story’ films is that they can revisit a moment in time in the Star Wars mythos where conflict and character development combine to make for an interesting story. Han Solo is such an iconic character that it makes a lot of sense to give him his own film. Honesty there is room for a couple more films before the Han of this movie catches up with the Han we meet in ‘A New Hope.’ I hope Disney and Lucasfilm decide to continue to tell Han’s story. The movie certainly ends with plenty of room for a sequel.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” opens this Thursday night, May 24, with special showings.

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