‘Solo’ perfectly threads line between standalone and necessary viewing

Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Donald Glover, Alden Ehrenreich, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emilia Clarke, and Joonas Suotamo in Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Directed by Ron Howard

An origin story for Han Solo and Chewbacca was not necessary—when we met them both in Episode IV, we were able to gather enough of their backstory to understand their motivations. But that doesn’t mean it’s totally unwarranted.

Alden Ehrenreich and Joonas Suotamo in Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

A member of no tribe, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) grows up on the industrial planet Correlia but determines to be free. When he gets his chance to escape, he meets scrappers like Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), suave smugglers like Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), and one trusty Wookie named Chewy (played for only the second time by Joonas Suatomo). He’ll also reconnect with an old flame (Emilia Clarke) and meet what would become the love of his life—the Millennium Falcon.

Woody Harrelson, Alden Ehrenreich, and Joonas Suotamo in Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

When casting was announced, reactions were bound to be mixed. For my part, I was encouraged by the casting of up-and-comer Alden Ehrenreich, whose break-out role in “Hail, Caesar!” made him something close to a household name. He had the arrogant charm and the comic timing to play Han, at least as well as any other actor around that age. And, in my opinion, he nails it. Ehrenreich captures Han’s mannerisms and affect, his cocky humor, and that weird way he squats a little and faces forward when he shoots his blaster even though it only makes him a bigger target. In a more physical role than ever before, we see Chewbacca in a totally new light. Finnish actor Joonas Suatomo follows in the footsteps of Peter Mayhew, who, after 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” retired from the role he had originated in 1977. Suatomo is a full four inches shorter than the 7’2” Mayhew, but then Ehrenreich is four inches shorter than Harrison Ford, so you probably won’t notice. You might notice the slight differences in Chewy’s movements and manner, though…but then, I didn’t notice anything different about Suatomo’s performance in “The Last Jedi,” so maybe I’m just being nit-picky. The only other reprised character with any significant screen time is Lando Calrissian, played here by Donald Glover (who, after a successful “SNL” hosting gig and a new single, is kind of on top of the world). After seeing him in promotional materials, audiences may have anticipated Glover’s performance more than any other. It seemed like Glover would perfectly capture Lando’s swagger, and he lived up to the promise. Glover is slick, flirty, cool. He proves a fitting partner for Han’s constant badgering, but he doesn’t steal the show. That’s a good thing, whether it was intended or not.

Donald Glover in Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

But “Solo” is rarely as exciting as it hopes to be, despite a series of chase scenes and one-on-one fights. They lack the urgency that prequels often lack, because you know certain characters definitely live and certain characters probably die. Knowing that takes away from the excitement, but “Solo” is definitely still fun. The humor, along with a few fun nods to the trilogies, keep you interested, and the thrilling plot (besides knowing that some characters will survive, the rest of the plot maintains an air of mystery) will sustain you through the final thirty minutes—even if, by then, you start to think the movie is dragging on a bit too long. One word to the wise, however: if you’ve never paid attention to the canonical “Star Wars” television series, novels, or comic books, you may be confused by one of the film’s surprises. It may make you question the timeline. But just Google it afterward and feel a little smarter for knowing something you didn’t know before.

7/10

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