Did you ever wonder what Rick Blaine was up to before he opened a fancy nightclub and gambling den in Casablanca? What Katniss Everdeen was like as a child? How Tyler Durden came to make the rules for his fight club?
Some classic movie characters come with backstories, others simply exist for the moments in time we spend staring at the screen. Others earn origin stories while others are best left as one offs.
Still others, like Han Solo, also exist in our imaginations and are the subject of much speculation. For forty years fans have wondered how Solo zipped through through hyperspace to do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, how he got his last name and why the Space Cowboy and Chewbacca are as tight as two Porgs in a space pod. The “Star Wars” smuggler ranks up there with the most popular characters of all time and a new film, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” fills in the blanks on the legends never before detailed on film.
The story begins with Han’s (Alden Ehrenreich) daring escape attempt from his hellish life on Corellia and the Imperial Guards who reign over him. With dreams of becoming a pilot dancing in his head the street urchin makes it out, vowing to return to rescue his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). In quick order he enlists in the Imperial Army, gets kicked out and falls in with a gang of thieves led by the charismatic Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). “Let me give you some advice,” Beckett says, “assume everyone will betray you and you will never be disappointed.”
Later, betrayed and thrown into a squalid death pit, he meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), the 190-year-old Wookie who will soon become the Sundance Kid to his Butch Cassidy. A heist gone wrong brings the newly minted band of misfits into the orbit of intergalactic boogeyman Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). He offers them a chance to settle their score with them but to do so they’ll need a new ship. Enter space scoundrel Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his magnificent flying machine, the Millennium Falcon.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is an old fashioned mix of action, adventure and romance with loads of “Star Wars” mythology woven into the story. There’s no force, no Jedi just a straightforward story populated with likeable (and purposefully not so likeable) characters. Director Ron Howard, who took over after Phil Lord and Chris Miller were let go, keeps the action fluid, injects plenty of humour—“You will never have a deeper sleep than curled up in a Wookie lap,” says four-armed pilot Rio (Jon Favreau) wistfully.—shaping the story, after a slow start, into a bit of a romp. He’s hampered by a story with very low stakes. We know (THIS IS NOT A SPOILER UNLESS YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN OR EVEN HEARD OF THE STAR WARS MOVIES) that Han, Chewie and Lando go on to greater adventures so there doesn’t seem to be much at risk. It’s fun to get a glimpse of the young versions of characters we all know but “Solo: A Star Wars Story” feels slight, less consequential than the other films in the series.
Ehrenreich tackles the impossible job of filling in the gaps left by Harrison Ford. He’s all swagger. A fearless, fast-on-his-feet, walking-talking attitude, he’s solid but doesn’t bring the charisma that so effortlessly flowed from Ford.
The supporting cast, however, delivers in spades. Glover oozes charm, playing Calrissian as a swaggering pirate with a fashion sense and a “what’s in it for me” bearing that makes him eminently watchable.
Chewie is given a backstory and more to do than simply act as a sidekick. Given the chance to help his family, who have been torn apart by the empire, the 7′ 6” fuzzball goes his own way, disobeying Solo. He has his own mind and asserts himself in a way he hasn’t before. Suotamo, with his deft physical work, also provides some of the film’s biggest laughs.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” has some nice moments but relies on adrenalin when it should trust its characters.