I remember thinking “ooh!” back in 2015 when Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, fresh off their success helming the fabulous Lego Movie, were tapped to direct the stand-alone Han Solo origin flick. At the same time, though, I thought to myself, “…and we need this movie, why?”

One of those thoughts was squashed just under a year ago, when Lucasfilm announced it had parted ways with Lord and Miller over creative differences and hired Ron Howard to finish the job. The other thought went away about halfway through Solo. We need this movie because it’s just flat-out fun to go to the theater, lean back, and enjoy yourself for a couple hours. Isn’t that the whole point?

Solo is damn fine entertainment, and there are plenty of worse ways to spend time at a movie theater these days. Aside from Deadpool 2 and Infinity Wars, pickings are mighty slim at the cineplex lately, especially considering we’re at the start of the summer movie season. So just let loose and regress back to your childhood days for a little while.

Alden Ehrenreich (Hail Caesar!) was blessed with the unenviable task of playing the younger version of one of Hollywood’s most beloved and iconic characters, and he actually does an alright job with it. Though he can’t quite channel all of Harrison Ford’s rouge-ish swagger, there are glimpses of our favorite gunslinger in him, and it’s enough to make Solo work.

As the action gets underway, young Han and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) are cooking up a scheme to get off of Corellia, a lawless planet whose inhabitants are largely consigned to slave labor. Though Qi’ra is caught before she can make it through the checkpoint, Han escapes, vowing to return for her as soon as he becomes a pilot.

Fast-forward three years, and Han has been kicked out of the Academy (naturally) and has snuck into the army, where he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a scoundrel himself, and then blackmails his way into Beckett’s criminal gang. Shortly after, Han meets Chewbacca (in a nifty throwback to Return of the Jedi) and sets off with Beckett on a lengthy but spectacular action set piece that makes The Great Train Robbery look like an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine.

This all inadvertently leads Han back to Qi’ra, who is now a part of Crimson Dawn, a crime syndicate run by Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). It also results in Han meeting a conniving gambler named Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), who owns a piece-o’-junk ship called the Millennium Falcon.

Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes BackReturn of the JediThe Force Awakens) joined forces with his son Jon on the script and apparently had an absolute field day putting this thing together. It’s abundant with winks and nods to dozens of bits from the Star Wars Universe, including: a glimpse of the disguise Lando would wear years later in Jabba the Hutt’s palace, Han threatening to use a thermal detonator, and even the origins of both his surname and his modified blaster. Heck, Ehrenreich even has the requisite chin scar.

It would be interesting to find out someday what of Lord and Miller’s original work made it into the finished product and how much is Howard’s doing (reports say the final movie is 70-80% Howard), but there aren’t any gaping holes or visible seams, and it’s difficult to imagine how Lord and Miller’s version could have been any better. In fact, Clarke herself has gone on the record saying that Howard “saved” the movie. Based on what made the final cut, I have no reason to doubt it; Solo is as good a bit of popcorn fare as anything to hit theaters so far this year.

The general consensus may be that the film lands somewhere in the middling ground of the Star Wars canon, and sure, it’s no Empire Strikes Back by any means, but it’s still one helluva ride. It’s both fun and funny with a spot-on amount of big-bang-boom action. Plus it finally (and brilliantly) puts to bed the whole debate over Han’s famous twelve-parsec Kessel Run.

Solo’s got it where it counts, so just get on board.


4/5 stars