Since Solo is the second of the Star Wars stories separate from the main series of Star Wars movies, I keep thinking about why Rogue One in particular works as a prequel to A New Hope and as a part of the Star Wars series. Rogue One does a lot of legwork to recontextualize the beginning of A New Hope. The death star plans take an extra importance when you consider the characters of Rogue One and the sacrifices made to steal those plans. It adds an urgency, a tension to A New Hope even after so many years, so it adds a lot to the series.
So, does Solo add that much to the series? In a word, no. What Solo does add, however, is a fun romp of a movie that, while uneven, is a good time with characters the audience already knows and loves. The pacing is a bit all over the place, however it’s not as uneven as it could have been, given the notoriously troubled filming of the movie. Everything feels cohesive, despite Ron Howard stepping in later to work things out. It’s just the pacing that doesn’t quite work for me – everything felt like a big series of events going from Point A to Point B without as much tension as I’d like. Han’s goal, to rescue his childhood love Qi’ra, is averted about halfway through the movie with Qi’ra being safe and sound, albeit in a different situation than he’d like. There’s smaller goals throughout the film but it doesn’t feel like there’s a fully-fledged arc for any of the characters.
Perhaps this leads into my biggest problem with Solo, which is how it works in with Han’s arc as seen in the original Star Wars trilogy. In those films Han’s arc is basic but effective – he’s the scoundrel who ends up with a heart of gold, going from being in it for the money to genuinely, wholeheartedly helping the rebellion and his friends. It’s a triumph when he comes back at the end of A New Hope after leaving, and it’s thrilling to have the realization that Han is actually a good person. We may have had hints beforehand but that confirmation is one of the best character moments in the original trilogy. Whereas, with Solo in the mix, the audience already knows Han is the good guy. Above all else Solo indicates that he is a good person, through and through – rough around the edges, sure, and he’s done some bad things, but Solo contextualizes Han as being a good person which, when tied to A New Hope, makes his arc just a bit weaker (contrasted with how the existence of Rogue One makes A New Hope stronger). Granted, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to go into watching Solo before seeing A New Hope or even The Force Awakens, but taking all of these movies as a whole it doesn’t do much to add to Han’s character, and only potentially weakens it.
That said, while I do think that Solo lacks a larger arc and a driving tension / goal throughout, I do like what it chooses to do in being a relatively smaller story in a larger universe. Star Wars as a franchise has always had huge, galaxy-wide implications – if they don’t stop the empire the entire galaxy is doomed. Solo bucks industry trends which continuously raise stakes and instead makes a smaller movie which I honestly really enjoyed. I would have preferred if they had done it a bit differently (I would have very much enjoyed if it was more of a standard heist movie with one more elaborate heist instead of two smaller heists), but I hope that future Star Wars stories continue this. Focusing the Star Wars stories on smaller stories keeps the Star Wars universe grounded, and expands the idea of what a Star Wars story means.
The rest of Solo was made quite well. Casting-wise, I think they nailed it. Harrison Ford has big shoes to fill and I don’t know if anyone can truly be Han Solo like he is, but Alden Ehrenreich did an admirable job in channeling the rogueish energy and charm of Han Solo – it’s not quite Harrison Ford but no one could be. Donald Glover absolutely shines as Lando Calrissian, clearly having the time of his life hamming it up. I sure hope that Disney takes a hint from all of the Lando hype leading up to Solo’s release, as I’d love to see more movies surrounding Lando. The rest of the cast, focusing on newer characters, was uniformly good – Emilia Clarke was an excellent Qi’ra, though I do wish I got to learn more about her character, and all the new characters felt like they fit well into this side of the Star Wars universe. I just wish we got to see more of Val and Rio, two members of Beckett (Woody Harrelson)’s crew that are both killed fairly early on. The movie also teases a cameo by Darth Maul which was a big surprise and one that I’m interested to see where this goes.
Once we get past the Star Wars universe implications and larger implications beyond this, Solo is a fun romp within the Star Wars universe that was a fun watch and one that I’m looking forward to going to. It doesn’t surpass my love for the original trilogy or the sequel trilogy, but it’s a very competent, fun entry and one that makes me intrigued to see more Star Wars beyond the characters and events we already know.