Solo: A Star Wars Story

An even longer time ago in a galaxy far, far away a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) meets his future co-pilot Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and wins the Millennium Falcon from a gambler, Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), in "Solo: A Star Wars Story."

Laura's Review: B+

There has been a lot of apprehension leading up to the release of the latest standalone "Star Wars" spinoff. Some were concerned about the casting of Ehrenreich, then original directors Chris Lord and Peter Miller were fired by producer Kathleen Kennedy midway through production. But the film's sole credited director, Ron Howard, who picked up the reins, has delivered a seamless, planet-hopping adventure that charts Han's beginnings as a desperate street urchin with big dreams through his rascally acquisition of his famous ship. We also meet Han's first love, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), a fellow urchin turned enigmatic beauty. As the Empire continues to expand, criminal syndicates thrive acquiring food, medicine and hyperfuel called coaxiom. On his home planet of Corellia, Han is expected to deliver the latter to Lady Proxima (voice of Linda Hunt), who looks like a monstrous version of Alice in Wonderland's caterpillar, but instead escapes with Qi'ra in a stolen speeder, bribing an Imperial Emigration Officer to leave for a stint with the Imperial Army where he plans on becoming a pilot. But the gate crashes behind him, Qi'ra urging him to run as she's held back and Han finds himself a foot soldier on the mud planet of Mimban when the film jumps three years into the future. Han is intent on getting back to Corellia to find Qi'ra and resume his original plan of traveling the galaxy with her in his own ship and finds his opportunity in Beckett (Woody Harrelson), another smuggler masquerading as an Empire soldier. With Chewbacca, who'd been kept in a pit where Han had been thrown, in tow, Han takes off with Beckett, his fierce partner Val (Thandie Newton) and four-armed pilot Rio Durant (voice of Jon Favreau), to steal a shipment of coaxiom traveling by train. This sequence is thrilling, the train on an elevated, twisting track around a mountain (shot on location in Italy's Dolomites). But a gang of Marauders (who look like visitors from "Mad Max") appear and Han sacrifices their train car to save lives. Unfortunately, only he and Beckett make it out alive and now they are indebted to Crimson Dawn's syndicate head, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). On Dryden's Star Yacht, complete with an artifact collection and lounge with alien entertainment, Han is shocked to find Qi'ra, now a glamorous top lieutenant for Vos. She seems amenable to helping him and he appeases Vos with a plan to replace the lost coaxiom with its raw equivalent, which he and Beckett will steal and speed to a refinery on Savareen before its volatile nature causes it to explode. Ehrenreich gives a subtle arc to his Solo, the young, risk-taking dreamer becoming cockier with accomplishment. He also becomes politicized when he learns some hard truths about supposed friends and foes. Clarke keeps us guessing as to her true intent and her relationship with Han could easily be mined for further adventures (her last scene is with a surprise appearance by a well known franchise character). Harrelson is appealing as the type of man Han very well might have become and Glover gives a cheeky, preening performance as the duplicitous card shark. Phoebe Waller-Bridge voices his female droid L3-37, who ends up fed into the Falcon's navigational system. Suotamo continues Peter Mayhew's legacy with Chewbacca's endearing presence. Father and son screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan balance adventure with character development, sprinkling in details like how Han got his name and the gold dice which grace the Falcon's windshield. Cinematographer Bradford Young ("Arrival") goes for a natural, gritty look which at times can be murky, but overall complements the Fascistic production design of Corellia and the WWI inspired battlefields of Mimban. Composer John Powell (the “Bourne” trilogy) revamps Williams's score with a Bulgarian women's choir, with the familiar 'Han's theme' popping up at pivotal moments. Grade:

Robin's Review: B