It’s fair to say that the second spin-off of the Star Wars saga, Solo: A star Wars Story didn’t quite get off to a good start. After firing its original directing team over creative differences four months into filming, the producers managed to pull off something of a coup by drafting in a safe pair of hands in the shape of Hollywood heavyweight Ron Howard to take over. Luckily for all concerned, the gamble seems to have mostly paid off, and bar a few minor issues, the results should please those who had legitimate concerns over this change of direction.
Written by father and son team Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, the filmstars 28 year old Jewish actor Alden Ehrenreich as young Han Solo in an expertly executed, fresh and fantastically well observed origin story, which is more than capable of standing on its own two feet within the ever-growing Star Wars universe.
Ehrenreich, who most will remember from his role as hapless cowboy Hobie Doyle in the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, was discovered aged 14 at a batmitzvah by fellow guest Steven Spielberg who was impressed by a film the young actor had made for the occasion.
We first meet Han Solo, a small-time crook and scavenger on his birth planet of Corellia, a place he can’t wait to leave behind to become one of the greatest pilots in the galaxy. When his carefully planned out escape along with girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is thwarted, resulting in only one of them making it out, Han decides to join the empire’s army where he soon comes across a group of criminals led by the cynical Becket (Woody Harrelson), a gun-slinging space cowboy who recruits him and his new friend Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) to help on a risky heist on behalf of the execrable Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Along the way, Han has his first encounter with the charismatic Lando Calrissian, who is played with a huge amount of playfulness and great charm by the brilliant Donald Glover.
Much like its standalone predecessor Rogue One which possessed strong war movie credentials, Solo borrows heavily from old classical Westerns to bring a rambunctious adventure which is only slightly let down by a rather busy script which tries to tell more than one story at once.
Alden Ehrenreich is remarkable as the young Han Solo, managing to make a role made famous by Harrison Ford more than forty years ago his own from the get go. For her part, Amelia Clarke puts in a commendable turn as the resourceful Qi’ra, who gives Han and his new friends a run for their money in the action stakes. Woody Harrelson is as brilliant as ever as cynical rascal Beckett, whilst Paul Bethany offers a hugely amusing scenery-chewing performance as the evil Dryden Vos.
Overall, Solo: A Star Wars Story presents an exciting new direction for this unstoppable franchise and its likeable heroes. A rowdy, exciting and truly exhilarating adventure which, although not perfect, still manages to bring out the small girl or boy in its adoring fans after all these years.