3 out of 4 stars
Forty-one years – that’s how long it has taken Star Wars’ fans to get their questions about Han Solo answered since he was introduced in “Star Wars” in 1977.
Why does he have a Wookiee as his copilot? Did he really make the legendary Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs? What is the Kessel Run in the first place? How does a guy with no job have the Millennium Falcon? How is a good-looking guy with a sweet ride single? And what’s the deal with his buddy, Lando Calrissian?
There have been nine Star Wars movies and none shed any light on Han Solo’s background. But the character who Harrison Ford made famous has the spotlight all to himself in “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which tells Solo’s story long before he met Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, who are nowhere in this film.
While Alden Ehrenreich, who plays Solo, will never be confused with Ford, Ehrenreich portrays the teenage Solo with the same flair and smack-talk that Ford made famous.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” opens with Han doing what he did best before becoming a pilot: stealing stuff. He was among hundreds of juveniles who were under the control of a monster who made it clear: steal what she needed or suffer the consequences.
But Solo isn’t focused on stealing for someone else; he’s focused on making the big score to buy his freedom for himself and his girlfriend Qi’ra, “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke. Of course, Solo doesn’t quite pull it off and the next thing you know, he’s forced to enlist in the military and finds himself as a foot soldier in a ground war.
In between dodging bullets and orders from his commanding officer, Solo meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his girlfriend, Val (Thandie Newton), and their smuggling crew who are plotting a job that could make them rich – or dead. The man they are working for – Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany)– isn’t someone who tolerates failure and when Beckett and Solo come up short, they propose pulling off an even bigger heist – one that involves making the Kessel Run – to avoid being killed on the spot.
But first, they have to get their hands on ship that’s fast enough to pull it off – take a guess which ship the covet? The problem? It’s owned by Calrissian, who Donald Glover plays as well as Billy Dee Williams did when audiences first met the smooth-talking con artist in the “Empire Strikes Back” in 1980.
What transpires throughout the 143-minute film is a seamless blend of non-stop action, witty banter and crosses and double-crosses that keeps the audience engaged. The origins of the friendship between Chewbacca, played by Joonas Suotamo, and Solo provides the first of many memorable scenes.
Since it’s a backstory, director Ron Howard and writers Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan made sure “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is portrayed in such a way that it could be enjoyed by those who have never seen a Star Wars movie and those who can recite lines from all nine films.
Still, while passive Star Wars fans will find the film entertaining, those who grew up loving the franchise will leave the theater knowing that after all these years, they finally know how Harrison Ford became the owner of Millennium Falcon.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 18 years experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He’s also an editor for CBSSports.com. He’s crossing his fingers the only baseball team in Baltimore that will contend for a title this summer won’t be his fantasy squad, the Catonsville Cartel. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.