I went into Solo with two things: a bag of peanut butter M&Ms and a healthy dose of skepticism. I’m happy to say that the latter was proven quite delightfully unnecessary.
When a Han Solo spinoff was first announced, my reaction was similar to many others’: “Why ruin Han’s mystique with an origin story?” I felt the character’s appeal rested predominately on a few things that a prequel movie could never provide; namely, his mysterious checkered past, his role as a foil to innocent and earnest Luke, and the thermonuclear charisma of 1980s Harrison Ford.
However, while watching the movie, I began to realize just how much this character’s vaguely sketched-in backstory actually benefited from being fleshed out onscreen. In spite of the mystery of Han’s past, we are given a few tidbits to fill in his path to that dusty cantina on Mos Eisley in 0ABY. We know about the runaway childhood, the stint in the military, the Kessel Run, the fateful game of Sabacc that won him the Falcon, and so on and so forth. The risk in rendering these moments onscreen is that they would garner the same response as the infamous prequel trilogy–either the depiction doesn’t live up to the fantastical image in our head, or else details are added that needlessly complicate or blunt the “magic” of the universe (something something, midichlorians, something something).
Fortunately, Solo pulls off these crucial moments with a refreshing straightforwardness that amplifies, rather than overcomplicates, the iconic story beats. The Kessel Run, in particular, provides striking visual beauty and nail-biting stakes that make Han’s classic boast about it feel meaningful, while also justifying his deep love for the old “piece of junk” that got him through it. His encounters and relationships with Lando and Chewie are fitting and un-gimmicky–at no point does the viewer feel like Howard is breaking the fourth wall to say “Bet you didn’t predict THIS part happening, huh??” I was also particularly fond of the clever lampshading of Lando’s constant mispronunciation of Han’s name in ESB, among other fun Easter eggs for OT fans.
Ehrenreich’s performance was among the things I was most skeptical of in the film, but I was proven fantastically wrong. Much as I adore Ford’s performance in the OT, I can’t deny that by the end of the film, Ehrenreich really has become Han Solo. Perhaps not the exact Han Solo we already know and love, but one that feels true to the character and deserving of continuing to tell his story.
The film isn’t without its flaws, however. It seems to delight in introducing compelling characters only to kill them off 10 minutes later, which takes a particular toll on its cast of female heroes–a disappointment for those of us who are still smarting from Rey’s depiction in TLJ. The droid L3-37, who we later learn is more or less the spirit/personality of the Falcon (via installing her brain into the ship for navigational purposes), seems to have a personality best described as “strident” and “that’s it, nothing else, just strident.” It’s a missed opportunity to craft a droid character whose spirit feels more suited to the rough-and-tumble, hardscrabble ship we know and love, as opposed to “college freshman who just read Howard Zinn for the first time and won’t shut up about it.”
And Qi’ra. Oh, Qi’ra. The entire movie, I was waiting for the predictable twist that would undercut the 2 hours of her simpering and fawning over Han’s every move, smiling affectionately at him from various corners and doorways, and telling him just how good and wonderful he is. But no. Instead, we are led to believe that her inevitable “betrayal” (if you can call it that) is something she seemingly has no choice in–and in a sense, she doesn’t, much in the same way that Padme has no choice but to croak conveniently at the end of Episode III. She must be gotten out of the way to make room for Han’s eventual wife, whose dramatic contrast with Qi’ra feels unaddressed and unjustified. If Qi’ra had had more of a personality outside of “loving Han so much,” or better yet, if her duplicity had led Han to believe that he can only trust people who tell him exactly what they really think of him–ie, a stuck-up half-witted scruffy-looking nerf-herder–the character would have felt meaningful and her arc interesting, rather than serving as a flat and uncompelling love interest whose fate we see coming a mile away.
All this being said, I walked away from Solo feeling that the overall saga was richer for the experience, and I enjoyed myself most every step along the way. Hopefully future spinoff films fill in some of the gaps in this one’s storytelling, and further deepen the characters we’ve grown to love. Final verdict: go see it. And bring M&Ms.