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‘Solo’ swaggers with the best in the galaxy (Includes first-hand account)

More than 40 years ago, audiences were introduced to a loveable scoundrel whose chauvinist charm won hearts and fearless audacity earned envy. Han Solo’s love affair with Princess Leia, almost lifelong friendship with Chewbacca and affection for the Millennium Falcon are just some of his most recognizable traits. But he was already an established pilot and smuggler when he made his entrance into the Star Wars universe, so little was known about his past. Although where Han came from was not a question on the tip of many tongues, it is an answer his fans may find interesting. Thus, the latest standalone film in the franchise, Solo: A Star Wars Story, goes back to the hero’s beginnings.

In a galaxy ruled by the Empire, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) grew up on the planet Corellia alongside other orphaned children who are forced to steal to survive, including his first love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). When the lovers’ plot to escape goes awry, Han puts his next plan in motion: he joins the Imperial Flight Academy so he can become the best pilot in the galaxy. Three years later, he’s been expelled and is looking for a way out of the war. It’s then that he happens on a team of criminals led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and a wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Together they attempt to steal a large shipment of hyper fuel for crime boss, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), before Enfys Nest’s (Erin Kellyman) marauders claims it for themselves. However, finding themselves indebted to the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate, the smuggling crew has one last chance to repay their employers with hyper fuel or their lives.

One of the key concerns in the making of this picture is it features two beloved characters from the original trilogy with very distinct personalities: Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, originally played by Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams, respectively. Now, younger versions of the same characters are being played by new actors who have the weighty responsibility of portraying the unique characteristics of these individuals. However, somewhat surprisingly, Ehrenreich and Donald Glover deliver exceptional performances, flawlessly capturing the well-defined personas and mannerisms of their counterparts. For Ehrenreich, he clearly portrays Han’s arrogance, which he inevitably backs up with skill… sometimes even before messing things up first. Thus, it appears hiring an acting coach to help the actor with Han’s swagger was a good investment. While this movie shows the initial source of Han and Lando’s antagonism, it’s also clear they’re frenemies because they have so much in common. Lando is equally arrogant, but with more flare and a louder sense of style, all of which Glover portrays impeccably.

The other element that makes this movie a success is it’s genuinely fun. A mix of a Western and a heist movie, the film evokes the same kind of haphazard excitement that viewers experienced watching A New Hope. From a fast-paced train robbery to big stakes card games to high-speed spaceship chases, there is never a dull moment. And when they’re not engaged in some form of adrenaline-inducing activity, they’re trading amusing quips or wise words. This instalment’s droid humour is provided by L3-37 (voice of Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a politically conscious robot standing up for droid rights and Lando’s best friend. Overall, it’s actually quite an unexpected, but incredibly welcome experience.

And most importantly, in spite of being unrelated to any of the main storylines, it is firmly situated in the Star Wars universe… somewhere in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, which also supports a surprise cameo appearance by a major player in the other films. While it’s rumoured Ron Howard reshot up to 70 per cent of the film, we’ll likely never know how much of the original footage remains — the good news is, Howard is an excellent director and even given a beleaguered franchise movie, he delivers an epic fantasy picture that enthrals audiences from start to finish.

Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover and Emilia Clarke

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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