This one comes to us from director Ron Howard, and I remember being pretty excited about that name being attached to a 'Star Wars' film. This guy gave us great fantasy stories like 'Willow' and great true story films like 'Apollo 13'. I kinda figured he'd be a shoe in for something like 'Star Wars', although many thought otherwise. Even after seeing it for the fourth time, I still think he had something here, bringing Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan's script to life. By the way, that was another draw - Lawrence Kasdan helped give us 'Empire' and 'Jedi'. So really, why wouldn't I have wanted to check it out?
I remember going to the theater to see it, and feeling like things were pretty deserted. While I remember the opening weekend to 'Attack of the Clones' feeling somewhat underwhelming, this was the first time I actually thought to myself that people were really starting to give up on 'Star Wars'. Of course, it wouldn't be until the next year that the final nail was driven into the coffin with 'Rise of Skywalker', and the shadow of the dark side started to grow over 'Star Wars' fandom completely. It was unfortunate, but with this, 'Rogue One' and 'Mandalorian' all being at least somewhat decent tales that mostly veer away from the Jedi/Sith lore, there IS still that spark of hope that new life can be breathed into 'Star Wars' with new stories (there's a LOT they can do!)
After having seen it, and seeing the reviews come in for it, to me, it felt somewhat underrated. But I will say that I fully understand why it's not among the most beloved 'Star Wars' films out there. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say how "bad" it is, but it's more of an overlooked story, and admittedly, not one we necessarily needed. It's put in there as a placeholder for the fans who are clambering for 'Episode IX'. At that point, the idea was still fairly exciting... but yeah. Anyway, this is really just another origin story, like 'Wolverine', only better.
The formula here is about the same as most origin stories; another movie that dabbles into everything we may or may not know yet about a fan favorite character. There was a very split audience for it - the people who want the answers behind their favorite 'Star Wars' character, or the people who don't generally care. 'Last Jedi' disappointed so many, and without even a year to adjust from it, this was released May, 2018 to an audience collectively saying "too much". Interestingly enough, it did have a successful opening weekend, but as far as its grosses go, it stands dead last in the franchise, only above 'The Clone Wars', which I have not included in my list, as I feel it's a separate entity.
Getting to the story, it opens on the planet Corellia, where a local gang, watching over slave orphans, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), is thwarted by them and they manage an escape. Using their wits, and some precious coaxium fuel, they bribe an Imperial officer for passage onto a transport. But while Han makes it, Qi'ra is captured, and the pair are separated. Making a vow to come back for her, Han joins the Imperial Navy, and is given his name "Solo" due to having no real family name.
Fast-forward three years later, where Han finds himself in the midst of a battle, serving as an infantryman following his expulsion from the Imperial Flight Academy for insubordination. Here, he meets a band of thieves, led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), which sets him on his journey to find his place in the galaxy. We watch his origin story unfold; a lot of it having to do with stealing and delivering coaxium to a high ranking crime boss named Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Along the way, we see how he meets Chewie (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando (Donald Glover), gets the Millennium Falcon, and it answers the age-old question about doing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs (much like 'Rogue One' answers the one about why the Empire left a weak point on the Death Star).
There's nothing about the movie that I really don't like. But I have to admit that it's also a very middle-ground movie, based on what it is. It's there to fill in a blank that doesn't really need filling in, but the way it goes about it is still pretty decent. This one plays out a lot more like a space western, and has always kinda reminded me a little more of an episode of 'Firefly' than an actual 'Star Wars' movie. That's still what I would compare it to, with its overall style and sense of humor, and I personally really appreciate any 'Star Wars' story that doesn't need to focus so much on Jedi, Sith, the Force, etc.
As far as performances go, all is well and good, but there are a couple of players here who had to try to nail their characters - Alden Ehrenreich as a young Harrison Ford/Han Solo, and Donald Glover as a young Billy Dee Williams/Lando Calrissian. I always thought Glover to be the perfect casting as a young Lando, so never had any trouble trying to see the character. Ehrenreich ends up being a tiny bit more of a challenge, but if you watch closely enough, he actually does a great job of it. He doesn't necessarily look a lot like Ford, but a lot of the mannerisms are there, and you do get brief glimpses of Ford in his face - namely when he smiles. There's one particular scene with Chewbacca that shows his face in the mud, and if you pause it, you can really see it.
While it's certainly not without it's famous weaknesses (here, an equal-rights preaching droid named L3-37 [Phoebe Waller-Bridge]), and it's many fan service moments (some of them fairly eye-rolling), I still think it's enjoyable. It's pretty well-written by people who are all too familiar with the characters involved, there's plenty of action, funny moments, and the cheesy humor fits for a character like Han Solo. However, the one bother has to do with the ending, where they randomly bring in a character who should be long dead. I'm SURE there's an answer to that by now, but regardless, it really left the audience hanging and felt like a studio decision that was crammed down our throats. What will ever become of it? Perhaps time will tell... or already has? Maybe it's time for me to check out some of those animated series...