After original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller parted ways with LucasFilm over their “sci-fi comedy” just six months into production, acclaimed director Ron Howard came on weeks later to carry the film forward. If that wasn’t enough of a black cloud, the fans and critics had been divided months earlier when the film was announced if there even was a need for a Han Solo film following Harrison Ford’s immortal portrayal.
Thankfully, this Western-heist film in space is slick, stylish and shows no sign of trouble at all. It’s a fun and light-hearted space adventure. There is no dark, brooding conflict or mystical power hanging over the story – not to say there isn’t plenty of menace – and there are no Jedi or Force powers in sight.
Alden Ehrenreich as Han had near impossible shoes to fill. Yet to enjoy his performance, we owe it to this talented actor to see he is portraying not Harrison Ford, but Han Solo. A character we know nothing about at this young age. Yes, it’s hard not to look for Ford in him, but if you look BEYOND the man he becomes, you enjoy him all the more for it. Alden bleeds Ford’s mannerisms in subtly, such as his stance, the way he fires his blaster and that dry sense of humour starting to form. He carries the film and proves that he was the right choice to cast.
Emilia Clarke is a little hard to buy into at first, and she only comes to life more in the second half. She may be a talent on the small screen, but somehow her presence on the big screen never leaps out, and you don’t buy her relationship with Han as much as you probably should.
Paul Bettany as new villain Dryden Vos, Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca and Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, equally have a big characters to represent and do sterling jobs respectively. Glover especially is more than fitting as our young smuggler and swindler, playing it cool as we’d expect a younger Billy Dee Williams to do and forge that growing love/hate relationship with Han, especially when it comes to the gorgeous Millennium Falcon.
One of the best performances comes from Woody Harrelson as Beckett; a mentor, gun-slinger and outlaw. Harrelson is instantly likeable and really looks the part, spinning those blasters and leading his crew into battle. He’s having a blast, and it shows.
The action is slick and well executed, and the visual effects are spot-on. One bonus is that Howard seems to opt for more practical sets and action over CGI, and that adds to a much more real looking universe. From the slums of Corellia, to the dunes of Savareen and the nightmarish vortex of the Kessel Run, this is Star Wars at its finest, adventure planet-hopping best. It may be hard to adjust to a Star Wars film where Stormtroopers aren’t the main bad guys and the faceless Empire doesn’t do much or you see nothing of the Rebellion, but this is why the film is much braver than it appears.
It takes risks, it forces us to buy into a new idea and wants us to do nothing but enjoy the ride. Han Solo is just warming up and I want to see where he goes from here. Is this a Star Wars film we needed in the timeline? Not really, but I’m glad we have it because Ron Howard proves Star Wars DOES work away from the Skywalker saga.