'Solo' Is a Fun Addition to the Depressing 'Star Wars' Universe

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Alden Ehrenreich in a scene from "Solo: A Star Wars Story."
Alden Ehrenreich in a scene from "Solo: A Star Wars Story."Credit: Jonathan Olley/AP

The success of Star Wars, like that of God and Coca-Cola, is based on acquaintance at a very young age. That’s how a connection is created that is mainly emotional and cannot be severed. From the point of view of an onlooker, someone who didn’t grow up on George Lucas’ films, it's clear: This review is superfluous for old fans and isn’t meant for them. After all, those who were nursed on the science fiction of George Lucas will watch in any case, or have already seen the film and are now looking for someone with whom to agree or to argue. So let’s go.

Solo: A Star Wars Story,” is the Walt Disney Company’s most typical product since the huge corporation acquired Lucasfilm six years ago for $4 billion. Disney CEO Bob Iger was happy to get his hands on the rights to the Stars Wars universe, because he saw it as having tremendous economic potential. He had already understood that was so in Marvel’s universe, which also belongs to Disney.

Under Disney, the third trilogy in the main saga is underway, with “Episode VII - The Force Awakens” and “Episode VIII - The Last Jedi,” already released; “Episode IX” is scheduled for release next year. Meanwhile, they have started to deviate from Lucas’ central narrative: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” is considered an independent tale, but in effect was an important connecting thread between two trilogies through a description of the mission in which plans for the Death Star were obtained.

Although the new film tells the more complete story of the familiar and beloved character Han Solo, it is also the biggest switch from the main plot to new realms. Han’s role in the saga begins in “Episode IV - A New Hope,” but everything that happened to him before that was open to interpretation.

Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“The Lego Movie”) apparently wanted to take too much advantage of this freedom, at least in Disney’s opinion, and in an unusual move were ousted during the filming. That is how Ron Howard unexpectedly became the director, because he’s more conservative, is Lucas’ good friend and is himself a enthusiastic fan of the series. As opposed to his predecessors, he happily went with the flow with the script by Lawrence Kasdan, who is responsible for several of the Star Wars films, including “The Empire Strikes Again,” and his son Jon Kasdan.

As befits an origin story – which assumes previous familiarity with a character and only tries to describe how he became what he is, “Solo” starts out with very little background. After all, he himself is the background. The plot begins when the young and impulsive Han, played by Alden Ehrenreich, is enslaved in a colorless and frightening planet, along with other teenagers and young adults, including his beloved Qi’ra, played by Emilia Clarke, without her trademark blond hair from “Game of Thrones.” He manages somehow to escape from the planet, but has to leave Qi’ra behind.

He ends up serving in the army of the empire, but that doesn’t deter him from his goal of rescuing Qi’ra. But he does learn an important lesson – Han doesn’t like taking orders from anyone. That’s also the stage in which he is first exposed to the interplanetary crime world through a gang led by Beckett – Woody Harrelson, who continues the character from “Hunger Games” and even improves on it – and his partner Val (Thandie Newton, “Westworld”).

With them he also meets a hairy enemy in the guise of Chewbacca, who gradually and very predictably, but in a nice way, becomes a friend. When the group finds itself with no choice but to serve the crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, “The Avengers”), there’s a need for two reinforcement actors: the charming card player Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and the ship that became a star in its own right, “Millenium Falcon.”

Outside the canon

If we go back to the crude, but useful and common, comparison between religious myths and Star Wars, the three trilogies are the canon. They are the foundations of the entire universe, and therefore the creators cannot deviate from Lucas’ plotline. In such a metaphor, “Rogue One” is more like the Talmud, whose role it is to plug up and explain holes in the canon, like obtaining the plans for the Death Star, so that it also serves Lucas’ grandiose narrative. “Solo,” on the other hand, is outside the canon, at least in part. The end is known in advance, but the film glorifies a character who is already glorious, and adds details for fans – as in the stories of saintly and holy men in Judaism and Christianity.

Ehrenreich received the impossible task of stepping into the shoes of a character who has become a myth, and at the same time filling the shoes of an actor with a far more impressive presence. Considering these circumstances, he fills his role faithfully, even when the increased effort to imitate Harrison Ford is evident.

Clarke, on the other hand, received a blank page and left it blank for the most part, and as a result her character is wasted. Glover is another story. He makes do with delicate but marvelous touches of Billy Dee Williams, and the rest of the time makes the character his own using his abundant charisma. With an opinionated female robot named L-3 at his side (the voice of Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the two manage to steal the show in every one of their scenes.

With interesting characters and a plotline that deliberately tries to maneuver between a space Western and a heist film, “Solo” hits the very simple target it set for itself: expanding the universe in a lighthearted manner. By taking a step back from the main saga, the film manages to restore to the franchise part of the initial enthusiasm of the original trilogy (Episodes IV-VI). In addition to satisfying the fans with a multitude of references to what is going to happen later, the plot keeps its distance from all the gloomy politics at the heart of the saga. “Rogue One” insisted on preserving too many elements, like the Death Star and Darth Vader, while “Solo” turns to the job of expanding the universe itself.

The heroes skip among a large number of planets in a way that enables the special effects team to create a wide variety of worlds. The visual richness of the scenery and the characters is also reflected in the design of the spaceships, headed by the early Millenium Falcon, and up to the extras in the dubious bar where we meet some of the shady characters. The action, which was also the franchise’s strong suit, even at its worst, is maintained under Howard’s supervision. In effect, it’s a significant improvement over “Rogue One,” which used its deviation from the saga to be warlike and despondent.

The mission assigned to “Solo” in the Star Wars universe is reminiscent of the world of a trapeze artist. The film must find a precise balance between nostalgia and innovation, between entering an existing world and departing from it, between a larger-than-life mythology and a small and entertaining story.

And it does in fact have fun, action and humor, with a very big wink at the fans. More important, it succeeds to some extent in shedding some of the pretentions of the franchise in order to distill from them what it takes to create a successful adventure film for children. “Solo” also received another mission from Disney – to create the foundation for an independent trilogy. In a heavy and depressing universe, where there is already one superfluous trilogy, the “Solo” films could be a welcome addition.