By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

After going through production problems that got original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller dismissed and Ron Howard hired, Solo: A Star Wars Story has miraculously made it to theaters. It wouldn’t be the first time a Star Wars film faced and overcame production woes, but this movie seemed particularly rushed. Still, despite these hiccups, Ron Howard, cast and crew managed to get the job done.  This newest movie may not have achieved the level of magic that some of its predecessors have, but it still makes for a fun ride in a galaxy far, far away.

After the Empire takes over the galaxy, and before the Rebellion takes matter into its own hands, a scruffy and scrappy young man named Han (Alden Ehrenreich) did what he could to survive the mean streets of Corellia. This wide-eyed and reckless “kid” and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) steal and scam for their lives in hopes that one day they can escape.  Han’s opportunity to leave arrives, but Q’ira is forced to remain behind. The foolish young man enlists in the Imperial military and eventually comes in contact with criminal Tobias Beckett and his crew. After proving his worth to this seasoned and smarter criminal mentor, Han becomes a full-fledged outlaw and, through this new life, meets the wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and roguish gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Beckett, Han, Chewie and Lando embark on a criminal adventure where the naive Solo must face some harsh realities about his new life.

Written by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, Ron Howard’s entry in the Star Wars franchise makes for a thrilling and fun movie, but lacks the gravity, stakes, and thus, emotion of other, better Star Wars movies.  If Episodes IV through IX are the albums of the Star Wars saga, then Rogue One and Solo are the surprise EPs that were thrown together on a whim. Well, that’s at least the way the finished products come across, anyway. Rogue One, however, is that rare EP that is so good, it is only a few songs short of LP greatness. But enough with the record metaphors, Solo is pretty good and enjoyable, just not extraordinary.

The film’s writing and story material should definitely please most die hard Star Wars fans. Now I am talking about the most hardcore fans who have seen every single movie and series, and have read all of the comics and books. Solo draws material from just about everything related. The film is mostly faithful to the Han Solo character and gives him a bit of a rushed origin story, but one adequate to introduce him as a young character. The film speeds along at a fast pace, but sometimes abruptly hits the brakes too hard. These pacing issues can be jarring, making the film feel uneven at times. Still, kudos must be given to Ron Howard and his team for putting together a good movie, despite its disatrous initial production.

There is still much for even casual fans to enjoy. The film has plenty of exciting action, colorful characters and joyful humor. The entire cast delivers great work, but the real standouts are Donald Glover who becomes and embodies the smooth, lovable scoundrel that is Lando Calrissian. As the vouce of Calrissian’s crime partner droid L3-37, Phoebe Waller Bridge absolutely shines and kills with all of her character’s comedic material. Though her character’s development is rather limited, Emilia Clarke’s charisma and presence makes Q’ira a likable and compelling love interest for Han. Woody Harrelson also gives a solid performance as Solo’s tough, but likable mentor Tobias Beckett.

As for Solo himself, Alden Ehrenreich brings a wide-eyed optimism to the youthful title character. Though charming and reckless, his Han Solo hasn’t yet become the grumpy, callous opportunist with whom fans are familiar. I was pleased with both this new take on the character, as I was with Ehrenreich who gives a genuinely earnest performance. The movie also features great work by Paul Bettany as the cold and creepy crime boss Dryden Vos, Thandie Newton who portrays tough criminal Val and Jon Favreau who lends his voice to the witty and smart alecky crook/pilot Rio Durant.

So, even though the making of this film got off to a rough start, Solo: A Star Wars Story works well enough to appease fans and keep other audience types entertained. The film really isn’t an essential addition to the Star Wars saga, but is more like an amusing, additional anecdote with a life and energy of its own. I must moderately recommend this film and must encourage my readers to approach it with tempered expectations. There is no reason to have any bad feelings about it, but let’s just say, the force isn’t super strong with it either. Let’s just say the force has been kind. I suppose in the spirit of Han Solo it is only fitting that his movie barely gets away with succeeding on a certain level.

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