For the second time, I am amazed how a single line of dialogue or passing plot device from the original “Star Wars” trilogy has managed to become the driving force behind an entire new film. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” told the surprisingly complex tale behind the acquisition of the chip that Princess Leia places in R2-D2 at the beginning of “A New Hope.” “Solo: A Star Wars Story” decides to explain, rather necessarily, Han’s passing comment that the Millennium Falcon once “made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.”
In this prequel, we meet a younger Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) who manages to escape narrowly from a planet where he was held as a slave, but without his lover, Kira (Emilia Clarke). He swears to come back for her, and we follow his exploits over the next few years, which involve run-ins with various space cartels and mobsters.
“Rogue One” initially appeared to be a totally superfluous cash grab, meant to squeeze every last dollar out of the franchise. It completely blew me away to discover that apart from the original “Star Wars” film and its sequel, “Rogue One” was the best in the entire franchise (in my humble opinion). “Solo,” however, did not manage to meet the bar its predecessor set; it was predictable, and certainly a cash grab — but contrary to what many fans seem to be saying, I did not feel it “ruined” the character.
“Solo” gives all the standard reveals you’d expect from a prequel, none of which we really needed to know. We learn how Solo got his name, how he met Chewbacca, how Lando Calrissian became his friend, and how he became pilot of the Millennium Falcon — none of these reveals are particularly interesting or groundbreaking (and some of them do not make sense). The traditional setting of the “Star Wars” universe is still in place; space, instead of being the clean, organized and technologically advanced future we often see in the science fiction genre, resembles our own world and our own present. The space of “Star Wars” is dirty and unpolished, full of organized crime and home to oppressive governments as well as hopeful rebellions. The new “updates” for millennials are installed, including a social justice warrior robot and faces we are familiar with (I heard a little girl next to me remark the appearance of Daenerys Targaryen, Childish Gambino and Haymitch). But it is absolutely nothing special.
The young actor who plays Han sometimes feels like a talented Harrison Ford impersonator rather than the actual Han Solo. There are some plot holes, and while most are no more egregious than those from a typical action film, there is one that really boggles the mind (a certain character who should have died before or around the time Han Solo was born appears for no reason at all). A scene was very obviously stolen from the final scene of the “Star Trek” (2009) reboot. The emotional “losses” in this film leave you dry-eyed, unlike the heartbreaking ending of “Rogue One.” “Solo” plays it exceptionally safe. It adds nothing, but also takes away nothing.
I feel that middle-aged men often get possessive over their fandoms and proclaim that all the new films are “ruining” their beloved characters. Perhaps they have some right to be annoyed; Star Wars was revolutionary in its time, and it can be upsetting to see something so “perfect” altered. But ultimately, I feel the accusations that Han Solo has been “ruined” to be empty. The film did a decent job of explaining how Han came to be the streetwise gangster and ladies’ man who ultimately had a seed of altruism deep within, even if none of the reveals about the beloved character were particularly … well, revealing. “Solo” is a by-the-book film that shouldn’t step on any toes (so, the complete opposite of “The Last Jedi”) with some great action scenes that should certainly be viewed in 3D.