[Editor’s Note: We’ve steered clear of any meaningful spoilers, but if you’re trying to avoid any information at all about “Solo” … well, why did you click on this review?]
Han Solo has always struck me as a bit of a cowboy. From the vest to the holster he wore low on his thigh, to his confidence, luck and way with women, this was the guy we wanted to be in that galaxy far, far away. But who exactly was Han?
Where did the renegade smuggler with no real desire to join the fight with the good guys in the original films actually turn into a good guy?
“Solo: A Star Wars Story,” the latest spin-off in the never-ending saga that has found new life with fresh stories about old characters, gets right at that question with an origin story squarely centered on Solo’s grinning face.
In “The Force Awakens,” we got Solo (Harrison Ford) at the opposite end of a life in which he had for so long eluded bounty hunters and played his part in taking on the Dark Side. In “The Last Jedi,” we were left with just the memories.
“Solo” introduces the character (Alden Ehrenreich) on the gritty planet on which he grew up, already in possession of the spirit which will get him out of endless space jams and solidify his reputation as the best pilot in the galaxy.
Along the way, masked against the familiar looking sci-fi backdrop of the Star Wars saga, director Ron Howard has given us an underlying genre best suited to a cowboy by weaving Western themes throughout. If only there was a whistling theme and swinging saloon doors as Solo entered yet another cantina.
But there is an old-fashioned train robbery, a jail break, smooth talking gamblers involved in a high-stakes card game, betrayal and even a quick draw with a blaster. There’s a sidekick, as we’re introduced to Chewbacca, too, and there’s a beautiful woman who — at least according to cocky Solo — needs rescuing. And there’s Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), an even slicker bandit who could easily be the star of his own spin-off.
The Millennium Falcon — a Star Wars icon if ever there was one — might as well be the horse in this story. The trusty steed delivers our hero at breakneck speed — 12 parsecs, ya know — across the wide open expanse of a dangerous new frontier. Wide-eyed and chomping at the bit to get at her controls, Solo fawns over the spaceship almost more than his longtime love interest, Kira (Emilia Clarke).
There’s so much focus on our young hero this time around that the one thing lacking is a bad guy who truly makes us quake in our boots. Stormtroopers are omnipresent, but this Empire lacks a Darth Vader or Kylo Ren-type menace to send the musical score in a darker direction. A scar-faced Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) is as close as we get, but he’s more like a creepy pimp than a Dark Lord.
And that’s OK. This “Solo” story is about sowing the seeds of future resistance, and for us to believe the underdogs will ever stand a chance, we have to be offered a clever and daring hero to hang our hat on.
And while Solo tries to convince his friends and us that he is indeed an outlaw, we know better than anyone when he’s reminded that no, he’s the good guy.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is rated PG-13 and runs 2 hours, 23 minutes. The film opens in theaters May 24.