As of this writing, I’ve seen Solo, the latest Star Wars movie, twice. It’s been out for one day. Maybe I don’t need to say that I liked it a lot, but I do want to note that while I loved it when I saw it for the first time during Thursday previews, I really loved it when I saw it on Friday, it’s official opening day.
Much has been written (by the people who get paid to write about movies and things) about Solo‘s semi-troubled production. Since the original directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord were replaced by Ron Howard, it’s been alternately claimed that part of their clash with Disney/LucasFilm execs was about their desire to make eithet a grittier movie or a goofier, Guardians of the Galaxy-esque one. In the end, Solo is stronger for having been made by Howard, who sure does know how to make a good, kind of old-fashioned movie. That’s what this ended up being. It’s good and fun, not very predictable, with good performances, great visuals, and fun capers.
Much has also been made of Disney’s decision to bring in an acting coach for Aldon Ehrenreich, the actor given the unenviable task of trying to create a satisfying young version of Harrison Ford’s iconic character. I don’t know what struggled Ehrenreich had–or if he even had any, as he has claimed the acting coach was hired to support the entire cast–but I do know that he nails it. There will always be people who had their own idea of what Young Han should be like, but Ehrenreich did as well as–if not better than–anyone could have realistically expected.
The thing is, Han Solo as portrayed by Harrison Ford is not a character who can carry a movie. Han Solo as portrayed as Aldon Ehrenreich is. Ford’s Solo is iconic–he’s simultaneously clever and lucky, swashbuckling and sentimental, arrogant and desperate for validation. But he’s able to be all of those things because we are seeing him in relation to other characters who carry more of the story. How does an actor do all of that while also carrying the story in its entirety? The movie is called Solo, after all.
Add to that the pressure of portraying young Harrison Ford, and it’s a near-impossible ask for an actor. But it’s an ask that Ehrenreich answers ably.
Ehrenreich’s Han Solo has even more of Ford’s arrogance, but it’s a precarious, unearned, rarely rewarded arrogance. Over the course of the quick-feeling two-and-a-quarter hour movie, we see him grow into something resembling the Han Solo we meet in A New Hope. This is, after all, over a decade before we meet him as struggling, but surviving, smuggler in that Tattooine cantina, so he shouldn’t be exactly the same person. People change in 11-14 years [link], and besides, Ehrenreich is signed on for two more movies, so the character needs somewhere to go. All that said, by the end of Solo, we really do see in Ehrenreich’s performance the seeds of the person Han Solo will become, and it’s damn near perfect.
Ehrenreich’s is not the only great performance in Solo, however. The one people were most excited for is Donald Glover as Lando Calrission, and while he grows into the role, at first I felt like he was playing Billie Dee Williams-as-Lando rather than Lando-as-himself. As I said, though, he grows into it. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is excellent as Lando’s droid (and love interest?), and Emilia Clarke does such an effective job of being his abstruse [find better word] childhood friend and sort of-accomplice.
My two favorite performances, though–after Ehrenreich’s, of course–were Paul Bettany as the crime boss, Dryden Voss, and Erin Kellyman as the marauder (and apparent member of the nascent Rebel Alliance!) Enfys Nest. Kellyman, especially, is just extraordinary in the limited screen time she gets. She has a speech in Act III that serves to completely reorient our understanding of the events in the movie. It almost feels like it’s from a different, more important film, but it’s so incredible. And she gives Ehrenreich his best opportunity to show that his Han is the same as Ford’s, and for that alone, she’s an invaluable part of the film as both a standalone movie and a member of a deeply-revered franchise.
One last thought, about how deeply-revered Star Wars is. I suspect that Solo will be as disliked by the Star Wars Obsessives as The Last Jedi was. (Star Wars Obsessives is my term for what others might less-generously call nerds–the sorts of fans who feel like they have ownership of what happens in the movies because they are the kind of fans who have spent time thinking and discussing what they think should happen, forgetting that this is a hyper-corporate product created by artists and executives in Disney/LucasFilm’s enclaves in California, London, and elsewhere.) Solo is a movie that the truly obsessed fans will probably dislike, because it will make decisions that they did not expect or that they did not specifically ask for. Or because the casting performances or editing choices are different than they, themselves, would have made. (If only they were world-class actors, casting agents, or editors, not just normal dudes. [They’re always dudes.]) But, jujust as with The Last Jedithose people are wrong. Solo is a good and fun movie, and if you go into it with only one expectation–that you will have fun–than you will leave the theater not just pleased, but thrilled.