Ever since we learned that Stars Wars’ Han Solo was getting his own spin-off, there have been masses of people voicing their doubts about it. After all, this is the world’s most famous movie franchise recasting arguably its most famous character, who was originally played by Harrison Ford, one of pop culture’s most famous and respected screen actors. It was no easy feat, and whoever was jumping into the ring to work on it was destined to be subject to plenty of fanboy criticism.
After one of the series’ shakiest shoots so far, with 21 Jump Street directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord being fired after four months due to “creative differences” and Alden Ehrenreich, the new Han Solo, reportedly being asked to attend acting lessons, everyone expected Solo to be pretty subpar.
But when Highsnobiety saw it with a notoriously sniffy crowd of critics at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, it got their seal of approval. Desperate to see it, or still unsure about whether it might be your thing? Here are six reasons why Solo: A Star Wars Story is definitely a movie you should make time for this weekend.
Set in the short gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Solo introduces us to its plucky eponymous character at the age of 18, a time when he’s still getting into trouble, making out with girls (specifically his partner Qi’Ra, played by Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) and hot wiring cars for fun.
When we meet them, Han and Qi’Ra are stuck on a planet that’s ruled by an oppressive army, called Crimson Dawn, who are hellbent on having control of the entire planet. So the duo hatch a plan to escape by stealing a valuable crystallized fuel called Coaxium and bribing officials to set them free: Han succeeds, Qi’Ra doesn’t, and so the film sees them reunite a few years later down the line (with Han having fatefully stumbled upon Chewbacca!) to engage in a flurry of wild west-style space battles against the evil Crimson Dawn alliance.
For anyone who’s not sat down to catch up on every episode released so far, Solo is the perfect entry point, because it doesn’t require any sort of background knowledge for its audience to make sense of it; all of its references to past movies are so ubiquitous that they’ve transcended nerd culture to become a part of pop culture instead. That being said, die-hard fans won’t be disappointed either: there’s plenty of nostalgic moments, monumental set pieces and a surprise returning villain to keep you intrigued about what might unfold next.
After two super cerebral films in the form of The Last Jedi and the spin-off Rogue One, which acted like a turn off to anyone not fully invested in the series, Solo feels like a film with its heart set on bringing people pleasure. It’s a riot, (pretty) straightforward, and is shaped by its carefully selected group of protagonists, rather than cramming dozens of characters’ stories into a two-hour movie.
Instead of turning the dial up to 1,000, its action is a little more modest, but not underwhelming: there are some pretty cool standoffs on rotating train carriages hurtling around snowy mountain tops, as well as some wel- choreographed shootouts between Han, Qi’ra and the film’s antagonist Dryden Vos, the leader of Crimson Dawn.
The strange thing about Solo is that it feels half-nostalgic space adventure, half semi-inappropriate comedy – neither of which are bad things, really. Ron Howard, who’s known better for movies like Apollo 13 and the racing movie Rush, had to find a middle ground when he took over from Christopher Miller and Phil Lord’s slapstick humor – something that makes their previous films, like The Lego Movie, so brilliant.
The comedy duo’s influence is still there (and they wound up keeping producer credits), so Solo is much lighter than the films that came before it. Unquestionably, the film’s scene stealer is L3-37, Lando’s femme-bot sidekick played by British actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who has the most off-color sense of humor of any character in Star Wars’ history. In a super serious universe, her immature gags are a real tonic.
Since it exists outside of the new narrative Disney is meticulously piecing together for future installments in the Star Wars series, Solo doesn’t have the responsibility to give us a bunch of spoiler-ish plot twists that new episodes have given us, like killing off major characters or destroying entire planets. Instead, it can focus on allowing any audience member to have a good time watching it, which is what big-budget Hollywood blockbusters like these should be doing in the first place.
Solo also gives us our first proper look at Donald Glover in his role as Lando Calrissian, an intergalactic smuggler who has the original set of keys to the famous Millennium Falcon, only to lose them (as the Star Wars legend goes) to Han in a game of cards. After glimpses of his character in posters and trailers, it’s great to see the rapper and Atlanta graduate fully embody one of the series’ coolest characters.
He might not have a huge amount of screen time (this is essentially a Han and Chewie buddy comedy), but Glover plays Lando with every ounce of suaveness and charm Billy Dee Williams brought to the character back when we first met him in 1980. This feels like the moment the Donald Glover hype train will fully propel into the mainstream, solidifying him as the star that we already know him as. While the main cast of Solo have signed on to do three movies in total, it might mean that Lando gets his own titular movie too, which we’d be seriously hyped to see.
The fact that Solo exists as a standalone film means that some moviegoers might treat it as a part of the Star Wars saga that you can sleep on – don’t. While it might not try and replicate the sheer scale of The Force Awakens, or have the same sprawling character arcs that make the films so easy to get lost in, the fact that it’s the kind of movie where you can leave your brain at the door, and just soak it all in, might make it one of the most enjoyable Star Wars films so far.
Solo: A Star Wars Story arrives in theaters Friday, May 25.