During an adventure into the criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future co-pilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.
Prequels are a tricky proposition and more often than not, unfairly maligned. Star Wars has a lot of blame to take for this preconception after Episode I – The Phantom Menace was released to almost universal disdain, permanently smearing the name of prequels. However, people tend to forget the good ones, like The Godfather Part II, the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy, X-Men: First Class and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Yet the saga has continued its fascination with exploring the past (and counting those sweet dollar bills along the way) through various prequels and spin offs in the years following Episode I and Disney’s acquisition of the franchise.
Now, if you were to ask general audiences who are not so well versed in everything Star Wars to think of the name of a character, most likely answers such as Yoda, Chewbacca and one particular, rugged and handsome smuggler who goes by the name of… Han Solo.
Consistently ranked as one of the most beloved characters in the whole franchise, discussions of a Han Solo prequel story go all the way back to (pre-Disney) 2012 when original creator George Lucas expressed his interest in exploring the early life of the pilot through a TV Show – which then turned into a film – and even had his friend and The Empire Strikes Back screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan begin writing a script.
After being sold to the Mouse House in late 2012, the project was kept alive and in 2015, Star Wars executive producer Kathleen Kennedy announced that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo responsible for The LEGO Movie, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street, were hired to direct.
“We promise to take risks, to give the audience a fresh experience, and we pledge ourselves to be faithful stewards of these characters who mean so much to us. This is a dream come true for us.” the directing partners stated at the start of shooting. It would prove to be a poor choice of words as apparently too many risks were taken and a dream it remained.
As you can imagine, just about every young actor auditioned for the coveted role including Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Dave Franco, Scott Eastwood, Logan Lerman and Taron Egerton. After seeing over 3,000 people for the part, Alden Eirenreich (was discovered at a friend’s bat mitzvah reception by Steven Spielberg) was selected to become the young Han Solo.
Shortly after Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson and Phoebe Waller-Bridge were cast with Joonas Suotamo was set to reprise Chewbacca. Filming began on February 20th, 2017.
After four months, with mere weeks to complete principal photography, Miller and Lord were fired by Kennedy and Kasdan due to the always present and dreaded “creative differences“. As to why this really happened, well that would take a whole other article, but long story short is that the duo were going over budget and schedule as they preferred to “experiment”, encouraging improvisation from their actors and making huge production decisions on the spot. The fact that Kasdan’s script was not being followed verbatim also appeared to anger the screenwriter, prompting him to go to Kennedy and have the directors removed. (For a more thorough breakdown, I highly recommend you check out Variety’s investigation)
Two days later, Academy Award winning director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Willow) was announced as the replacement to complete the three and a half weeks of productions, while also adding another five weeks of “reshoots”. The original release date was not moved, which meant that Howard had only eight days to prepare on the biggest budget he had ever handled, working with department heads and actors he had not chosen.
Amazingly, Howard reshot 70% of the finished product (so he could be credited as sole director) while Lord and Miller were given executive producer credits. The duo even saw an early cut of the film and provided their feedback. Post-production wrapped on time on April 22, 2018.
Solo: A Star Wars Story was released on May 25, 2018, the 41st anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars film. Despite some positive acclaim (70% on Rotten Tomatoes), it under performed at the worldwide box office, grossing $392.9 million. It’s reported that with a production budget of $275 million, it needed to gross at least $500 million worldwide to break even.
Because of its less that warm welcome, it is speculated that Disney put on hold various other prequel and spin off plans for the franchise, preferring to give audiences a break after last years The Rise of Skywalker. As for Solo, it has become a kind of punching bag for fans wanting to make a case of how the production company has ruined their “precious” saga.
But does the origin story really deserve the reception it has gotten or does it have any redeeming qualities?
By far, the highlight of Solo is the droid L3-37, Lando’s free-spirited and rebellious co-pilot played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Killing Eve). The characters positioning as a kind of Martin Luther King figure who aspires for the independence of its kind dangles some interesting philosophical questions for this saga and inspires a reexamination of the relationships between many of our protagonists with their robotic companions.
Waller-Bridge also gets some of the best lines, which are put to good use with her considerable comedic talent giving some of the best laughs. If there are any downsides, it’s that the role is not bigger and the character’s ultimate fate leaves some disturbing implications given what we know of L3-37.
Although I’m sure this wasn’t the screenwriter’s intention, it might have been better to have left those ideas in a first draft or re contextualize the final result in some manner so it wouldn’t be so troubling. Thankfully, this doesn’t take anything away from the actresses fantastic performance as the spunky droid.
Despite having the not so enviable task of taking over from one of the most beloved actors for one of the most beloved characters of this saga by portraying an inexperienced Han Solo, Erenreich ends up doing an admirable job of making the character his own while respecting the legacy left by Ford.
Always carrying that characteristic “never tell me the odds” smirk, the young actor is able to infuse a naivete and innocence into the character, making it clear that this isn’t the same Han that Luke meets in a Cantina many years later, yet still drops hints of who he will become.
Only a multifaceted man who is a comedian, writer, producer, director, musician, artist and DJ like Donald Glover could bring the king of cool and overall mystery that is Lando Calrissian to life.
Next to Waller-Bridge, Glover stands as the most inspired casting in the film. As in real life, the actor oozes charisma, charm and sex appeal with ease, handling the funnier notes and even a little bit of action admirably. It’s a shame we won’t get a sequel as it would have been great to see Glover as Lando once again.
THE KESSEL RUN
Since 1977, fans have wondered what the hell the line “The ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” means as parsecs is actually a unit of distance, not time, making this akin to me stating “I ran 1 KM under 500 yards”. Because of this perceived goof, fans have made fun of that dialogue for years. Whether George Lucas didn’t know or didn’t care doesn’t really matter as it has brought us the answer given in Solo.
And the result is one of the most visually arresting, gorgeous and exciting action sequences of the Star Wars Disney Era. Dodging TIE fighters, massive rocks, black holes and giant monsters (more on that later), the smuggler’s race against time to deliver a volatile material continuously raises the stakes to deliver one of the highlight set pieces in the franchise.
SUMMA KIND OF MONSTER
As mentioned previously, The Kessel Run happens to house a monstrous titan called the Summa-verminoth, a tentacled, multi eyed behemoth which chases Han and the gang around a Maelstrom.
Cartoony yet still gross and menacing enough, the Summa-verminoth is a delightfully wonderful Ray Harryhausen-esque creation and a welcome addition to the large gallery of monsters, lending the feel of 70’s science fiction monster movies to the prequel.
A MAN & A WOOKIE
Undoubtedly and unsurprisingly, the heart of the story lies in the friendship we have come to know and love for so many years between Han Solo and his copilot (in life and the Millennium Falcon) Chewbacca. There may be a romance between Han and Qi’Ra but the true love story is the bromance of the smuggler and his Wookie friend.
As expected in a prequel, they do go the easy route of explaining events that don’t need to be yet are still fun to see; from how they met, how they became friends to how they ended up flying the Falcon together. Although there aren’t many surprises, it’s endearing to witness the start of such an iconic duo and stands as the sentimental core of the story.
IF IT AIN’T BROKE…
You know how every Christmas/New Year dinner, your family has a dish you look forward to every year? You know what’s coming, you already know it’s taste and yet you still enjoy it? Well, that’s Solo. That comfort food that knows exactly what it is and doesn’t even try to hide it with daring or exotic ingredients.
Sure, details like why Han is called Han Solo is not only unnecessary but also slightly nonsensical once you realize this means that Spanish must exist within the Star Wars universe which opens a whole other series of questions but ultimately it’s fan service. After all, this is the same series (and character) where “Then I guess, I’ll see you in hell” is casually mentioned, which means Star Wars not only has a Latino community but also… religion?
Anyhow, although many people hate that prequels bring nothing new to the table or over explain things, Solo feels like putting on a pair of old, fun comfortable slippers and sometimes that’s enough.
TRUST NO ONE
Much like Rogue One, Solo handles an interesting grey area for its “heroes”, looking to not only implement tropes from the gangster and heist films it takes its inspiration from but also the audiences perception of Han Solo when A New Hope was released in 1977, before we knew of his heart of gold.
The same can’t be said of the rest of the crew, with none of them falling entirely in the “good guy” or “bad guy” category. Although these are much more broad characterizations than the extreme anti heroes you would find in say, a Tarantino film, it’s still great to see the Star Wars universe attempt to stretch its moral ambiguity, allowing for more dynamic character relationships and a sense of unpredictability, especially in a “prequel”, where in theory, its already known that many of these characters will come out alive.
If I hadn’t told you that the film went through massive internal changes mid-production… would you have even noticed? Ron Howard is constantly accused of being more of a journeyman director than a talented auteur (despite getting an Academy Award), but the fact that he was able to not only deliver a film of this size and budget, but one that is so entertaining and well made, on schedule in such a ridiculously small amount of time should speak more of his quality as a filmmaker.
Certainly, because of the shorter preparation period and the fact that sets, cast and crew members were not his choice, Solo doesn’t carry the same idiosyncratic touches as J.J. Abrams The Force Awakens or Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, but the filmmaker deserves more credit for his work in Solo, from solid handling of massive set pieces, overlooking extremely complicated special effects, and a fun and light sense of adventure which fills every frame.
I’m gonna go check on the dampers. Do you want anything?
What should we drink to?
Let’s drink two and see where it goes.
I got a really good feeling about this.
This is a thermal detonator. (click click) That I just armed.
That’s a rock!
No, it’s not.
Yes, it is! And you just made a clicking sound with your mouth.
I hate you.
It’s impossible to separate Star Wars from John Williams. But it should tell you how good the soundtrack for Solo is that you don’t miss nor even notice that it wasn’t done by him yet still doesn’t lose the identity of its actual composer. As Williams only handles “Skywalker Saga” movies (though he did write Han Solo’s theme), Academy Award winner John Powell (How To Train Your Dragon, The Bourne Series) was hired to create the soundtrack for the prequel.
Thankfully, Powell builds a lovely, playful and adventurous sound for the rogue hero’s origin story, packed with references to Williams music while bringing in his own touches to establish the wild Marauders, Han and Qi’ra’s romance and the treasonous, tragic nature of Star Wars underworld.
If Solo and Rogue One are any indication of the future of Star Wars music without John Williams, Disney is certainly making all the right choices and leaving the legendary composers legacy in more than capable and talented hands.
- The Adventures of Han – John Williams
- Reminiscence Therapy – John Powell
- L3 & Millenium Falcon – John Powell
- Savareen Stand-Off – John Powell
- Han bears a scar on his chin, which is only barely noticeable in some shots. It’s a recreation of the scar Harrison Ford has in real life, which is also visible in every Star Wars movie he appeared in.
- This is the first Star Wars movie not to feature anyone from the Skywalker bloodline.
- The Golden Fertility Idol from the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is on a table in Dryden Vos’s meeting room. Harrison Ford, who originally played Han Solo, also played Indiana Jones. Director Ron Howard confirmed this Easter egg on Twitter.