Prequels are the “backhanded compliments” of sequels. By their very nature, they suggest a latent distrust of a fan base’s imagination, inferring that the darkrooms of our feeble minds are shitty places for characters or stories to fully develop. I promise you, not one human who ever lived on this earth needed or wanted to know how Han Solo was given his surname. As that hellishly stupid scene plays itself out early in Solo: A Star Wars Story, Alden Ehrenreich’s smile is meta-hilariously the very epitome of a mirthless chuckle. “Not like this. Oh God, not like this,” his tight-lipped grin weeps. “Harrison Ford is going to crash his next plane upon mine rectum.”
What’s astonishing is that, when Solo is not manically enslaved to blandly explaining every tiny minutiae of Han’s existence, it’s a vibrantly fun and swashbuckling space adventure. In fact, it’s the first film that actually justifies having supplemental Star Wars films outside the “Episodes,” as its effervescent silliness only adds grandeur to something like The Last Jedi by comparison. To justify the preposterous panning for gold Disney has planned with its ample release dates for films in the franchise, they must vary tone and theme. Solo does exactly that whenever it is not acting like that old Chris Farley interview sketch on SNL, asking “You ‘member that one time Han Solo did that one thing. Me too. That was cool…”
The narrative is really just two heists that go wrong welded together with mundane revelations like what Lando (Donald Glover) was wearing when he lost the Millennium Falcon to Han. He was wearing a cape. He is always wearing a cape. Young Han falls into a gang led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Val (Thandie Newton) after literally running into Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) for the first time. They collectively biff a train robbery, which forces them to call on Lando and his more-than-platonic robo-pal, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) to help with a dangerous score designed to appease an evil space mafia dick (Paul Bettany) who controls the life of Han’s former girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke).
What ultimately makes Solo the best Star Wars prequel is remembering the other Star Wars prequels—apologies to Rogue One and only Rogue One. What makes it actually a good movie is its cast. Harrelson could have phoned it in but didn’t; Waller-Bridge’s robot is the best character and the only one with an actual arc; Bettany showily gargles his villainy; Glover does unapologetic Billy Dee Williams cosplay; and Ehrenreich is perfect. Yes, that’s right: perfect. His performance is bravely original at times while generally familiar enough to evoke the original character without descending into a shallow impression. If you disagree, man are you gonna hate Solo…
Movies should never, ever be judged based on behind-the-scenes tales of production chaos. Solo is not good because it was “supposed to suck.” It’s good because a profoundly perfect cast delivered a gleefully goofy pulp sci-fi adventure. It could have actually been great if only it wasn’t obsessed with fansplaining details literally nobody was curious about.
Grade = B+