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Feature Article

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review: Heavy On The References

A little too much of a good thing.

Watching the original Star Wars trilogy, viewers couldn't help but feel like there was a larger galaxy living just off-screen. The things you didn't see--battles, characters, and places only mentioned, never shown--sparked the imaginations of millions. As Star Wars spin-offs, prequels, novels, comics, shows, and games have illuminated more and more corners of that far-away galaxy over the decades, the results have been mixed. Over-explaining things that were only hinted at before can take the mystery away. Solo: A Star Wars Story is no exception to that, but there's good news too: All the references, callbacks, and over-explanations are accompanied by a really fun, solid, and good-looking Star Wars movie.

Solo tells the story of famed space scoundrel Han Solo--and I mean the whole story. It feels like Solo explains or shows every aspect of Han Solo's life that was ever referenced in any previous Star Wars film. This movie covers how Han met Chewie, how he met Lando, how he won the Millennium Falcon, how he completed the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, where he got his iconic blaster, and even how he got his name. If that sounds like a lot of origin to cram into one movie, it's because it is. Did everything we know about Han's backstory really need to take place in a single movie? It makes Solo feel at times like a greatest hits collection of events from the character's life.

That stuff is all fan service, through and through. And it's ever-present throughout the movie. But Solo: A Star Wars Story works because fan service and references to other Star Wars movies aren't the only thing propping it up. Unlike Rogue One, Solo isn't completely subordinate to the movies that came before it. Solo has the substance of an actual movie underneath the fan service, with stakes and intrigue and characters who matter.

Undeniably the biggest question going into Solo is whether Alden Ehrenreich, a relatively unknown force, will prove in any way capable of filling Harrison Ford's knee-high leather space boots. The reality may be that no one could have. Ehrenreich winds up being a solid balance between a charming presence in his own right, and a decent impression of young Ford himself. It's not a perfect fit, but if you can manage to stop comparing them in your head, it gets much easier to become engrossed in the film. By the end, he may well win you over.

It helps that he's surrounded by a likable cast of additional rogues, scoundrels, and ne'er-do-wells. Emilia Clarke's Qi'ra starts the movie as a damsel, but grows into a very different, much more interesting character by the end. Like Princess Leia herself, Qi'ra proves every bit Han Solo's match, in love and otherwise. Meanwhile Donald Glover is so powerfully alluring as Lando Calrissian that fans who called for a standalone Lando movie will feel totally validated. Even more than Ehrenreich, Glover nails the balance between Billy D. Williams tribute act and the new actor's own undeniable aura.

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Woody Harrelson's Tobias Beckett is a scoundrel unto himself, lovable in the way Han Solo is, but with the darker edge of a character who's deeper into that life than the more bright-eyed Han in this movie. The delightfully evil crime lord Dryden Vos is played by Paul Bettany, fresh off still in-theaters Infinity War, who brings real gleeful menace to the role. The droid L3, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, winds up being both the comic relief and an emotional keystone. Her jokes early in the movie about "equal rights" for robots initially come off as crass--on the writers' part, not the character's, as L3 is always earnest, even when she's unknowingly the butt of the joke. But the movie redeems her storyline when it pays those jokes off in spectacular fashion.

Chewbacca himself, now played by the towering Joonas Suotamo, is as comforting a presence as ever. Chewie even faces some compelling dilemmas that make him feel like more of a character than usual. In fact, Thandie Newton (of Westworld fame) as the ice cool criminal Val is the only character who's criminally underused, to the point that it's actually kind of a problem. She gets about as much screen time as Rio Durant, a throwaway CG alien who for some reason is voiced by Jon Favreau. You get the sense that these two (Newton in particular) might have had more to do in an earlier version of Solo's infamously troubled production.

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Rio being the notable exception, most of Solo looks impressively practical, even more so than other recent Star Wars films (the main movies' cartoonish Maz Kanata comes to mind as an example of what Solo mostly avoids). Even more than that, Solo's visual design is simply outstanding. Solo takes us to rich, dense, believable environments ranging from grimy city underbellies to smoky cantinas, and even a warzone scene that's more believable than all the battles in Rogue One combined.

These places are phenomenally detailed, filled with retro-inspired technology and design, matching the look of the original trilogy while adding stylish furs and, in Lando's case, fabulously flamboyant capes and blouses. Solo is easily the best-looking Star Wars movie ever, effortlessly achieving that essential Star Wars aesthetic while augmenting with its own visual flair wherever possible.

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Solo may not have been the Star Wars story every fan wanted. Did we really need to see the Sabacc game that won Han the Millennium Falcon, or find out exactly what the Kessel Run is? Definitely not, but it all turned out surprisingly fun, especially if you don't mind the excessive amounts of fan service. And even that isn't all bad--fans will laugh when Donald Glover's Lando mispronounces "Han" just like Billy D. Williams did in the originals, and there are some really juicy surprises and Easter eggs that connect Solo to the larger Star Wars universe in delightfully unexpected ways.

Solo wasn't an essential story to tell, and some of this might have been better left to the imagination. It's valid for some fans to wish Disney would devote resources to telling fresher tales that don't rely so heavily on nostalgia and existing plots and characters. With who knows how many more Star Wars releases planned from now until the end of time, we'll no doubt get those at some point. But Solo: A Star Wars Story is what we have right now, and if it's simply an enjoyably well-crafted side story, well, is that really so bad?

The GoodThe Bad
Exceptional cast, particularly Donald Glover as LandoToo much fan service
Alden Ehrenreich is charming as Han SoloCrams in too many aspects of Han Solo's backstory
Tells its own story not subordinate to previous films

Thandie Newton is criminally underused

Environments and costumes look phenomenal
Gritty practical effects
Some fun fan service, Easter eggs, and surprises
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Michael Rougeau

Mike Rougeau is GameSpot's Senior Entertainment Editor. He loves Game of Thrones and dogs.
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GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for Suaron_x

Originally I wasn't going to go see this movie because Han Solo is Harrison Ford's character. However, after giving in and going to watch it, I'd say it's the best Star Wars movie since the original trilogy. I'm more interested in a sequel to this movie than to seeing Episode 9.

Avatar image for xenomorphalien

Well unlike people here who haven't seen this movie and are just instead pounding their chests shouting "SJW STAR WARZ" or "PAID REVIEWZ" (despite the 63 on Metacritic lol), I saw it opening night and have to say it's pretty good. Better than Rogue One IMO. Wasn't really excited for it at first but it turned out to be a really fun heist movie.

Avatar image for Fia1

with a universe as rich as star wars picking solo for a movie is just ridiculous, also they just keep doing "winks and eastern eggs" to the movies that were great, it's just a disservice to the entire franchise to not show something more interesting than han solo for the billionth time.

Avatar image for Razorlight6

@Fia1: Barring that, what did you think of the movie?

Avatar image for transcendentm

More SJW BS from Disney Wars. I'm not only boycotting this crap, but advising every true Star Wars fan with balls to do the same. Take your "Equal rights" feminist nonsense and F off. Women and ethnic minorities already have equal rights in America (and in the western world as a whole). We don't need to keep being beaten round the head with left wing stupidity that "Minorities are being repressed" when it simply isn't true. Also, for all the racial and sexual "inclusivity" crap that Disney wants to throw at us, they don't seem able to make any of the villains anything other than WHITE MEN. Why cant we have the lead baddy as a black woman? Oh no...that would be triggering wouldn't it? Morons. If you want Star Wars, watch the original trilogy again, even the prequel trilogy is better than Disney Wars.

Avatar image for beantownsean

If people feel that this movie adds to the story telling within the Star Wars Universe, then I think that's great.

Personally, I would have preferred a film occurring during & after Order 66...the Jedi fighting back and the survivors being subsequently hunted.

Avatar image for musalala

Apparently its very meh, its not good but its not bad.

Avatar image for transcendentm

@og_gamerzzz: I cou;dn't agree more. SJW stupidity for SJW zombies. This is not real Star Wars imo.

Avatar image for noalan

That's not what references are -_- that's basic continuity. If it was Feige, he's references would have been to lore outside the movies, like "The Hutt Gambit" or "Rebel Dawn".

Avatar image for monkyby87

Am I the only one that goes to the movies, enjoys or doesn't enjoy them, and then moves on? I'm a huge Star Wars fan, but I'm willing to just let my opinions drift away and not affect my life.

Avatar image for lionheartssj1

This sounds like too much fan service for me. Everything alluded to in the previous movies occurs within the span of this story? Talk about demystifying the character.

Avatar image for Elranzer

I'm considering this as bad a review as one can get, considering Disney is again paying off reviewers.

Avatar image for Berserk8989

@Elranzer: Tell me, how does that tinfoil hat not bother you, considering it's sitting so tight?

Avatar image for voljin1987

Oh look critics loved this new star wars film. Guess I need to stay away from this then

Avatar image for xenomorphalien

@voljin1987: Yeah, even though it got a 63 on Metacritic lol

Avatar image for chillingnaire

Cant wait!

Avatar image for Cygnus421

From the trailers alone, the new guy isn't winning me over as Han. I mean, I'm def going to see it. Maybe not opening night. There's just so much amazing, quality television out there right now that it's hard for me to get hyped about every movie like I used to.

Avatar image for gamingdevil800

Interestingly enough guys check your local cinema to see how many people have booked seats for opening night. Decided to check mine out of curiosity and was surprised to find the bookings nearly completely empty. This is compared to Last Jedi and Force Awakens which were nearly completely booked by now.

Avatar image for Berserk8989

@gamingdevil800: Compare it to Rogue One. You can't expect a spin-off to make as much money as the main-line movies.

It seems to have significantly more booked seats than Rogue One in my city, but not nearly as many as there were for Ep. VII and VIII. Will still easily make a billion I'd guess. Seems like it will be a pretty good movie.

Avatar image for nofooksgiven

The Good: Some fun fan service, Easter eggs, and surprises.

The Bad: Too much fan service.

Which is it? I feel that this movie is going to be very confused, much like this review.

Avatar image for mrougeau

@nofooksgiven: Some of the fan service is good, but there is too much fan service overall. It's not confusing.

Avatar image for nofooksgiven

@mrougeau: My apologies. It's my mistake that I did not make my views clear, regarding what's confusing.

This is a movie that no one asked for. Disney has taken over this franchise and in three years, destroyed decades of lore, characters, and has taken this space fantasy and turned it into every chance to push stupid political agendas that a vast majority of people couldn't give two fooks about.

I want fan service...I want an Episode 8 that actually delivered on the plots I was promised. I want characters that have growth and development. I want someone who actually gave a crap about the fans and delivered a movie that I wanted. Instead, you give me fan service in a spin-off I never asked for? Fook you Disney. Fook you Kathleen Kennedy. Fook you Rian Johnson.

Maybe this movie will have a few good moments, but my prediction is that this Solo will not do well and Disney will have to take a good long look at where this franchise is heading, given the success of Marvel.

The fact you put Lando and cast in front of Han Solo, for whom the movie is named, under your good category worries me, and only backs up what a lot of people speculated was occurring before this movie came out. AH is not a good Han.

No thanks, I'm passing on this one.

Avatar image for monkyby87

@nofooksgiven: ...meanwhile, everyone else just moved on with their life.

Avatar image for Berserk8989

@nofooksgiven: Wow. What an entitled little brat you seem to be. Acting like anybody owes you something because you personally did not like movies that were received very well critically, financially and with the audiences (except for one, which apparently got a mixed reaction from the audiences, but still being a huge critical and financial success). I'm sure Lucasfilm will apologize to you, that they delivered good Star Wars movies again after more than 30 years, instead of 2 hours long shallow fan-service.

'This is a movie that noone asked for' is also such a retarded argument... So, because someone has a good idea for a movie, it shouldn't be made or what? Noone 'asked' for the original Star Wars either.

Avatar image for chillingnaire

@nofooksgiven: its a movie dood, life goes on even if its crap.. i asked for this movie so dont imply that no one asked for it.

Avatar image for Slinqy

@chillingnaire: You and your brother... Not many fans asked for a Solo spin-off. Han Solo was liked just fine in the originals. Everyone knows you can't duplicate a classic and expect it to not tarnish the real McCoy in some way. And this especially is no exception. This will likely make money, but as I see it, it's nowhere near as interesting looking as Rogue One, which was the only loosely good SW movie made by Disney.

Avatar image for kevo44

How is the Lando movie? I mean Lando is the main character right? Every article on the internet features him so I figured the movie was actually about him. Tell ya what Disney, I'm feeling some Star Wars fatigue and I think this one is a pass. I might get back to you for Episode 9... but I probably won't.

Avatar image for Razorlight6

@kevo44: It was great! Glover is spot on with Lando. I really want a Lando movie after this.

Avatar image for Elranzer

@kevo44: Disney knows it's a dud, so they're banking on Lando's side-character and Donald Glover's flavor-of-the-month popularity to try and save it.

Avatar image for deviltaz35

Is this just a straight to streaming service release? Haven't heard of this one.

Avatar image for judaspete

I have enjoyed all the Disney Star Wars movies so far, but I just can't seem to get excited about this one.

Avatar image for SlothfulPunk

@judaspete: I wasn't excited for it either, but it's surprisingly fun, if ultimately inconsequential.

Avatar image for chillingnaire

@judaspete: This one looks like the only good one from Disney besides Rogue one. Episode 7 was ok but last jedi was cancer

Avatar image for judaspete

@chillingnaire: Sorry, I'm one of those people that liked Last Jedi :)