Thank you, Ron Howard.
Alright, that's very hyperbolic because he would be the first to tell you that the success of Solo: A Star Wars Story comes from the cast and crew that worked so hard to get it done, but you get the point about his pinch-hit home run in the director's chair for a movie that had a mountain of things going against it.
More than most movies, Solo had every reason to fail. Replaced directors, extensive reshoots, questions about the nature of the movie itself and its how its young lead actor Alden Ehrenreich could possibly live up to Harrison Ford's iconic take as our favorite smuggler turned hero, and a decent amount of distaste and backlash from Star Wars fan that are still unhappy about Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, leading some of them to even call for a boycott of this movie.
Frankly, in many ways I'm stunned that it never got pushed back and that it actually made its May 25 release date, 41 years to the day that Episode IV: A New Hope released in theaters. I'm even more pleasantly surprised that it worked out as well as it did, all things considered.
Solo is GOOD. Old school, original trilogy style Star Wars good, as it should be given that it predates Rogue One and Episode IV by an untold amount of years. There's a lot of nostalgia in this movie to go around, from references to connective tissue to sounds, sights and John Powell's impressively evocative score as well as the dazzling turn from Ehrenreich in a role that had "diamond mine" pressure behind it. Very few actors have been asked to step into the shoes of an iconic character and make it their own while still respecting the heart of the character while hitting the nail on the head, but Ehrenreich does just that as young Han Solo and is able to carry the movie very well as its lead. At no point is he forced to lean on his co-stars for support to help keep the movie going and you are locked into his energy and personality right from the start.
That's not to say his supporting cast was just there to look pretty. Emilia Clarke is strong as Qi'ra, Han's love interest and confidant, Woody Harrelson's Beckett is a solid source of inspiration for Han's character development and not much needs to be said about Donald Glover's Lando Calrissian, other than I still wish they had found a way to get a Colt 45 joke into the movie for him. He would have made it work, I know he would have. He was great as he always is in everything he does.
Solo's plot has an A to B storyline while also serving as a chronicle of Han's early days of being a pilot. There are some things about his origin story that I was hoping to see carry over from his expanded universe origin story, and I DID see them and it was awesome to see, but there's also some new freshness with his story and how it connects to the rest of the Star Wars universe that we've only recently begun to see with the last couple of movies. This is another movie where we see the impact of the Empire's reign of terror on the common folk, whom we barely ever saw affected in the Original Trilogy because we were so close to the Skywalkers and the Rebellion, but this movie features neither of those elements and focuses heavily on the life of the outlaws and smugglers that are desperately trying to make a living and scratch out an existence while Imperial forces are crushing every planet in the name of the Emperor. That's the thing I have most enjoyed about these new additions to the Star Wars franchise and it's great to see Solo continue that theme.
I mentioned John Powell's score earlier and I'm going to bring it up again because it stood out in a GREAT way in this movie. Just like Michael Giacchino with Rogue One, Powell had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of John Williams and his indelible body of work for the Star Wars franchise and he manages to borrow heavily from Williams' work in the Original Trilogy while still creating some of his own themes and work for critical portions of the film. It never sounds like he's copying Williams in a lazy sense, but more sounds like he's respecting Williams' themes and motifs and the places they came from with these characters and this world at the time the movie takes place. It's another great job for a composer that had to follow the work of a maestro and Solo is a much better movie for it.
Quite possibly the best compliment that I can pay to the movie is that it doesn't feel like Ron Howard was the replacement director at all. The movie never feels or looks disjointed or out of place, like it's meshing different styles and tones together into one film. Everything in it feels cohesive and very, very classic. Fans of the Original Trilogy will greatly appreciate the callbacks and the references to many things and characters from the old movies, and fans from the current generation will appreciate even more how gorgeous the movie and its VFX are. To look at the CGI in this movie especially in the space scenes and compare it to VFX in earlier Star Wars films shows you how the franchise has come a long way with its visual aesthetic, and it's top notch here in every respect. The Millennium Falcon is gorgeous and seeing it in action for the "first" time here is awesome.
The last thing I will say about this movie is how great the third act is and how it changed my mind concerning Solo being a franchise of movies on its own. Of course there have been reports that Disney wants to do a trilogy of Solo movies with Ehrenreich in the lead and as someone who is tired of trilogies being used as some sort of "default" position for tentpoles, I didn't think a trilogy was necessary or even a good idea going into seeing it. Now after having seen it, I demand at least a sequel from them, not just because the movie is good but also because that third act leaves A TON of room for at least a sequel if not a trilogy as Disney appears to want to do. Some things are going to come up when you see it that will have you asking questions and there's also a surprise or two along the way, including a rather big one that I absolutely did not see coming, but was excited to see it. That is why I am now hoping that this movie does well enough to garner at least a second Solo movie from Disney that will not only bring this strong cast back again, but also expound on what we saw in this movie. A Star Wars movie at this point is the closest thing to a guaranteed hit as you can think of at the movies, but my theater wasn't as packed as I might have thought it would be. It will be interesting to see how the numbers for Solo go during it's run, but at least it's at the end of May where it will get at least a few weeks of no true competition under its belt.
The bottom line is that for me, Disney is now 4 for 4 with Star Wars movies, and this was so far their most difficult task of all given the circumstances behind it. Ron Howard, Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, Thandie Newton, Joonas Suotamo who is the "new" Chewbacca and Phoebe Waller-Bridge who played L3, along with the rest of the cast and crew deserve all the praise in the world for giving us yet another strong entry in the Star Wars franchise to enjoy. Here's hoping they seriously do get that sequel at least, if not a whole trilogy.