‘Solo’ Is a Completely Different Kind of ‘Star Wars’ Movie

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a thoroughly enjoyable, if somewhat inessential, adventure in the galaxy far, far away — one that doesn’t reach the heights of The Last Jedi but that should still leave both hardcore and casual fans alike smiling.

The movie is not without its flaws, but it ultimately comes together quite well all things considered. And what’s especially striking about Solo is how much of a departure it is from previous films, even from Rogue One.

Here’s a spoiler-free look at what works and doesn’t work about Solo: A Star Wars Story and why it stands apart from its predecessors.

The stakes are fairly low compared to the other Star Wars movies

Qi'ra and Han in Solo: A Star Wars Story

There’s time for more character building. | Lucasfilm

The primary way that Solo feels like an outlier is that the stakes are a lot lower than usual. After all, this is the first Star Wars film in which the protagonists are really not concerned with the fate of the galaxy. Even in Rogue One, which notably followed a group of average people rather than Jedi or Sith, the heroes were attempting to prevent the Empire from using a superweapon to kill trillions. It brought things to ground level, but the stakes were still enormous.

That’s not the case with Solo. The key conflict here is fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things; it’s just a heist that only affects these characters and not the broader universe. That gives the whole affair a fundamentally different feel.

Next: Why this doesn’t end up being a huge issue.

We’re invested in all of the characters, so this isn’t a big issue

Val, Beckett, and Han in Solo: A Star Wars Story

All of the characters are excellent. | Lucasfilm

The fact that the stakes are so low sounds like it would be a major flaw in the film. But it isn’t, really, because we’re invested in every one of these characters, and we just enjoy spending time with them. That starts with Alden Ehrenreich, who is pitch-perfect as Han Solo; he’s not doing a Harrison Ford impression, but there’s no doubt that we’re watching Han on screen. Donald Glover also excels as Lando Calrissian, although he has a bit less to do than you might expect.

Newcomers Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and Beckett (Woody Harrelson) are also compelling and have great chemistry with Han. It was a wise move to introduce protagonists like these since we don’t know for sure that they survive into the original trilogy. All in all, the cast works phenomenally well together, and so we’re on board with the mission at hand, even when it isn’t vital to the future of the galaxy. What matters is that it feels important to this crew.

Solo has significant implications for the future of the series, suggesting that Lucasfilm is open to creating more grounded Star Wars stories like this that don’t necessarily need to have colossal, universe-threatening consequences.

Next: The movie doesn’t do this thing that you might expect it to.

It feels more like a day in the life of Han Solo than an origin story

Chewie and Han in Solo: A Star Wars Story

This snapshot style story is captivating and fun. | Lucasfilm

You might expect Solo to be the definitive Han Solo origin story, which answers every question we ever had about him and beautifully tees up A New Hope. But that’s not totally true. While the film does answer a lot of questions, it winds up feeling more like a day in the life of Han Solo.

We leave the theater still wondering about how he turned into the man who will run into Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Mos Eisley Cantina. This, combined with the comparatively low stakes, results in a film that feels somewhat inconsequential. Not only is the mission not that important, but Solo doesn’t even really explain how Han became Han.

In some ways, this is a good thing; focusing on one particular “slice of life” adventure, as opposed to attempting to recap Han’s entire existence prior to A New Hope in two hours, allows these characters much more room to breathe. The result, though, is that as we look back, we realize that Solo is basically just a fun trifle that doesn’t add up to a whole lot, one that seems especially small coming just a few months after The Last Jedi.

Next: This other element of the movie is fairly different from the other installments.

It features a different kind of villain

Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Paul Bettany’s villain isn’t as high-stakes as many others in the series. | Lucasfilm

Solo is also the first Star Wars movie where the Empire (or an Imperial-esque presence like the First Order or Palpatine and his apprentices in the prequels) doesn’t really factor into the story. Instead, the main villain of the film is a crime lord named Dryden Vos. Although he doesn’t get that much screen time, he’s an effective and memorable antagonist.

The Empire does naturally have a presence in the film. But the decision to focus on crime syndicates as the primary villains represents a shift for Lucasfilm. Going forward, not only can Star Wars spinoffs can be smaller in scale than the main movies, but the villains also don’t always have to be madmen bent on blowing up planets or taking over the universe.

Next: Fans will be pleased with this aspect of the film. 

It feels like part of a cohesive universe, featuring lots of deep cuts

Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story

There are plenty of references, old and newer. | Lucasfilm

Some Star Wars fans have complained for the past few years that the franchise’s universe feels somewhat disconnected. Even though the novels, TV shows and comics are all canon, rarely are their events or characters incorporated into the films.

But Solo is undeniably a part of the Star Wars universe. It features an insane number of tie-ins to the other movies, to expanded material like the TV shows, and to old Legends stories.

The movie isn’t just a reference-fest. But it goes a long way towards making Star Wars feel like one huge galaxy. And there are certain scenes that hardcore fans are going to go crazy for on opening night.

Next: The movie strays from what we know about Star Wars in this way as well.

There are some formatting changes, and the score is unique

Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story

There’s a different look and sound to this film. | Lucasfilm

Rogue One was the first Star Wars movie to really experiment with the format; it didn’t start with an opening crawl, for instance. Without giving away too much, Solo strays even further from the mold established by the saga films. In fact, it doesn’t even adhere to the mold established by Rogue One.

Like Rogue One, though, the score here is not composed by John Williams. Instead, John Powell did this one. As opposed to Michael Giacchino’s fantastic work on Rogue One, Powell is not doing a Williams impression. Sure, he does incorporate some classic themes (and a new theme composed by Williams himself). But he also does something entirely new, giving this Star Wars a distinctly different feel musically.

Next: The movie is full of unexpected surprises.

A lot of expected events happen differently than you’d imagine

Han in Solo: A Star Wars Story

The film is surprising in a number of ways. | Lucasfilm

One concern some fans had about Solo was that it would feel predictable, just connecting dots and jumping from one iconic event in Han’s life to another. And while that’s true to some degree, it doesn’t end up being a major problem because many of the events we expected to see — including Han and Chewie first meeting — play out differently than we thought they would.

Solo surprises the audience about as much as a Han Solo prequel reasonably could. The last act is also full of several shocking reveals, more than you would anticipate in a movie like this. One of those will almost certainly be the main thing everyone talks about walking out of the theater. There’s still some predictability that naturally comes with the film’s basic premise, though.

Next: The movie shares a key issue with Rogue One.

It takes some time to get going, and the first act isn’t great

Chewie, Beckett, and Han in Solo: A Star Wars Story

There are some rough spots in the beginning. | Lucasfilm

Funnily enough, Solo has basically the same issue that Rogue One did: The first half-hour is a bit clunky. For one, the opening act is so fast-paced that we rarely have time for the character moments we wanted. The film jumps from one action set piece to another and then to a third one far too rapidly, and we desperately want it to slow down.

The start of the film is also far too focused on providing Han with a backstory that we don’t necessarily need. At one point, it answers a question about him that absolutely nobody asked in a scene that may become as infamous as “I don’t like sand.” If you were worried about the prospect of a Han Solo prequel, you may have a sinking feeling as the film first gets started.

Thankfully, though, we soon learn about the main heist that drives the rest of the film. It’s at this point that the movie really finds its groove, sheds some of its origin story trappings, and starts to click. From there, it’s basically smooth sailing until the end credits.

The film would ultimately have worked better had much of this first act been cut and the story had just picked up with the beginnings of a heist. We didn’t need a Han Solo origin story, but a random Han adventure is welcome.

Next: This section of the film is particularly great.

The last hour is absolutely fantastic

Han and Chewie in Solo: A Star Wars Story

The action ramps up to an exciting place. | Lucasfilm

Also like Rogue One, the last hour of Solo is particularly fantastic. Ron Howard sends us out on an incredible high that makes us completely forget about any of the earlier issues.

In particular, we get a key action set piece about two-thirds of the way through that totally lives up to the hype; it’s unexpected, visually inventive, and just downright thrilling, the kind of sequence we want to rewatch as soon as it’s over.

So although Solo is not flawless, all in all, it’s a thrilling adventure Star Wars fans never knew they wanted. It’s also different enough from previous entries to suggest Lucasfilm will be taking this franchise in an interesting direction going forward.

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