Review: 'Solo' Sets the Standard for Star Wars Spinoffs

Solo: A Star Wars Story does not begin with an opening crawl, but there is a slate of text to set the stage. It's familiar yet different, much like the movie itself. For everything it does that deviates from the saga, there's a reverence for the qualities that made the original trilogy stand out.

This almost seems like the successful experiment that will bridge the gap into the future of the franchise, as Disney continues its plans to make more of these movies until the sun explodes and the Earth's core turns to diamond. If Star Wars is going to continue indefinitely, it will be because of films like this.

The most consistent value to the franchise is on full display, Lucasfilm's production values and technical capabilities continue to dazzle. New and familiar aliens with amazing costume and creature designs litter each setting, and the visual effects continue to impress with each film. But one of the other vital components of the franchise sees a dip in quality in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

The score is serviceable but lacking the emotion and gravitas that makes each of John Williams' compositions feel epic and iconic. John Powell's contributions almost feel safe aside from the moments that are driven by percussion, and there's no real instance that puts a smile on your face until the famous Kessel Run employs motifs from The Empire Strikes Back's iconic chase scene with the Millennium Falcon.

Music aside, those classic sequences really make the movie stand out. The Han Solo spinoff presents itself as a crime caper, but it's more akin to an Indiana Jones movie — except for the climactic twists that are inherent to heist and con films. And that sense of adventure is what beats at the heart of every successful Lucasfilm project, including Ron Howard's first foray with the studio in 1988's Willow.

While Han Solo is a similar flavor to Willow's Madmartigan, Howard captures all of the charm and humor of the original Star Wars trilogy. He also channels previous directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord for some moments that are truly outrageous but lock-in-step with the film's tone.

There are callbacks and references to the vast Star Wars lore. Your mileage may very, as they may come across as egregious and silly to some while others might find those same references enhances their enjoyment. It definitely feels like Solo: A Star Wars Story has felt the impact of the Marvel Studios effect.

The fact that Solo pulls off that Marvelization is a strength of the script by Lawrence and Jon Kasdan. Though Lawrence's strengths lie in telling a story with high stakes featuring flawed yet likable characters, Jon's love of the Star Wars franchise seeps through in every scene. This movie relishes in being a part of the franchise.

Each member of the cast turns in a strong performance, though I can't help but wonder how Michael K. Williams would have pulled off the violent Dryden Vos.

Alden Ehrenreich gets to the core of Han Solo without attempting to be an impression of Harrison Ford. He makes the performance his own, bringing his own balance of swagger and charm to the iconic smuggler. Joonas Suotomo, similarly, is the heart of the movie as Chewbacca, having more of an impact on this film's events than in any other installment in the saga.

Tertiary roles like Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37 and Thandie Newton as Val are strong additions, with the former stealing every scene she's in. Once again, the droid will be the breakout character of a Star Wars spinoff.

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Aside from some pacing issues that plague the beginning and ending, the movie's backed by forward momentum, as Han attempts to look backward but can't help but be propelled into the future, toward a life of crime. As an insular plot not dependent on prequels or sequels, Solo: A Star Wars Story stands by itself as a strong entry in the franchise. But it's because the film relishes in its setting that allows it to thrive as one of Lucasfilm's strongest forays yet in a post-Disney world.

Rating: 4 out of 5