'Solo: A Star Wars Story' Spoiler Review: A Hollow Heist Adventure That's A Damn Entertaining Ride

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick...and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Ron Howard's exciting but hollow prequel Solo: A Star Wars Story.)

Han Solo is one of the most beloved characters in the Star Wars universe, and Lucasfilm decided to tell us how he became the smuggler that we all know and love. The only problem is the last time we saw this kind of story, it involved a whiny kid blossoming into an emo adult who turned to the dark side and left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of Star Wars fans. Do we really need to know where Han Solo came from?

After seeing Solo: A Star Wars Story, the answer is honestly no, but that's no reason to disregard the movie entirely. Solo offers up some of the most exciting action sequences in the history of the Star Wars saga. It also features outstanding performances from each and every cast member. And it sets the stage for a new story arc that will fill in the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Unfortunately, it does all this while not giving us much of a reason to care about the title character of the movie, other than knowing who he becomes. It feels like the movie merely exists to set up more movies while reminding us of what we loved about the original trilogy. And that comes with an excessive amount of winks and nods to the original trilogy.

Let's dive into the finer details with our Solo: A Star Wars Story spoiler review.

A Clunky Introduction to Han Solo

We meet Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) when he's a plucky scrumrat on his home planet Corellia, an industrial planet being used by the Empire to build their ships. It comes as no surprise that he's already on the run, having clearly just stolen something from someone who isn't too happy about it. After a daring escape, the kind that shows us this kid is a hell of a driver, we learn what Han Solo has been up to during his younger years.

There's a dark-dwelling, snake-like creature known as Lady Proxima who lives in the shady seclusion of the seedy criminal underworld. She orders around a group of orphans to steal things for her to sell, offering shelter and safety in return. What that really means is that they better bring her what she asks for, or they're not going to like the consequences. It's not unlike the underbelly of the criminal world we see in Oliver Twist or Slumdog Millionaire, but there are just more aliens and lasers.

Here we me Qi'ra, who is clearly the Bonnie to Han Solo's Clyde. The two have both been in this desperate situation for far too long and they're finally ready to make a getaway. They're going to use a small vial of a rare, expensive fuel called coaxium (which Han just stole) to bribe their way off the planet and never look back. The only problem is that while he stole this vial, he lost the rest of the package he was supposed to give to Lady Proxima.

Of course, since this is Han Solo we're talking about, he's got plenty of sarcasm and tricks to make it out of this situation, even if they don't quite work out how he planned. Han uses a rock he's painted to look like a thermal detonator to scare off those who would threaten him for not delivering what he was supposed to. But Lady Proxima knows it's all a ruse. Luck ends up going Solo's way though as he tosses the rock through a window, allowing sunlight to come in, which we quickly learn harms some of these creatures.

This doesn't really tell us anything we need to know in order to understand the character of Han Solo. After another speeder chase, letting us know again that Han Solo is a skilled driver (duh!), the only important part of all this set-up comes when Han and Qi'ra finally try to make their getaway. They have the vial of coaxium that they're going to use to bribe an Imperial border guard controlling the entry and exit into Corellia. But just as the two are about to leaving this planet forever, Qi'ra is grabbed by Lady Proxima's goons, and Han is left with no other option but to make a run for it on his own.

This is meant to serve as the inciting incident that begins Han Solo's character arc. Because after this, he chooses to enlist in the Imperial Academy with an eye on becoming the best pilot in the galaxy, all so he can come back to Corellia and save Qi'ra. It's here we get perhaps the dumbest part of Han Solo's origin story, and that's his name. It turns out Han's real last name isn't Solo. We never find out what it is, because when the Imperial recruiter asks for it, he merely says he has no people. And the recruiter pauses for a moment to give him the name Solo. It's a wholly unnecessary mystery that does nothing to strengthen his character's history unless his real name has a contrived tie to a character from the prequels, which would be positively stupid.

Han's Not Throwing Away His Shot

We flash forward three years after Han chooses to enlist in the Imperial Academy, and things don't seem to be going as easy as Han thought they would. He's all geared up in Imperial soldier garb. He's not a Stormtrooper, but a different kind of infantry soldier tasked with, well, it's not really clear, and that's why Han couldn't care less about it. He and his fellow Imperial troops are trudging through the muddy surface of Mimban as "hostiles" try to stop Imperial occupation of the planet. Han's smart enough to see that the Empire is the real enemy here, but also smart enough to know not to be vocal enough about it get himself killed.

During the muddy battle, Han latches on to the highest ranking officer on the field, a captain who looks like he has a clear goal in mind. As we'll learn, this man isn't really a captain at all, but the smuggler known as Tobias Beckett, who has stolen an Imperial officer's wardrobe after blasting him to hell. With him are his partner Val (Thandie Newton) and a four-armed Ardennian pilot named Rio. Solo sees this as his chance to get out of this mud hole so he can stop wasting his time with the Empire, especially since his shot at being a pilot has already gone out the window.

Unfortunately, Tobias Beckett isn't looking to recruit a new member of his team, so he sells out Han as a deserter. But it's all good, because we're about to meet Han's new best friend. You might not recognize him at first since he's caked in mud and chained up like some kind of monster, but Han is thrown into an underground cell with the Wookiee called Chewbacca. The two are instantly at odds, seemingly because whatever prisoners down there get eaten by the big walking carpet. But since Han's a fast talker (including speaking the gargling sounds of the Wookiee in a silly but amusing exchange), he sees an opportunity for them both to get out.

This meeting of Han and Chewbacca is great because it ditches the once canon idea of Chewbacca serving some kind of life debt to Han, leaving him almost like an indentured servant. Instead, the two both need each other to survive, and feel compelled to help each other out when the going gets tough. Now that Han has a Wookiee in tow with him, that makes him a little more appealing to Tobias and his crew since they're getting ready to pull off a big heist with the AT-Hauler they've just stolen from the Empire.

Honestly, this series of events is where Solo should have started. We didn't need the Oliver Twist meets Slumdog Millionaire set-up to get to this point. Anything about Han's past in that moment could have easily been covered the night before this crew pulls of the forthcoming heist. There's a whole campfire sequence reminiscent of dozens of westerns where we learn a little bit about each of these criminals, and this is where we could have learned about the girl that Han was forced to leave behind on Corellia. It seems as if the only reason the earlier scenes exists is to establish Qi'ra as part of Han's life, but her significance could have easily been established with all the sequences that follow.

The Galactic Train Robbery

With a full team assembled and ready to snag a whole train compartment full of the precious fuel coaxium, this is where Solo: A Star Wars Story starts to soar. Not only does the pacing of the movie amp up, but this is where things get really exciting. The coaxium is aboard a train called the Conveyex which wraps around the snowy mountains of Vandor. There's cargo on top and bottom of the vehicle that's attached to a track in the middle, and our crew is going for one of the top train cars that is packed with vials of coaxium, which just so happens to be extremely explosive.

It's an old school train robbery set in a galaxy far, far away as the crew jumps on top of the train, has a shootout with some Ranger Troopers, a specialized kind of Stormtrooper equipped with cold weather gear under their Snowtrooper style armor and boots that keep them magnetized to the Conveyex. The plan is to use the AT-Hauler to snag this cargo shipment after blowing up the track that it's attached to. However, the plan goes south when an unexpected guest shows up.

Enfys Nest is the masked leader of a gang of marauders who come flying in on swoop bikes to take this job for themselves. Beckett says he was told that no one else knew about this shipment, so needless to say, this throws a wrench in their plans. Another shootout ensues, but this time things get a little more dire because Enfys Nest boards the train and engages in a fight, armed with an electrified blade that also has the power to knock opponents off their feet with a shockwave blast of energy.

Their occupation with this new threat means they trip one of the sensors on the Conveyex track, activating a swarm of deadly viper droids, which are basically weaponized drones that look like sleek, evil probe droids from The Empire Strikes Back. It also results in Rio taking a fatal shot to the back, leaving Han to show off his pilot skills and pull off this job. However, the only way they're going to finish this job is if Val blows the bridge that she's currently standing on. She can't make a getaway thanks to the viper droids, so she chooses to blow herself up with the bridge, saying goodbye to Beckett over the radio.

While this sequence is where the movie really takes off, this death still doesn't feel right to me. Val seems to only exist as motivation for Beckett and as a plot device to finish this heist. That's rather odd considering all of Beckett's lessons for Han are about not trusting anyone. It's even more frustrating since the heist ends up being all for nought, because they're unable to pull the shipment away from Enfys Nest's crew, and all the coaxium ends up crashing into the mountains in a spectacular explosion of energy. One could argue that Val sacrificed herself because she knew that Beckett would otherwise have to face the wrath of Dryden Vos (Paul Betttany) and the crime syndicate Crimson Dawn, who might kill them both if they don't deliver. But since Beckett, now teamed with Han and Chewie, gets another chance to deliver this goods, Val's death seems all the more pointless in the end.

The Corellia Kids and Lando Calrissian

After the attempted heist goes bad, our crew must go face the man who gave them this job. It's the gangster Dryden Vos, and he's not too thrilled with the outcome, the scars on his face reddening with his eyes whenever he gets angry.  This character is played perfectly well by Paul Bettany, but it feels like it would have been far more interesting with Michael K. Williams playing the original half-lion, half-human version of this character that went to the wayside when reshoots needed to be done (likely because of the truncated time table for visual effects to be completed).

We also catch up with Qi'ra, who finds herself in a position that takes Solo from being just a space western into sci-fi gangster territory. She's basically stuck as the right-hand woman of Dryden Vos, and while she might have made it out of Corellia, it's clear that she's still stuck in the firm grasp of the criminal underworld that she was once so desperate to leave. The sequence where she and Han are reunited is another reason we didn't need all the set up from the first act, because their interaction and conversation on Dryden Vos' elegant yacht tells us everything we need to know about their past. It's far more subtle and doesn't require all the exposition of the aforementioned scenes.

Anyway, Dryden Vos is prepared to kill Beckett for this shortcoming until Han comes up with the brilliant idea to snag unrefined coaxium from the spice mines of Kessel. The only problem is that they need a ship fast enough to get the coaxium to a facility to refine it, otherwise it'll explode along with whatever and whoever is carrying it. Oh man, what ship could that possibly be?

Solo: A Star Wars Story Trailer Breakdown

Enter Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), a charming smuggler with a penchant for dressing sharp  and winning a card game called Sabaac. He's an associate of Qi'ra, who is accompanying Beckett, Han and Chewie on this job to make sure everything goes smoothly. She's also putting her own life on the line by vouching for this crew, and if it doesn't go off without a hitch, Dryden will probably kill her along with everyone else. That's why they need Lando and the Millennium Falcon.

Thankfully, they don't have much of a problem convincing Lando to help them out, as long as he gets a cut. But that comes after we experience the thoroughly entertaining adversarial chemistry between Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. There's almost not enough room in this shady bar for both of their egos as they trade snide remarks with each other during a game of Sabaac that Han intends to use to win Lando's ship instead of just asking him for help. It's basically the Casino Royale poker game played out in the Star Wars universe but with a lot more swagger and fun.

Lando's arrival in this movie really sets it into a nice groove. Not only does he add some humor to the equation, but he's a great foil for the cocky Han Solo. There's a reason these two are friends in the future, and it's because even when they're at odds with each other, there's clearly a mutual respect here.

The chemistry between Han and Qi'ra also reaches a new level. These two might have the most genuinely sexy romance in the entirety of the Star Wars saga. It feels even more passionate than the will-they, won't-they romance of Han and Leia from the original trilogy. It's raw, reckless, young love, but everything about Qi'ra indicates it's not meant to be. It's almost heartbreaking knowing that the Han Solo we're familiar with has nothing to do with this girl he's crossed the galaxy to try to save. And the why will be even more intriguing as the story goes on. But more on that later.

A Droid Revolution and the Kessel Run

This entire sequence of events is easily one of the most fast-paced, fun and exciting action sequences in the entirety of Star Wars. First, our crew must land in the spice mines of Kessel and infiltrate the mining facility where the unrefined coaxium is being kept. Then they're working with a ticking clock to get the coaxium to a facility that will refine it so that it doesn't explode. Their plan mostly goes off with a hitch by using the familiar Star Wars trope of bringing in fake prisoners. It's Han and Chewbacca chained up this time, being offered up as workers in the mines, all so they can get inside and get ahold of the coaxium.

Everything seems to be going smoothly until Lando's droid co-pilot L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) inadvertently creates a droid revolution that turns the entire operation of the mine inside out. More and more droids rebel against their orders, allowing a bunch of the enslaved miners to escape, creating a huge prison riot. This sequence has a lot of moving parts and it also gives Chewbacca some of his finest moments as he saves some of his own people who were taken from his home planet of Kashyyyk.

But the standout during this revolution is L3-37. She's a droid who is a little rough around the edges. You could image her driving a semi-truck or working as a bartender. If she was a human woman instead of a droid, she'd be wearing a sleeveless flannel shirt, cowboy boots, jean shorts with a big belt buckle and spitting tobacco. She's got attitude to spare, and she also has one of the best navigational systems in the galaxy ingrained in her memory bank.

That's why it's more than a little frustrating when she sadly meets her end during this revolution. This was a great character that would have been great for future movies. Instead, much like Val, she's used as a plot device. Actually, she's used more like a prop. It's made clear she has some kind of romance with Lando Calrissian, who is genuinely distraught when she finally shuts down after taking a fatal blast. A few minutes later, when the crew ends up needing a path out of Kessel in order to escape Imperial entanglements, she's plugged into the Millennium Falcon as nothing more than a navigation system they need. Sure, it might seem kind of cool that she's now part of the ship, but she's lost her voice, she only exists to serve whoever is in command of the ship, and considering how much this character was an advocate for droid rights, that just doesn't seem right.

Solo: A Star Wars Story Trailer

But Solo is now moving at breakneck speeds, and there's zero time to really think through the ramifications of this moment. With Lando injured by a laser blast, Han Solo is left to take over command of the Millennium Falcon, and we get that nice moment when he realizes that Chewbacca makes the perfect co-pilot, complete with a familiar musical cue taken from John Williams. Their only shot is to fly through the maelstrom, which is full of flying planetary debris and some kind of massive tentacled creature with dozens of eyes. L3's navigational charts give them a way out, but the gravitational well called a maw lies at the center of the storm, and it's pulling them closer and closer to a destructive black hole.

This sequence is classic Star Wars, and composer John Powell knows it because of how many musical cues from the original movies he includes in the sequence. But he also spices them up with touches of his own musical invention, adding more percussion to the proceedings, giving the music a bit more of a rapid beat to amp up the tension. Meanwhile, the shots during these sequence are gorgeous as well. One particular shot of the aforementioned monster being sucked into the maw with the Falcon barely out of reach is just plain stunning. On top of all that, it features Han Solo and his crew pulling a few tricks in order to make a fantastic escape. This is one of the most breathtaking, entertaining and thrilling sequences Star Wars has ever seen.

The End is Just the Beginning

Our crew finally gets the coaxium to the planet Savareen, where it will be refined and handed off to Dryden Vos, but their troubles are far from over. Enfys Nest awaits them in the small village where the coaxium is being refined. However, this is where we learn that Enfys Nest is not exactly what we had thought.

The marauder is revealed to be a young, freckled girl with frizzy red hair. She can't be much older than Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Enfys Nest and her crew aren't just pirates and thieves, but rather a team of people and aliens from different planets that have been taken over and ravaged by the Empire for all their resources. They're stealing coaxium to support their own private army, or rather, a rebellion. It's all in an effort to stop the Empire and the crime syndicates that support them just like Dryden Vos and Crimson Dawn.

When Han learns this, he doesn't want to hand the coaxium over to Dryden Vos. He has some kind of plan to give Enfys Nest the coaxium and dispatch with Dryden Vos so they don't have to go on the run. But Beckett isn't willing to take the risk on this one and chooses to head off on his own.

This all leads to a double cross by Beckett, who teaches Han a valuable lesson in trust, shaping the man we've come to know in the original trilogy. The result is a stand-off in Dryden Vos' yacht the likes of which we've seen in plenty of westerns and gangster movies. Han's plan appears to be up-ended by Beckett alerting Dryden Vos to Han's plan to screw him over. But Han had already learned another lesson from Beckett – people are predictable. He knew Beckett would sell him out, and it was all part of the plan to lure Dryden Vos' bodyguards away so he could be taken care of much easier.

Solo Trailer Breakdown - Woody Harrelson as Beckett

Beckett makes off with the coaxium, taking Chewbacca with him to carry it all. This leaves Han and Qi'ra to face off with Dryden Vos, which doesn't end very well for the crime boss. Qi'ra delivers the fatal blow that takes Dryden Vos out of commission, and she sends Han off with the promise of catching up to him so they can finally run off together on a ship of their own. This is where Solo takes a surprising turn.

Instead of rounding up some valuables off Dryden's yacht to make an escape with Han, she grabs a ring with the Crimson Dawn ensignia on it and uses it to activate a hidden a secret communication. The shades on the windows of the yacht draw close, making it dark enough to see the hologram of a seated cloaked figure. The voice is deep and slightly raspy, not entirely distinguishable, but then there's no mistaking that red and black face and horned head. It's Darth Maul, and Qi'ra is letting him know that Dryden Vos is dead, but she tells him it was at the hands of Tobias Beckett. She doesn't mention Han and Chewie though, so while this might seem like a betrayal at first, it's nothing more than survival, since she knows that the real face behind this operation is too powerful for her to truly escape this situation she's been forced into. That's far more interesting than just her betraying Solo and giving him a bad taste in his mouth that makes it hard for him to trust people for the rest of his life, but we need to see how it pans out before the significance of this development can be determined. You can read more about that big reveal over here.

Meanwhile, Han Solo has to take survival into his own hands as well. While Beckett may have given him a chance to start a new life and escape from the clutches of the Empire, Han also knows that his mentor isn't beyond taking him out for his own benefit. So Han does what George Lucas once though was unnecessary in Star Wars: A New Hope, and he shoots first, sending a laser blast right into Beckett's chest. It's a decision he's not pleased with himself about, but it was necessary, as Beckett says he would have done the same to him. It's one final moment that helps shape the Han that we meet in the original Star Wars trilogy, but leaves us waiting for what's to come.

She Belongs with Me

In what almost feels like a Star Wars post-credits scene (even though it takes place beforehand), Han Solo tracks down Lando Calrissian, who made a cowardly escape on Savereen by blasting off the planet as soon as Enfys Nest and her crew showed up to take the coaxium. They're on a jungle planet, and Lando is playing Sabaac again. But this time, Han notices that Lando's trick to winning lies literally up his sleeve. It's a device that slips him the card he needs at the perfect moment. So this time when he challenges him to a new game, funded by a vial of coaxium given to him by Enfys Nest, he beats him fair and square, winning the Millennium Falcon for himself.

However, Han Solo taking this ship from Lando feels like even more of a betrayal, because let's not forget that the Falcon now has the consciousness of his droid lover L3-37 inside of it. So not only does Lando lose his ship, but he loses L3 all over again, not to mention what is basically a fancy apartment. That might seem like quite the uneven revenge for Lando leaving Han and everyone behind, but if Lando was willing to risk it only because he was cheating to win, then I suppose it's a hard lesson learned.

The Final Word

Solo: A Star Wars Story feels like the first movie from a galaxy far, far away that is entirely disposable. Sure, the actions of Han Solo might have ended up giving the rebellion forming against the Empire some of the resources they needed to continue the fight, and it gives him the ship that makes him a hero and ally to the Rebel Alliance in A New Hope, but there's nothing about it that demands for fans or general audiences to see it other than it's pure entertainment.

While we could argue that no movie is necessary, Solo feels inherently unnecessary. It does nothing to change our perspective about Han Solo or give us any perspective that we couldn't have already assumed based on his personality and actions. The electric romance with Qi'ra and the threads dangled in Solo regarding his real last name as well as his father building ships like the Millennium Falcon aren't intriguing enough to make us care about Han as a character beyond the fact that we know who he becomes in the fight against the Empire. The movie seems to know this, because it tries to give you a connection to him that is mostly based on winks and set ups for things that we know happen in the original trilogy.

Interestingly enough, it's all the Easter eggs and references to future Star Wars events that actually detract from Solo for Star Wars fans (at least that's how I feel). It's like the opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but for two whole hours. But if anyone who wasn't familiar with the original trilogy watched this movie, as millions of young viewers probably will, they wouldn't be the wiser, and they might end up getting caught up in the adventure of it all. It's a simultaneously perplexing and frustrating movie that tries to work for longtime Star Wars fans and casual viewers, and it doesn't quite mesh well to make a movie that is as satisfying as it wants to be.

Having said that, the movie is a hell of a lot of fun. It might be hollow when it comes to substance, especially with regards to how it handles new and familiar characters, but with the exception of the first act, it's never boring. Helping that along are the fantastic performances, including Alden Ehrenreich really coming into his own as Han Solo. The best thing about his performance is that he doesn't try to be Harrison Ford playing Han Solo, but merely embodies the style and mannerisms of the character. Some think that Han Solo is cool because he's just Harrison Ford, but I don't think that's the case. There's something Harrison Ford did as Han Solo that made it seem effortless, but it wasn't that he was playing himself. Ehrenreich figured out how to do that rather well, and he's charming and cocky in a way that's familiar but also fresh.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast gives us even more to praise. Donald Glover could not be more perfect as Lando Calrissian, and he demands an entire movie to himself. Emilia Clarke finally gets a role that lets her come out of the shadows of Game of Thrones and she gives her best big screen performance yet. Phoebe Waller-Bridge steals the show as L3, making us wish she didn't go so quickly. And Woody Harrelson does a great job playing the kind of guy who would give rise to a smuggler like Han Solo.

At the end of the day, Solo: A Star Wars Story may not be the Star Wars movie that audiences were clamoring for most. But it's one of those movies that provides some levity between the primary episodes of the Star Wars saga. It would be nice if the movie had a little more meat on its bones to gives us a more succulent meal to sink our teeth into rather than being a cookie cutter origin story that doesn't bring much of anything new to the table. But sometimes it's satisfying to take a bite of something familiar that tastes pretty good, even if it's not the best thing for you.