CANNES — So it turns out Han Solo may have a lot in common with your grandparents.
In the newest “Star Wars” prequel (the official title, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which admittedly doesn’t quite roll off the tongue) the young, handsome space outlaw is desperate to get off his prison planet of Corellia. (He’s being chased by the minions of some weird, giant caterpillar who fries in sunlight.) His only hope is to join the Imperial Armed Forces.
As a bureaucrat asks his name, he says “Han.” He is asked for a family name, but, sadly, Han says he has none. The man behind the desk thinks for a minute and thinks “Solo.”
It’s a silly moment, but the interstellar Ellis Island bit resonates a smidge more considering the star of this latest installment (and, one can only suspect, future ones, too) is Jewish-American actor Alden Ehrenreich.
It’s tough trying to fill Harrison Ford’s shoes, but by and large the kid does well. He doesn’t quite resemble the better-known actor, and his voice sounds nothing like his, but put this guy in a vest, strap a blaster at his side and his crooked smile will get him out of any tough situation.
Ehrenreich, age 28 (seven years younger than Ford was when the first “Star Wars” was released), has one of the most Jewish origin stories in all of Hollywood. He acted in a jokey bat mitzvah video for a friend. Another friend in that video was one of Steven Spielberg’s daughters.
When the great bearded director saw the video at the after-ceremony party, he loved the kid’s performance. At age 14 he met with some Dreamworks casting agents, landing a few gigs and eventually working up to some choice roles. Now there are going to be action figures of his likeness.
He’s got a number of notable scene partners in this new one. Emilia Clarke is his fellow expat Corellian love interest, who looks outstanding in quasi-Art Deco costumes and jet black hair. Woody Harrleson is his grizzled mentor in smuggling, and Donald Glover, whose mimicry of Billy Dee Williams is extraordinary, is a great deal of fun as Han’s frenemy Lando Calrissian. Then there’s the big guy.
In “Solo” you’ll get to see how Han met Chewbacca, and it’s a nice spin on the “Rancor” scene from “Return of the Jedi.” Early in the film, Han is tossed into a muddy pit by baddies to be fed to “The Beast.” We only catch a glimpse of this vicious monster, but as soon as we see that special texture of fur, we know it’s our eventual Wookiee co-pilot.
Han is able to calm the mighty Chewbacca down by speaking his language: literally. Yes, for all these years we’ve known that Han could understand those guttural growls, but for the first time we’ll hear him make them. It’s a funny, enjoyable moment.
And that’s a good way to describe the film overall: enjoyable. It’s refreshing to see one of these movies that isn’t bogged down with a bunch of talky scenes about “destiny” and “the Dark Side.” There are no Jedi, there’s no Force, nothing at all that’s too heavy. It isn’t, quite frankly, all that deep. The stakes are low, but the story moves at lightspeed. It needs to be that way because you know, deep down, that none of this is too important in the overall “Star Wars” mythos.
The second half of the movie is concerned with making “the Kessel Run,” a throwaway line from the 1977 film. (For those nitpickers who, for over 40 years, have been whining that a “parsec” is a unit of distance and not time, don’t worry, the answer you seek is finally here.) There was a moment when I realized I kinda had zero clue what the master plan was, and that isn’t a very good thing for a heist picture. This was quickly mitigated by all the extraordinary stuff flying around on the screen.
More than any other of the recent “Star Wars” films, “Solo” really goes in on the creature design with the aliens and droids. There are more “cantina” scenes in this than any other entry, and so many weird monsters are crammed into every corner of the frame. (I particularly liked the helmets on a rival smuggling group, as well as some sort of administrator that looked like an enormous version of a British wall plug.)
At the center of it all is Ehrenreich, who, at the end of the day, is creating an interstellar space pirate all his own. Pour yourself a glass of blue milk and say L’chaim!