Long before our current reboot-happy era of franchise-driven do-overs, Hollywood made a habit of recasting well-known roles. Love any popular character long enough, and the movie industry will eventually serve them up to you again with a different face — just ask any James Bond, Doctor Who, Superman, or Batman fan. Going the recast route is always a gamble, but some characters are far more inextricably intertwined with their actors than others, and after one person has played a part for a few decades, it can be awfully tough to imagine someone else taking over. Take Han Solo, for instance: the quick-shooting, quip-dispensing Corellian has been a popular fixture of the Star Wars franchise since its 1977 arrival, and every time we’ve seen him on the big screen, he’s been played by Harrison Ford. Until now, that is: when Lucasfilm decided to depict Han’s early years in a standalone anthology installment, the 75-year-old Ford was obviously not an option, so they handed the role to Alden Ehrenreich.
It was just the first in a series of risky moves surrounding the project, which got through a substantial chunk of its production with original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller before the duo were surprisingly fired and replaced with Oscar winner (and longtime friend of Lucasfilm) Ron Howard. As time wore on, the odds that this movie stood any prayer of making a positive impact with critics — let alone one of the most passionate fanbases in film — seemed to go from “long” to “infinitesimal.” But as those fans are aware, Han himself wasn’t much for putting stock in the odds, which makes it somewhat fitting that Solo: A Star Wars Story has earned itself some fairly respectable reviews.
In the context of the Star Wars franchise, Solo can’t help but look like an underachiever, but given that we’re talking about a series that contains some of the most widely seen and best-loved movies of the last few decades, that’s no surprise. In fact, critics say this Star Wars Story contains fairly few surprises — but rather than pulling back the curtain on a bunch of hotly anticipated mysteries from Solo’s early years, it serves up a solidly entertaining space adventure sprinkled with a few bits of fan service for the faithful and enlivened by a well-chosen supporting cast (particularly Donald Glover as everyone’s favorite pansexual schemer, Lando Calrissian). It probably isn’t destined to be mentioned in the same breath as Empire Strikes Back, but on the whole, Solo looks like a decent first outing for this scruffy-looking nerf herder — and given the way studios operate these days, don’t be surprised if it ends up spawning a sequel or two of its own.
Arrested Development finds itself back in familiar form, recapturing much of the cast’s chemistry and comedic brilliance — though it still doesn’t quite live up to its own past.
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