An uninspiring, albeit competent galactic caper.
The broadening of a cinematic galaxy far, far away started off as a tantalising concept, giving greater scope to the lore behind one of the world’s biggest franchises. Rogue One was the first to take this plunge outside the Episode structure, and while utterly different to the main entries in many ways (its more akin to a war tragedy than a space opera), it still felt quintessentially Star Wars. Its success has inspired a roster of future ‘Story’ entries, with Obi-Wan, Boba Fett and perhaps even Lando in the pipeline. First up though, we have Solo, a character deeply rooted in the adoring hearts of many a generation. But while this outing may capture the spirit of the notorious Millennium Falcon-flying smuggler, the lack of any real stakes (that we would care about, anyway) make this a fairly uninspiring entry.
After narrowly escaping the brutal depravity of Correllia, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) enlists in the Imperial Army, hoping to to become the finest pilot in the galaxy. His travels lead him to gangster Tobias (Woody Harrelson), who takes the loner under his shady wing.
Of course somewhere along the way, he has a run in with a “beast”. This bloodthirsty monster is revealed to be reliable wookie sidekick Chewbacca. The ripe dynamic is established immediately, bringing to mind warm memories of the pair’s misadventures of old. But to have Solo (whose name has origins so painfully unexciting, disappointment is inevitable), you need a Calrissian. Lando, played amusingly by hip actor/artist Donald Glover, is enlisted to help in a mission for the charmingly villainous Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who also happens to have Han’s long-lost love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) under his command.
From a turbulent initial production (Ron Howard replaced Phil Lord and Christopher Miller), to an iffy reaction to Ehrenreich’s casting as the historic hero, for a Star Wars film, it has had an unusually low level of hype. One can only imagine the vision the former directors had for Solo (one could fairly believe it would be LucasArts equivalent of beloved space western, Firefly). For naysayers and pessimists, be assured there is still fun to be had here. Howard was a safe bet to take the reigns, managing to fairly balance the cheeky, necessary humour and some genuinely breathtaking action sequences, with some thrillingly visceral choreography. Often though there’s an absence of the warmness that runs through the entries (it’s also excruciatingly devoid of colour – strange, for an anarchic hero). Unlike Rogue One, which felt justified as a stand-alone prequel, Solo feels like the filler episode of a tv show, giving us backstory no-one is going to necessarily turn away, but also no-one asked for.
Rogue One also had the Halo: Reach quality – an interesting story that fans ultimately know the ending of, but its poetic tragedy made for a thrilling watch. Solo’s absence of stakes make for often irritating moments, watching the titular character dice with impossible deaths constantly. That’s not to say there are no interesting developments, but the endgame carries no anticipation, especially when there’s some shoehorned fan service to try and spark some hype.
The origins of Han and Chewie, as well as Han and Lando, do make for giddy viewing, however. Glover is a fantastic choice for Billy Dee Williams’ iconic character, playing him with a natural, winning charisma and infectious smile, set to make him an immediate fan-favourite. Ehrenreich however, while an able big-picture performer, fails to do the thing he was never fully expected to achieve – making us believe he’s the same person as Ford played. This is a shame really, as it shouldn’t discredit his admirable take and evident passion, but this impossible task sets the film off on an unsteady foundation.
The story isn’t bad at all; it’s just, fine. Essentially a western mixed with a heist movie, once we brisk past the first uneven half hour, there’s a firmly watchable romp to enjoy. But will it stand tall in the pantheon of legendary entries, such as Empire Strikes Back? Nowhere close.
One notable downfall is the inclusion of yet another quirkily outspoken droid, this time in the form of L3 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Servicing the humour of the film to an awkwardly minimal extent, there’s probably an audience that appreciates its desperately irreverent presence, but it’s certainly not me. To contrast this with a strength – the score. Not entirely composed by John Williams, John Powell (How To Train Your Dragon 1 & 2, The Bourne Ultimatum) was hired. While it carries the film along nicely, there’s a specifically realised theme for the Ghost Riders. Epic and grand, it pays homage to the historic ‘Duel of the Fates’.