Solo: A Star Wars Story, 2018.
Directed by Ron Howard.
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany, Thandie Newton and Joonas Suotamo.
After escaping from a poverty-stricken upbringing, Han Solo becomes embroiled in a criminal gang carrying out a major heist for a dangerous underworld boss.
“Watch this!” yells Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo, immediately before a supposedly stunning aerial stunt goes horribly wrong. Later, when Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra asks what they are drinking to, he responds “we’ll drink two” with the grin of a dad who has just made his kids groan with a hideous punchline. This ain’t Han Solo the roguish space outlaw; it’s Han Solo the corny young idealist with pretensions of one day joining the cool kids. Anyone who got angry at the change in characterisation of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi should prepare to absolutely froth with rage at Solo: A Star Wars Story.
For those capable of rational, critical thought however, latecomer director Ron Howard has managed to assemble a decent action-adventure that piles in fan service by the tonne and keeps the galaxy far, far away ticking along rather nicely.
The film begins with not-quite-a-crawl expositional text, setting up a “lawless time” in the galaxy and the idea of coaxium – valuable space fuel that would put even motorway service station petrol prices to shame – as a key currency. Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) manage to get hold of some and mount an attempt to escape the clutches of a Fagin-like underworld figure. Han manages to get free, but Qi’ra is left behind. Three years later, Han is still on the run, but sees an opportunity when he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his gang of thieves.
At times, Solo feels like the perfect movie for our bizarre pop cultural moment. Fanboy culture is obsessed with filling in every minor detail of backstory and that is precisely what this film attempts to achieve, giving every throwaway line of Han-centric dialogue from previous movies a clear explanation. Want to know how Han won the Falcon? Check. Want to know why he always shoots first? Check. Want to watch him make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs? Check, check and check again.
This could easily have been exhausting – and it occasionally is – but there’s a certain joy to seeing these iconic characters done slightly differently. Ehrenreich’s Solo is an odd creation that occasionally feels like watching Comic-Con cosplay with a $250m budget, but the character becomes more Fordian (to coin an adjective) as the movie progresses, and Ehrenreich has clear charm. Donald Glover, marching in to the film halfway through as a preening, pansexual Lando Calrissian, is the absolute highlight of the movie – though his screen time is relatively scant. The same is true of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who gets a handful of great laughs as Lando’s droid co-pilot and robot rights activist.
The array of colourful characters revealed in this movie are solidly played, but eminently forgettable. Woody Harrelson is a representation of any grizzled, morally flexible mentor ever depicted, while Paul Bettany struggles to find any depth in his Space Scarface mobster. Indeed, it’s only a late cameo that serves to quicken the pulse and manages to create genuine intrigue for a follow-up.
It’s important to mention that, despite the loss of original filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Solo remains a funny movie. Anyone expecting ’21 Jump to Hyperspace Street’ was always going to be disappointed, but there are quips and sight gags aplenty. The scene in which Han and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) meet for the first time is milked for every drop of its comic potential and their relationship emerges as the most believable character dynamic in the entire movie. In every other corner of the storytelling, it feels as if the curse of the franchise is in full effect, with character arcs noticeably held back for potential sequels. Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is a prime example.
Ron Howard doesn’t hold back, though, when it comes to the action. The multiple spaceship chases and ambitious heists are helmed with lavish, chaotic aplomb. John Powell’s bombastic score has enough Williams in it to feel like quintessential Star Wars and the nostalgia buttons are duly pushed at precisely the right moments. Only the most cynical and hard-hearted fan could fail to be moved and enthralled by these sequences – even if they do too often descend into characters yelling jargon at each other that only an entire evening on Wookieepedia could disentangle.
Given the nightmarish upheaval behind the scenes and the enormous expectations created by the character’s history, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a remarkably competent adventure film. But that’s all it is. After three excellent movies as part of the Disney/Lucasfilm partnership, this one feels like a step down. It’s not a betrayal of the fans or a dreadful slog to watch, but it’s just fine.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.