Solo: A Star Wars Story is directed by Ron Howard. The film stars Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo, Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, Woodly Harrelson as Beckett, Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian and Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca. The film also stars Thandie Newton, Warwick Davis and Paul Bettany and hits cinemas May 25, 2018.
Young Han Solo finds adventure when he joins a gang of galactic smugglers, including a 196-year-old Wookie named Chewbacca. Indebted to the gangster Dryden Vos, the crew devises a daring plan to travel to the mining planet Kessel to steal a batch of valuable coaxium. In need of a fast ship, Solo meets Lando Calrissian, the suave owner of the perfect vessel for the dangerous mission — the Millennium Falcon.
Solo: A Star Wars Story once seemed like an intriguing idea. Long before changes in directors and rumours of behind-the-scenes problems. The potential for a high octane heist movie in space was endless. Then reality struck. It struck me somewhere around the end of this films opening sequence.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is in fact a narrative mess. Not an unenjoyable mess but a mess none-the-less.
It’s hard to say if the final product is the victim of behind-the-scenes changes. Original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were replaced by the capable but somewhat beige Ron Howard no less. Or whether writers Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan simply cooked up a story which didn’t fit the bill.
Interestingly Solo ends up the mirror of so many modern blockbusters. Where most start strong and fizzle out in the third act; Solo starts on shaky ground and improves with time. Its opening sequences promise to drop viewers in the middle of the action. Yet instead it will only leave you questioning why you paid the ticket price.
Rogue One famously jettisoned the opening crawl of every other Star Wars movie to instead woo us with lavish cinematography. Solo replaces lavish imagery for a tonne of exposition. Not in the form of a crawl, just in terms of paragraphs on the screen.
It’s lazy screenwriting at its best and barely worth a read.
This is followed by a very confusing series of events which lead to Han leaving behind his home and his first love to join the Empire. Sorry, spoilers. There’s little to criticise apart from this sequence not amounting to anything beyond a plot device to show his origin and start the real story of the film.
There in lies one of Solo‘s biggest problems. It simply exists to tell one famous but very short story about its lead character. Rogue One benefited from a built in failsafe in that the characters needed to be offed by its stories end. Solo doesn’t have that safety net.
To repeat killing off all the supporting roles (bar Chewie and Lando) would cheapen the movie further. So instead the Kasdan’s had to find creative ways to write characters out of the story. What they seem to forget is that those characters also needed to be compelling for the audience to care.
Villain Dryden Vos is generic at best. He’s cut from the Bond villain cloth complete with scars. His screen time ends up being fairly minimal. His presence is built to loom over much of the film but instead he becomes easily forgotten. Paul Bettany plays him as vile as he can, it works in context but will never be considered memorable.
Woody Harrelson’s Beckett gets off a little more lightly. His character is fairly memorable and has an impact on shaping the Han we know from the original movies. He is given more of a character arc than the other supporting roles and benefits from much more screen time. His motivations aren’t always clear but as a foil he’s at least intriguing.
Emilia Clarke has a much bigger role that I expected in this film. Qi’ra is a flawed love interest whose intentions seem lost in the muddled narrative. She is what the plot needs her to be. A lost love interest, a slave in need of rescue and finally a villain. Much like Dryden Vos there is nothing we haven’t seen before in her character.
Chewie is Chewie. There’s an added backstory which isn’t very much explored but he is at least a reliably funny, loveable character.
Lando is going to be nothing short of polarising. Many of my fellow reviewers have praised Donald Glover for his performance. Honestly, I found him to be overrated. Whilst this Lands strongly echoes the man we meet in Empire Strikes Back he does little to drive the story forwards. His superficial tendencies at times stand at odds with the films perceived tone. Given more development his character could become compelling but there is simply not enough here.
L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is Solo‘s most lucky find. The droid poses some moral questions that Star Wars has always lacked. She represents a very modern, political place in the middle of all the action adventure. Some will feel the parallels to the Me Too movement are unnecessary. I can’t help but feel a franchise like Star Wars has a responsibility to mirror events in the real world.
The action on Kessel and its subsequent run is the most pleasing part of the film. It’s able to use its characters and its action to almost make the audience care. Of course this is a classic moment in Han’s history so it arrives with plenty of anticipation.
Moving on to the planet Savareen is purely an added bonus to help wrap up the story.
Criticisms aside the film does become more cohesive as the story progresses. Despite threatening to become convoluted by the third act there is in fact a clear progression which leads to a very natural conclusion. The writers are even able to include a classic cameo which nobody saw coming.
On the technical side of things the CGI is great, completely as expected for a Star Wars movie. Alien landscapes are sprawling, CGI characters look great. As always there’s a mix of computer generated and practical effects. Other blockbuster movies need to learn from this, CGI all the time is not necessarily a winner.
John Powell provides the score with a theme composed by classic Star Wars composer John Williams. It’s a lively score which is perhaps more entertaining than the film itself. As with all scores in this franchise it’s well worth a listen outside of the film itself.
Whilst nothing in Solo is outright annoying it’s also not exhilarating. It’s not unwatchable, but it’s never going to make anyones top ten movie list. It simply exists.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is neither here nor there. Whilst there are some highs there are also lows. Ultimately Disney’s attempt to ignite a new franchise in the Star Wars universe comes off the epitome of a heartless blockbuster.