Film review | Solo: A Star Wars Story

Rescued from reshoot drama by Hollywood stalwart Ron Howard, the latest instalment in the Star Wars saga tells the tale of a young Han Solo at a fun clip, but with none of the roguish spirit we’ve come to expect from the iconic scoundrel • 2.5/5

Best friends forever Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) meet for the very first time in Solo: A Star Wars Story
Best friends forever Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) meet for the very first time in Solo: A Star Wars Story

We always knew these films would be filler. At least to some extent, the ‘Anthology’ Star Wars films were conceived to generate an easy profit from the fragments and reflective glints emanating from their older, larger family members. Filling in what happened in and around the established ‘chapters’ of the canonical Star Wars saga, they are a handy repository of fan service – in fact, at the end of the day they remain little more than sanctioned fan fiction.

But while Rogue One (2016) gave us an inside look into just how the Death Star plans were snatched away and handed over to the Rebellion – helping Luke Skywalker land that fateful torpedo shot – Solo: A Star Wars Story takes a crowd-pleasing, if scattergun approach, to a character who already feels fully formed.

Love-lorn thief Han (Alden Ehrenreich) dreams of leaving Corellia, his scrap-heap of a native planet, with his sweetheart Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) in tow. But when a daring escape attempt separates both of them, Han’s only choice is to enlist in the Empire or face apprehension – and certain death – by local thugs. Promising to himself that he’ll come back for Qi’ra when the time is right, he slugs through as a low-ranking infantryman, his hopes of becoming a first-class pilot seeming far distant. But when he crosses paths with the incognito team of rogues led by Tobias Becket (Woody Harrelson), a way out of this (literal) military sludge seems to be at hand.

But this new path is also a dangerous one... determined as it is by the dangerous intergalactic criminal mastermind, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

Salvaged from production drama by the ever-dependable, scarcely exciting Ron Howard (Cinderella Man, The Da Vinci Code adaptations), ‘Solo’ was originally meant to take a far more shambolic tack in the hands of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (of The Lego Movie fame). But a few months into shooting, Disney got jittery about their overtly comedic and improvised approach, and opted to go the safer route – firing Lord and Miller over ‘creative differences’ and getting Howard in to finish the job. And working off of a script by Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan, Howard certainly puts together a fun action-adventure movie. There’s a pack of rough-and-ready rogues on treasure-hunting missions, and they even butt heads with a rival band of threatening (read: cool-as-hell) pirates. There’s a train robbery (a thoroughly entertaining and deliciously choreographed one) and there’s an eminently hissable intergalactic mob boss at the centre of it all (Paul Bettany – another last-minute addition).

But what’s also evident is the utter absence of a desire to colour out of the lines, in a way that feels like a betrayal of the Han Solo spirit in a film that’s supposed to be dedicated entirely to the guy. Perhaps this is down to Jack Sparrow Sequel Syndrome – the narrative discomfort that arises when a trickster character is shoved into the role of the primary hero. Instead of providing an aside of rougish colour, he’s now meant to do double-duty as both subversive embellishment and hero-to-root for. Neither does it help that everyone feels visibly crushed by the weight of the ‘Mother Trilogy’. Neither Ehrenreich nor Glover manage to rise above the simple imitation of the roles first embodied by Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams. It may be delicious to watch in parts – Glover certainly relishes in Williams’ trademark ‘smoulder’ and staccato delivery – but it begins to grate the closer to approaches to all-out parody.

But as is the case with the new ‘canonical’ episodes of the Mother Trilogy, it’s in the new characters that the real promise lies. Emilia Clarke is on top form as Qi’ra, whose backstory promises to generously repay the saga’s most loyal fans. Erin Kellyman’s character – a reveal I will not spoil – is also bound to have an enthusiastic band of fans on her back.

However, there’s talk of Solo’s poor performance at the box office. There’s talk that it may not even break even. Speculation into this is something of a futile exercise – and this is certainly not the venue for it. But just as The Last Jedi took bold decisions – polarising the audience, but certainly not hurting its box office intake – so it seems that maybe, Solo could have used an injection of Lord and Miller’s true mainline of mirth.

Smuggler’s delight: Donald Glover is Lando Calrissian
Smuggler’s delight: Donald Glover is Lando Calrissian

The verdict

With the new Star Wars trilogy painting the blockbuster epic in brash, bold colours, this side-story feels decidedly unambitious by comparison. Though Ron Howard certainly crafts a fun adventure romp that has great sequences at hand and is helped along by the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the end result feel like something of a missed opportunity. Perhaps it’s bad karma – a supremely ironic comeuppance. Disney fired its original directors for being too zany in their presentation of a roguish character.