From the moment “Solo” was greenlit, an echoed chorus of “I have a bad feeling about this” could be heard from fans across the galaxy.
Disney seem to be managing the “Star Wars” franchise like a cocky, showpony coach might an unstoppable football team. After the siren has blown, and the game has been won, the coach sends his star player out there to kick the ball through the goals again. Why? Why, indeed.
The analogy is truer than ever in the case of the new ‘standalone’ “Star Wars” film “Solo” – the backstory of unarguably the most popular character in the Jude Law of Star Warsim – which borrows all of its motivation from said football play : it’s unnecessary, nobody asked for it, and at the end of the day it’s only going to leave you wanting to see the real thing (in that case, a goal that results with a score on the board) – and yeah, you know who I’m referring to.
As opposed to the first of these standalone “Star Wars” movies, the clever little idea that was “Rogue One”, Solo’s “Star Wars Story” feels completely unwarranted and unneeded. It’s also the first “Star Wars” film in a long, long time that seems more about box office than anything else. The proof is in the concept itself : the backstory of the beloved scoundrel, played with effortless ease by Harrison Ford, in the original trilogy. Since when did we need to know anything more about Solo than what we learnt in “A New Hope”?
What we wanted to see – and got to see – were the later adventures of a post-original trilogy Solo (with Ford in the role; in “The Force Awakens”). What we never cared to see was the younger, pre-Cantina bar pilot before he met Chewie and won the Millennium Falcon from Lando. But Lucasfilm are giving that to us anyway. With a tie-in meal deal from Wendy’s and a Chewie boob tube from Walmart for the ladies.
Is “Solo” as poor a movie as the sales pitch for it is? Did we waste those all those ranty characters on Twitter for nothing? Was a Han Solo-as-a-kid movie, without Harrison Ford, really a good move all along?
Good move? no. Good movie? You know what, yeah, it is..
Hear us out…
Those disappointed with the rather heavy and ambitious last couple of “Star Wars” films, predominantly last year’s “Star Wars : The Last Jedi”, might even consider it a more fun, more worthy subject to adorn the “Star Wars” title. It definitely embodies the tone of the ones you love. But what “Solo” isn’t is a magical, surprising and memorable addition to canon, nor does it advance the franchise in any great way. It is, for all intents and purposes, an excellent big screen pilot for a CW series “The Adventures of Han & Chewie”, if you will. Overall, it’s the “surprisingly OK” reboot we never wanted.
Under the dependable helm of Ron Howard (who came in to replace fired directing duo Phil Lord & Chris Miller), “Solo” is a snazzy-looking, fast-moving and very enjoyable space romp. And thanks to proficient button-pusher Howard, and his very talented cast, the skeletal concept and very average screenplay (by Jake and Lawrence Kasdan) aren’t nearly as evident as they could’ve been.
The movie takes place about five years or so before the events of “A New Hope” (1977) – when we first met Han and Chewbacca in their meet with Obi-Wan and friends. Here, he’s an optimistic, relatively happy and trusting lad from the boonies who escapes one tough terrain for another – in this case, escaping from the clutches of his owner (a monstrous lethal-lady creature voiced by Linda Hunt) into a dangerous life of crime, working under the tutorship of veteran Beckett (The always dependable Woody Harrelson). Along the way, Han meets his trademark dufflebag Wookiee Chewbacca (Joonas Soutamo), as well as underground hipster Lando Callrisian (Donald Glover), and lays eyes on a ship – the Falcon – that would later become an extension of himself.
All of it, unarguably, looks fantastic. The production design of the film is second to none, with the frames of the film dripping with silk, visual chocolate. A particular ‘Kessel Run’ sequence is an especial delight, with its effective mix of unique landscape, lighting and camera cleverness. In fact, the production design steals the show. It’s a treat. There’s also some fantastic chases through the lightning-cracking clouds, some frantic and fun shoot-outs, and an old school heist sequence.
The biggest question that most folks have, ‘Does Alden Ehreinreich do any good?’ can be easily answered. Yes, he’s good. You can see why the young actor has been cast to carry the movie. He has charisma. He has the chops. He gives an easy-to-root-for likeable performance. What he isn’t, is Han Solo. Not the one we know and love, anyway. Though Ehreinreich gives a fun, commendable turn in the film, there’s nothing here to connect his Solo to the one we know. Was it too difficult to instruct the actor mimic a mannerism or two of Harrison Ford in character? Or even pull a coupe of gruff noises here and there so it could help the audience connect the two very different versions of the character? Given that the time difference between “Solo” and “A New Hope” is only 5 or so years, it’s difficult to believe that Han could change so dramatically in that time – and it’s not attitude I’m referring to.
And Lucasfilm, don’t give us that ‘we didn’t want an impression of Ford’s character. We wanted Alden to do his own interpretation of the character’ excuse, because to his right, there’s Donald Glover doing a spot-on impersonation of Billy Dee Williams playing Lando! Right down to the mannerisms, the vocal tone, the body language! From the moment Glover is on screen, we immediately recognize him as Lando – and the movie scores a lot of points off the bat for not having the smarts to cast Glover but for letting him do a homage to Williams. It works beautifully.
Still, Ehreinreich – as miscast as he is – is more than serviceable, and his performance will likely land him some sizeable studio gigs in the future (where he’s ideally not coming in after Harrison Ford).
Also good is Suotama – inheriting the role from Peter Mayhew (easy swap, considering the actor’s in a suit) – as Chewbacca, in a turn that’s monstrously fun and entertaining. This is the version of the character that many have hankered to see for a long time – slightly more brutish & unrestrained and yet still lovable. His chemistry with Ehreinreich’s Solo thankfully works, too.
Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) does her best with the fairly underwritten part of Solo’s tweenage flame, Qi’ra – a role that, if hints here are anything to go by, gets meatier with the sequels (yep, word is, it’s an “all new trilogy”. Of course). Compared to Carrie Fisher’s Leia from the original series, she’s more or less a ‘hot prop’ though – pity, considering how good Clarke is in her series.
The voice actors – Jon Favreau and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, in particular – overshadow their flesh counterparts in many cases. Waller Bridge’s feminist Droid L3 is a unique and refreshing take on the Droids, who are traditionally emotionless and play by the rules.
Still, everyone in the movie gives entertaining and enthusiastic performances – with special mention to Paul Bettany’s charming crime lord- and with a stronger, smarter script (you guess the outcome of the movie within the film’s first few minutes- not good) and the elimination of some very questionable choices (all spoilers, let’s just say we’re referring to the third act), “Solo” might have been something to really send a hologram Leia to call home with.
In its current form, it’s a curious beast – an entertaining, light and fun space adventure, with lots of enjoyable moments, albeit one that still works better in the form of an expanded universe young adult novel.
“Solo” shouldn’t be frozen and lowered into carbonite but me thinks a dodgy pawnbroker must have suckered him into those lucky dice because they barely scraped him through here.