Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Starring: Alden Ehreneich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke
Genre: Action / Fantasy
Young ‘Scrumrut’ Han (Ehreneich) has dreams of escaping from the clutches of the criminal gangs of the shipbuilding world of Corellia with the love of his life Qi’ra (Clarke) and becoming a pilot. However, after only he manages to escape, Han serves in the military and then joins a gang of galactic smugglers lead by Tobias Beckett (Harrelson) who embark on a dangerous mission, and the potential reward for this will be what Han needs to return to his home planet to rescue Qi’ra.
So, the ever-expanding Star Wars franchise unleashes its latest shameless cash-in, and it is one whose production reportedly encountered more problems than Rogue One with changing directors, re-shoots and its leading man being given acting lessons. Well, despite its many troubles, the result is a film that admittedly adds nothing new to the Star Wars saga, but when treated as a standalone action blockbuster is a thoroughly enjoyable action romp that despite occasionally running aground with a few narrative issues, is overall a wonderfully enjoyable ride from start to finish.
Though I will admit to not being a fan of all of his films, Ron Howard proved with Rush that he can put together some great action sequences, and he certainly delivers in Solo. The film’s first two thirds are pretty much non-stop action and the occasional bit of clunky exposition to speed things along, and culminate in the infamous ‘Kessel Run’, and Howard delivers the goods with some thrilling sequences. While Rogue One was intentionally a very serious film (director Gareth Edwards did say he wanted it to be a ‘war film’), Solo is made very much in the tone that reflects its protagonist’s approach to life and makes sure to focus on being fun first and foremost.
One of the main issues with most Star Wars films is that they have very clunky and two-dimensional scripts, and though Solo does have the occasional moment of clunky exposition, badly written characters or cheesy over the top money-shot, this is generally not too detrimental to the overall pace, especially in the film’s action packed first two thirds.
The acting is also generally strong, and though leading man Ehreneich tries a little too hard at times, generally he deals with the enormous pressure very well to give us a plucky and likeable protagonist worth believing in and wanting to see succeed. As with the film as a whole, it is very important to judge his performances on its own merits, and to start comparing him to Harrison Ford will just lead to a non-stop picking of faults and will ruin the experience of the film. One thing the Star Wars universe has been missing is a Woody Harrelson character, and he turns up being Woody Harrelson, but he does this better than anyone else can, and his performance and character do bring a much-needed edge and slight level of unpredictability that the film needs. Meanwhile Donald Glover brings the appropriate combination of smugness and charisma as a young Lando Calrissian.
The rest of the cast do not fair so well, with Emilia Clarke and Thandie Newton delivering rather wooden, two dimensional performances, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s freedom-fighting, equal rights demanding droid is supposed to be the comic relief (as well as a cynical attempt to appease the political correctness brigade), but many of her lines are actually quite cringey, and so are very much a waste of making a potentially interesting character quite annoying. Naturally, the film needs a villain (and surprise, surprise they are British!), and to fill this position is Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos; the character himself is completely forgettable due to being two dimensional and cliché-ridden, while Paul Bettany seems to be enjoying himself a little too much as he unashamedly chews the scenery, but does bring an element of genuine menace.
One of the main issues of making a film that focusses on characters that feature in later films is that we know they will survive, and this does inevitably lead to a lack of genuine danger at times, while some of the film’s new characters feel a little too expendable and it does feel like their sole reason for turning up is so that the narrative has some characters to kill off. However, what often comes to the rescue of this is the relationships between the characters; thankfully Chewbacca turns up quite early on, and the bromance between him and Han provides a great lynchpin for the rest of the narrative and provides both genuine heart and humour. Likewise, so does the relationship between Han and Lando, though this feels underdeveloped as it had the potential to go further and feature more bickering between the two of them.
With all the action set pieces in Solo’s first two thirds, the film’s final third involves more dialogue heavy exchanges as it tries to simultaneously tie up some loose ends, set up events that may feature in both a direct sequel and what happens in A New Hope, and so does feel like a slight anti-climax. However, thanks to giving us a reason to genuinely invest in some of the characters and there being a few decent twists and turns (as well as an unexpected cameo), it is still able to provide a satisfying conclusion to what is a thoroughly enjoyable and fun experience.
Though it has some narrative issues, there are not anywhere near as many as its troubled production could have produced, and if judged as a standalone film on its own merits Solo: A Star Wars Story is an immensely enjoyable action blockbuster.