30 May 2018

Review - Solo: A Star Wars Story

From At The Movies, 7:31 pm on 30 May 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story gives Han Solo an origin picture, but will it be enough for the fans, asks Simon Morris.

The original 1977 Star Wars was a series of happy accidents, in which creator George Lucas’s nostalgia for old Buck Rogers serials collided with massive advances in special effects.

But the best bit of luck was in the casting of the not-too-bright best friend, Han Solo. As played by Harrison Ford, an illusion was created that the character was rather better than it was.

We meet the young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) rocketing around the space slums with his best girl, Qi’ra (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) by his side.

But early on the star-crossed couple are parted, and Han finds himself signing on at Star Wars Flight Academy, er, solo.

Years later, Han is sick of fighting for the Empire, and finds a way out when he meets a couple of space-rogues, played by Woody Harrelson and Thandie Newton. 

He signs on to a life of space-crime, in a gang with a familiar, furry face.

It’s Chewbacca, the ambulatory hearth-rug from the other films.

While it’s nice to see Han and Chewie bonding in the expected manner, it also underlines the problem facing Solo.

However well done it is, there’s an awful lot of box-ticking required.

Unlike the first couple of films in the franchise, where the writers could simply make stuff up as they went along, Solo is weighted down by the expectations of Star Wars’ obsessive fans.

There’s a long list of items that are expected to go into a Star Wars story – even one as tangential as Solo. They have to be done just right, but also not too predictably.

To director Ron Howard’s credit, he does pretty well, considering that he not only has to box-tick – meet Chewbacca, steal the Millenium Falcon from Lando Kalrissian, do the Kessel Run, whatever that is – but also set up Han’s character for the first Star Wars film.

He’s Solo. He’s cynical. He’s bruised. Could there have been a woman? Of course there is, and the obvious woman in the picture is Qi’ra, who turns up where Han is least expecting it – on the arm of a space-gangster played by Paul Bettany, jumping ship from The Avengers.

Qi’ra is a film noir femme fatale.  But because most fans know roughly where this story is going – we don’t remember Emilia Clarke appearing in the first Star Wars - the twists and turns of the plot aren’t quite as twisty and turny as they’d be otherwise.

Solo rockets around the galaxy as well as you’d hope – veteran script-writer Lawrence Kasdan certainly avoids the trap of George Lucas’s notorious prequel trilogy by making it fun with a bit of heart, rather than dark with a lot of exposition.

The best thing in the film, surprisingly, isn’t star Alden Ehrenreich or Emilia Clarke or even Chewbacca.  

It’s Donald Glover as a slightly camp Lando Kalrissian, who steals the show whenever he shares the screen with a feminist robot played by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Despite the predictability built into any film where most of the plot and characters were cast in stone decades ago – Solo does the business well enough.

But we must be coming to the moment where “well enough” isn’t quite good enough.  The reason Star Wars became as big as it did is because nobody saw it coming.  But the whole point of a franchise these days is everyone sees it coming.