SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY
REVIEW: SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY
Running Length: 135 minutes
Release Date: 25th May 2018
Directed by: Ron Howard
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover
Screenplay by: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Cinematography: Bradford Young
``Solo looks like a Star Wars movie. Sometimes it even feels like a Star Wars movie.``
Buried somewhere deep in the Lucasfilm vault, there is probably enough behind-the-scenes footage chronicling the troubled production of Solo: A Star Wars Story for a fascinating Lost in La Mancha–style documentary.
The production issues behind this second Star Wars spin-off have been well documented. With four months of principal photography already completed, original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie) were unceremoniously sacked, and replacement Ron Howard reshot as much as 80% of the existing footage. Add in rumours of the lead actor needing the services of an on-set acting coach and, generally speaking, the omens are not good. Given the project’s myriad problems, it’s impressive that Lucasfilm has managed to finally get a finished product released. And surprisingly, it’s rather good. But is there an audience waiting to see it?
Naturally beginning “A long time ago…” Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) are scavengers on the mining planet Corellia. An early plan of escape goes awry, the couple are separated, and Han hastily enlists with the Empire. Eventually he falls in with Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his crew of smugglers (including Thandie Newton). Beckett’s crew are planning a big heist to pay off the Crimson Dawn smuggling cartel, and they need a pilot.
Solo looks like a Star Wars movie. Sometimes it even feels like a Star Wars movie. It bucks weighty expectations and is far more enjoyable than it should be. The line where Lord and Miller (now relegated to “executive producers”) stops and Howard starts is imperceptible. There are no awkward tonal shifts, which is an achievement in itself. Howard is to be commended for delivering a solid movie under very difficult circumstances, but the fact that any of this works at all is down to the performances.
In all honestly, Ehrenreich is fine. He’s doing his own thing here, and at no point does it seem like he’s trying to impersonate Harrison Ford. He pulls off an effortless performance with buckets of charisma to spare. I have never been convinced that Woody Harrelson is capable of playing anything other than Woody Harrelson, but he has been well cast as the elder mentor figure. It’s obvious where this character is going, but Harrelson has fun with the part getting there. In spite of Ehrenreich’s best efforts, it’s Donald Glover who walks away with the movie as superfly dandy Lando Calrissian, a man who owns an unreasonable amount of capes.
Elsewhere things don’t work out quite so well. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s mo-cap performance as a “sassy” (ugh) droid is insufferable, and Paul Bettany – a last-minute replacement for Michael Kenneth Williams – is a Bond villain in streaky fake tan. He fails to make any impression whatsoever as the big bad guy. But Clarke’s awfulness is truly mesmerising. She exhibits all the capability and expertise of an unpaid intern. Ehrenreich wasn’t the one who needed the acting coach.
Solo is far less risky and innovative than Rogue One, with a much lighter touch. It is pitched at an (even) younger audience than the main sequel trilogy. This is not a bad thing per se. The story by Jonathan and Lawrence (The Empire Strikes Back, The Force Awakens) Kasdan zips along at a fair pace with set pieces that are competent rather than memorable. The action is confident enough to hold interest without getting overly frenetic.
The biggest problem with Solo is the title. For generations of filmgoers, Han Solo is Harrison Ford. No amount of marketing or clever-clever brand management is ever going to change that. Ford’s cocky smuggler stepped into popular culture as a fully-formed character. We knew everything we needed to know about Han Solo from the get go. Retroactively shoehorning in fan service into an iconic character is neither wanted nor needed. This origin story is an unnecessary appendage to Star Wars lore, with no good reason for its existence bar commerce.
Rogue One sidestepped this problem completely by telling an original story inextricably linked to Star Wars history with original characters. Were Ehrenreich playing a character called, I don’t know, “Dyson Bellwether”, this would be a very good movie indeed. With some minor tweaks, everything that the Kasdans have done would still work, just without the overriding suspicion that the whole thing is a cynical cash grab.
There is also the concern that Disney is using Solo to gauge the extent to which filmgoers are willing to accept recasting an iconic role with a younger actor. Don’t forget that the studio also owns Indiana Jones and is apparently intent on moving forward with that franchise, with or without Ford. That would be sacrilege.
Solo deserves to do well. Just not that well.