Solo: A Star Wars Story – Film Review by Kevin Olohan
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Lawrence and Jonathan Kazdan
Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson
Released May 24th
In December of 2015, Walt Disney Pictures and J.J. Abrams achieved the impossible and resurrected the stagnant Star Wars Franchise in spectacular fashion with The Force Awakens, bringing in a new generation of fans, while even managing to satisfy the most hardcore of the older generation.
It seems genuinely baffling, but here we are, not even two and half years later, and we now have our fourth movie since then, (and the second in the spin off “Star Wars Anthology” sub-series) with Solo: A Star Wars Story. That’s a lot, even by Disney’s standards with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, after two solid but safe outings with Force Awakens and Rogue One, and the “divisive” to put it mildly: The Last Jedi (Don’t mention the war, after all it was only five months ago!) How does this one fair? (Cue “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”): The answer is, once again, It’s a frustratingly safe affair.
Set roughly ten years before the events of the A New Hope, (the first Star Wars movie to be released,) Solo tells the story of how our favourite Space-Pirate-Cowboy went from being a young cocky pilot, to being a slightly older cocky pilot, including how he met his comrades Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian and even how he got his name. (In a universe with surnames like Skywalker and Darklighter I don’t think anyone was questioning the name Solo, but there we are.)
Taking on the role of Han Solo, made Iconic to say the least, by Harrison Ford is not a burden I would have wished upon my worst enemy, but to his credit Alden Ehrenreich plays the part faultlessly. He looks and sounds like Harrison Ford without ever going too far into impression, he’s charming, funny and charismatic…he’s just given virtually no character development. He’s the same guy at the beginning as he is at the end. Much of the movie focuses on his romantic relationship with Qi’ra (Played by the painfully wooden Emilia Clarke.) The Star Wars series is known for its schlocky dialogue, (“I hate sand” “Only a Sith deals in absolutes”) but Solo is hampered by some of the worst lines in the franchise. With such classics as “Everybody needs somebody.” “It’s no good to die alone” and my personal favourite “You don’t have to find me, I’m standing right in front of you.” Oh yeah. Feel that. Game of Thrones fans will know that Clarke is a weak actress anyway, (Let us never forget “Where are my dragons”) but she is particularly exposed by the weak dialogue, her lack of chemistry with Ehrenreich and the ultimately pointless nature of her character. With this being the third mega-franchise Clarke has played a part in (After GOT and the ill-fated Terminator Genisys) hopefully this will be the last one she will be allowed to stain.
What saves the movie is its fantastic but underused supporting cast:
Some are just wasted potential; (Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau) Woody Harrelson is reliable as always, but his character is not fleshed out at all. He is even given a personal tragedy to deal with which he gets over and totally forgets about quicker than in the worst of James Bond movies. Donald Glover (The real name of current king of the world Childish Gambino) is pitch perfect as Lando Calrissian with an impeccable Billy Dee Williams impression. He is given some of the best moments in the film. (The cape collection. The cape collection!) but it is (Fleabag) Phoebe Waller-Bridge who steals the show as the outstanding and inspired droid activist and liberator L3-37. The film simply never works better than when her and Glover are together. (Did I mention the cape collection?!)
The movies antagonist comes in the form of the deliciously malevolent Dryden Vos, played with theatrical glee by Paul Bettany. Again, he’s not in the movie enough, but the fun Bettany looks like he’s having means you can’t take your eyes off him whenever he’s on screen.
Appropriately, inspired by Westerns, it features many tropes such as a War backdrop, (Only instead of the American Civil War, it’s interplanetary empirical genocide) Freight train robberies, stand-offs and the clever combination of Gold and Dynamite into the substance coaxion. It all works, and ensure the movie never takes itself too seriously, allowing it, at times, to be a blast to watch. There are some truly stunning action scenes, including the fabled “Kessel Run.”
In terms of fan service, there are lovely touches, without ever leaving lay viewers out in the cold or confused. There is a surprise cameo near the end, that I’m sure will be a major talking point, that I can personally only describe as bizarre. The score is also the best we’ve heard since the prequel trilogy with new composer John Powell both creating some fitting new music of his own, and also rearranging some of the beloved John Williams themes to great effect.
Overall Solo could have been a hell of a lot worse, especially taking into account the firing of original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, near the end of filming, and the extended reshoots done by replacement Ron Howard. It hits so many of the right notes, and that’s what makes it so frustrating. it’s fun, but not fun enough, it has one of the best supporting casts in a Star Wars film, but under-uses every one of them, favouring a pointless and irrelevant love story and a two dimensional Mentor/student relationship.
We can always dream of the original cut.