Solo: A Star Wars Story

The original Star Wars trilogy may ostensibly have been the story of Luke Skywalker, that story expanded to the wider Skywalker clan in Return of the Jedi and then through the prequel trilogy, but it was Han Solo who was the undoubted star of the films, the reluctant pilot who took the opportunity to take cash for dangerous cargo to pay off the debtors who wanted his head who found himself a general in the Rebel Alliance, leading the mission which ultimately took down the Empire.

His backstory barely touched upon in the original film when released in 1977, he was nevertheless fully formed upon his introduction in the Mos Eisley cantina, capable and cool almost to the point of feigned indifference to the job offer until his new passengers had left earshot, then unable to contain his excitement when alone with his best friend, his only friend, first mate Chewbacca.

A reinstated scene in the 1997 “special edition” was less significant than the revisions to the existing material, the summary curtailment of Han’s confrontation with Greedo in the cantina instead depicted as self-defence against an incompetent debt collector rather than a decisive underhanded pre-emptive strike. A fundamental shift of the character in his introductory scene, he was no longer a dangerous and unpredictable rogue; understandably, the fans maintained that Han shot first.

Two decades later, Star Wars is wholly owned by Disney, an empire perhaps more family-friendly but just as totalitarian in their control as they roll out a new trilogy continuing the Skywalker story through The Force Awakens even as that of Han Solo ended, and the standalone “anthology” films, first Rogue One and now Solo, but behind the scenes the matter of who is calling the shots is as complicated as ever.

Credited to Ron Howard, with a diverse resume and early hits which include family friendly fantasy, science fiction and adventure, some of it associated with the Lucasfilm brand, from Splash, Cocoon, Willow and Apollo 13 he moved to major award nominations for his more mature films, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man and Frost/Nixon as well as the box office success of The Da Vinci Code and it’s sequels, he was not the first choice of the studio for director.

Filming commencing in January 2017 under The Lego Movie‘s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, they were replaced in June of that year when it was felt that their approach to the film was not in keeping with Lucasfilm’s vision, Howard appointed soon after to complete the planned remainder of principal photography and undertake major reshoots including the complete revision of one role with Infinity Wars’ Paul Bettany replacing an actor who was unable to return.

Co-written by Lawrence Kasdan, credited on The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, and his son Jonathan, the senior partner has demonstrable experience with the Star Wars universe and with another of Harrison Ford’s most popular and enduring characters; if anyone could capture his younger self as embodied by Alden Ehrenreich of Beautiful Creatures, Stoker and Hail, Caesar! for Solo: A Star Wars Story, it should have been they.

Where other than the briefest of cameos, digital recreations or masked performers Rogue One featured a new cast of principal characters albeit often in familiar settings the challenge of Solo is substantially different, akin to the relaunch of Star Trek in 2009 where iconic characters had to be recreated for a new generation, bringing something new and vital to the screen while honouring what has gone before.

Fortunately, with Ehrenreich and Donald Glover they have played their trump cards, both at ease in the in the roles and out in stars, though Glover, previously seen in The Martian and Spider-Man: Homecoming has by far the easier job, Lando Calrissian having been little more than the token supporting character introduced in The Empire Strikes Back to balance the previously all-white cast then received little expansion in Return of the Jedi, his character given more screen time in this single prequel than his previous cumulative exposure.

As Han, Ehrenreich has an easy charm, a fast thinker, a fast talker and a fast driver, in over his head and running as fast as he can before his past catches up with him, always with one eye on the next job and a glance cast over his shoulder to see who is following, but crucially he is not a man looking to be a hero but to survive whose only goal is to be “anywhere the Empire isn’t.”

Set around the same time frame as Rebels, Solo echoes the visuals of that recently ended animated series with Imperial Star Destroyers hanging over the industrialised cities of Corellia from which Han plans to escape to join the Imperial Flight Academy before jumping forward to the war raging on the planet of Mimban where he meets the crew who will shape his future, Tobias Beckett (War for the Planet of the Apes’ Woody Harrelson), Val (Westworld’s Thandie Newton), Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, the only major cast member reprising a familiar role).

The first hour less of a coherent narrative than a series of underdeveloped highlights, while fast moving that is largely a botched effort to conceal how conventional the film is; unlike Rogue One which was driven by a core mission vital to the future of the galaxy and carried by a taskforce who lacked any established future continuity, any attempt to place Han, Chewie and Lando in peril could be undermined by the knowledge of their future but the effort is never made, peripheral characters instead eliminated when most have barely been introduced and certainly insufficiently for the audience to care when the stakes are so low.

Although his mouth is all his own from the start in Beckett there is much of the man that Han will become, while in Qi’Ra there is nothing of Leia Organa, the woman he will later fall in love with, Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke sleepwalking through the part in a manner reminiscent of her recent appearance in the lacklustre Gothic horror Voice from the Stone; more interesting are Newton and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s unconventional droid L3-37, both sidelined in favour of Qi’ra, a crucial role whose lack of chemistry douses any sparks she might have generated with Ehrenreich.

With Bettany substituting as Dryden Vos, no effort has been made to establish him as anything other than a stock gangster boss to drive a plot which ticks off catchphrases, mynocks the Millennium Falcon and the famous Kessel Run without flair, John Powell incorporating many of John Williams’ classic fanfares in an attempt to convey a level of remembered excitement which is otherwise largely unearned.

The first of the Disney era Star Wars films to openly acknowledge the prequels – fortunately not through the inclusion of Gungans, but about as unnecessary and welcome as that would have been – the sole standout scene of the film is a train heist too similar to that performed on Firefly, a show known for its snappy banter among the crew of Serenity captained by a character already influenced by Han Solo’s smuggling days.

Here the wooden expositionary dialogue may be in keeping with the established Star Wars style, particularly the prequels, but while Lord and Miller encouraged improvisation on set during their tenure it was apparently the insistence of the Kasdans that the script be performed to their precise wording which was one of the factors in their replacement; while at this time it is purely speculative, there is a distinct possibility that this could have produced a distinctly more lively film than what Howard has offered: adequate, predictable and above all playing it safe, Solo a galaxy far, far away from what it should have been, shooting first but wildly off target.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is now on general release and also screening in IMAX 3D



Show Buttons
Hide Buttons