Directed by: Ron Howard
Screenplay by: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan (based on characters created by George Lucas)
Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Jonathan Kasdan, Simon Emanuel
Executive Producers: Lawrence Kasdan, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Jason McGatlin, Allison Shearmur
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
A curious mixture of science fiction, criminal underworld and western, Solo: A Star Wars Story forsakes the Force in favour of creating classic gunslinger imagery and hero myth-building. It’s a movie that is well made, mildly entertaining and impressively acted without being memorable or thrilling, yet hard core Star Wars won’t be totally disappointed because a lot of throwaway lines from the original trilogy are explored or explained.
Many fans will be interested to find out how Han became the swaggering, cocky, gifted pilot who befriended Luke Skywalker and wooed a prickly Princess Leia. He is cynical but secretly a push-over for a worthy cause, and once visited the Spice Mines on Kessel. But what else do we get from this stand-alone entry in the Star Wars saga?
By conscientiously ticking off a number of boxes to ensure no serious fan will be disappointed, the film loses the spontaneity it needs. So while we learn more about Han’s misspent childhood and youth on Corellia, how he became a smuggler, befriended Chewbacca (a Wookiee who would become his best friend), completed the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs (beating the original record of 20 parsecs – despite parsecs being a measurement of length not time!), how he acquired the Millennium Falcon, it all seems a bit pedestrian, faithfully following a list of must haves. None of these elements are big surprises and in fairness they’ve probably been included because of fans’ expectations. But obviously non-Star Wars audiences need to be entertained as well, which is achieved to some degree by using the premise of a dangerous mission, exotic locations and encounters with various enemies, but this doesn’t necessarily translate to an exhilarating ride.
This film’s lacklustre box office returns may be the result of fan burn-out following The Last Jedi, rather than the troubled production history when Ron Howard took over from directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie), towards the end of filming. Howard re-shot over 70 per cent of the film, thus earning him a solo (!) directing credit (while Lord and Miller earned executive producer credits instead). It’s hard to know what kind of movie might have resulted from the original duo’s dabbling in improvisation and departures from the script, but there is scuttle-butt that their irreverence for the subject matter displeased studio bosses. Despite this, there are still lots of humorous situations and amusing dialogue peppered throughout, enough to raise a few laughs.
The original directors wanted a darker, murkier look (similar to the Batman versus Superman franchise), especially in the earlier scenes set on the criminal world of Corellia. There are several technically well produced but unnecessarily dragged out action sequences that basically just add a lot of length to the running time. We do see how good Han is as a pilot, someone who doesn’t like to be told the odds, and seldom listens to wiser voices. An older smuggler (Woody Harrelson) offers the sage advice, “Assume everyone will betray you and you will never be disappointed,” which Han predictably ignores, ironic given the number of double and triple crosses that occur. Alden Ehrenreich as the young Han is resilient and suitably cocky, but lacks the cynical edge Harrison Ford brought to the role. Donald Glover as the younger Lando is great fun and a dapper dresser, while the best snappy dialogue goes to his droid sidekick L3-37, played by snooty-voiced Phoebe Waller-Bridge. One cameo late in the film fairly much screams “Sequel!” so it will be interesting to see if the less than impressive ticket sales will merit a follow-up movie.
If you are a die-hard Star Wars fan you will probably want to see this latest entry out of curiosity, but non-Star Wars audiences may wonder what all the fuss is about, or opt to see the latest Deadpool outing instead.
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