Thursday, 24 May 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Film Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Film Review


Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Director: Ron Howard

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Film Review
Enigma, mystery, the eternal riddle of how an iconic character came to be.

These are the things of which nightmares are made for writers tasked with origin stories.

Whether it's an infamous line, or an oblique cool-sounding reference tossed into a script as a throwaway line, it's a conundrum.

Han Solo.

The name is evocative - he's the guy who shot first, the guy who made the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, the guy who was cool and detached in those original films back in the 1970s.

But scratch beneath the surface and peer into the veneer to explore his origins and that's where the mystery starts to fade.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Lucasfilm set the directors of The LEGO Movie, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to work. And then they were removed due to "creative differences" - causing the sound of a million geeks to cry out in existential terror at what lay ahead for their beloved smuggler.

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Film Review

In came Ron Howard to try and rescue what was there from the clutches of the Empire's vaults.

So, what we're left with with Solo: A Star Wars Story is an origin tale no one really wanted (because Han's backstory is best left to tantalising lines and imaginations), questions answered no one really asked and a story in the Star Wars universe that suggests the Empire isn't involved in everything.

Displaying some, but nowhere near enough, of the charisma that Harrison Ford delivered in the series, Hail Caesar!'s Alden Ehrenreich is Han, a scumrat who's trying to break away from his home planet of Corellia with his girlf Qi'ra (Game of Thrones Emilia Clarke) thanks to a theft of the film's MacGuffin, Hyperfuel.

Separated when their heist goes wrong, Han signs up with the baddies to become a pilot, and ends up in the trenches (the closest Star Wars has ever got to showing the gritty World War I edges of warfare) before falling in with Woody Harrelson's Beckett and his band of merry mercenaries.

Teaming up to pull a job on a flying train (one of the film's stand-out action sequences, that packs Western vibes into a snowy landscape and never loses the thread in among the pace), Han does all he can to get back to Qi'Ra and the life he used to know.
Solo: A Star Wars Story: Film Review

It's fair to say that Solo: A Star Wars Story doesn't really feel like a Star Wars film.

In fact, for the most part of it, the sparkle you'd feel and giddy high you'd encounter for being part of this world feels absent, with those in charge hoping the thrills would come from the fact a line was referenced, or you see how Chewbacca and Han actually met - it's a perfunctory take on the legend, and one can't help but feel shortchanged in some of the execution.

It's to be commended for trying to widen the universe without always having to tie back into it (something the countless novels and stories have always done) and the how-he-became-a-smuggler isn't quite told in the way you'd expect.

Glover manages a perfect Billy Dee Williams impression, but his Lando isn't quite the high-stakes scoundrel we'd expect, and most of the performance feels bathed in the "cool" that's currently surrounding Glover, rather than anything else.

Equally, it has to be said, that while Ehrenreich comes occasionally close to matching some of what Ford did as Solo thanks to hints of where his future lies, the cocky edges aren't on show, and even hints of them are missing. He feels like he's come from a Western, and is trying to impress as Solo, but the script doesn't quite serve him as well.

In fairness, Han and Chewie's relationship - along with Phoebe Waller-Bridge's L3-37 robot and Lando - are where the film really does hit its straps. Playful, earnest and with heart, these fire unexpectedly off the screen from the moment they're seen - and really make parts of Solo: A Star Wars Story stand out. It's a shame there's not more of this, as when they come, they're joyous.

Unfortunately, Clarke and Ehrenreich have little chemistry, and what little they can muster pales into insignificance with the ease of what Carrie Fisher and Ford achieved. For an emotional centre, it's sorely miscast and deeply uninvolving.
Solo: A Star Wars Story: Film Review

Ultimately, Solo: A Star Wars Story feels muted, and struggles with some lulls; it doesn't help that most of the mystery of Solo is unravelled in other's hands, leaving you the feeling none of his hinted-at reputation was earned, merely given, which is a crucial difference in such a character, whose reputation is key. 

What emerges from the spinoff space saga is a feeling that it feels like a project that floundered to find an edge, a piece of fan service that tries too hard to hit its core audience in the intergalactic feels (You want a Cantina style scene? Sure, we'll give you that) and which which tries to subvert expectations, but never quite gets there.

Solo: A Star Wars Story may never reach the pantheon of the greatest Star Wars films, and its perfunctory execution and lurching-from-one-sequence-to-the-next don't do it any favours. 

In this galaxy far, far away, the stars don't appear to shine as brightly.

It may have been doomed from the start, thanks to the weight of what happened in 1977, but it certainly shows that not everything in this endless galaxy needs to be explained, and that sometimes, a hint of mystery should be - and indeed is - more than enough to sustain a legend for cinematic eternity.

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