It underwhelmed at the box office, but how does Han’s solo story hold up?
There’s a sweet moment in the Solo extras when the cast thank Ron Howard for pulling the film’s ass out of the fire. Well, bittersweet, really. A late-doors replacement for dismissed directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Howard steadied the ship, delivered to deadline and earned respectable reviews. He snatched victory from the jaws of defeat – then stumbled into the rancor pit of box-office indifference. Solo’s worldwide gross – wheezing towards $400m at time of writing – is a decent chunk of change by most standards, but not Star Wars’.
What went wrong? The (lack of) marketing? Debuting so soon after
The Last Jedi? Debuting so soon after the (inexplicable) Last Jedi backlash? Or simply that it wasn’t the Star Wars film people needed right now?
Whatever the reason, Solo is a bomb… but one that’s full of fizz and flare. Its allegiance to the light side nicely contrasts the darkness of Rogue One. Strangely, though, it takes that film’s murky palette and grinds it even deeper into the mud; watch through 3D specs and your eyes may need as much
of a hose-down as those stormtroopers. At least the characters are colourful. Alden Ehrenreich hooks your sympathy from the off - not least due to facing the saga’s biggest acting challenge since Hayden Christensen had to find the missing link between wholesome moppet and genocidal despot.
Stepping into cinema’s most iconic space-cowboy boots, Ehrenreich – inevitably – doesn’t make the role his own. But he takes good care of it; more happy-go-lucky than angry young Han, he flies casual(ly) through the film, adopting familiar mannerisms without slipping into a hammy Harrison Ford impersonation.
HAN AND EGGS
Ehrenreich’s journey here from street rat to smuggler doesn’t require any especially heavy lifting (no tragic confrontations with evil or patricidal offspring, for example). But it keeps him on his comedic toes: finally bringing Star Wars’ oft-glimpsed underworld from the margins to the centre, this is a film crawling with crime lords, pirates and, most of all, scene-stealers. There’s Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), of course; true, there’s not much new we learn about the wookiee wingman (other than he looks cute in goggles), but he gets more to do than in the last two Episodes, and a meet-cute with Han that’s worthy of their four-decade bromance.
Bringing fresh swagger to Lando Calrissian, Donald Glover instantly deserves his own spin-off… so long as it includes his co-pilot/special friend L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Unlike most of the series’ droid companions, L3 seems to be missing an obedience
chip, and is all the funnier for it.
If her limited screen time disappoints, a micro-twist neatly and sweetly retro-fits her into Star Wars lore. Here’s hoping for an Episode IX Easter egg.
Talking of which… have your baskets handy: this is one eggs-cellent adventure. The plot – everyone in pursuit of a Mad Max-y super-fuel macguffin called coaxium – is almost an afterthought. The real story here is a sequence of nods – big, small and obscure (Teras Kasi, anyone?) – to Star Wars history. Thankfully, Howard and father/son screenwriters Lawrence/ Jonathan Kasdan offer fan service with a smile. Many of the homages come in the form of gags, whether it’s a few bars of a certain baddie anthem or a twist on a classic exchange (“I know”).
Keeping things bright (visuals aside) and breezy, the filmmakers have fun with misdirection (Han’s acquisition of the Millennium Falcon) and relish the chance to turn a tossed-off reference into an all-quad-guns-blazing set-piece. Effectively the movie’s climax, the Kessel Run is surely bigger, longer and louder than anything George Lucas had in mind when he wrote Episode IV. That actual wrap-up has reduced impact, perhaps because it teases sequels we’re unlikely to see, at least in movie form.
Unsurprisingly, Solo’s troubled production (and performance) isn’t mentioned in the extras. The only concession to creative tension is anecdotes, backstory speculation and fashion critiques (Glover’s take on Han’s style, or lack thereof, is a keeper). Other featurettes tackle design issues (yellow, red or blue for the Falcon?), how to get a sound effect out of a Gummi Bear and the versatility of baguette warmers. There are also enough GIF-able Chewie moments (dancing, fist-bumping, making a snow angel) to last the internet to infinity.
Hans’ love of fur was a sore point in the bromance. OLD AND NEW Glover, Ehrenreich and Suotamo take on classic characters, while Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Phoebe WallerBridge and Emilia Clarke join in the fun.