Strong Solo effort
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (In theatres May 25) out of 5 Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke Director: Ron Howard
“It is a lawless time.” So begins the text — not quite enough of it to form a classic Star Wars crawl — at the beginning of Solo: A Star Wars Story.
It is also a time about a dozen years before the events of 1977’s Star Wars, the big bang that spawned this expanding galaxy.
It’s the time when Harry met Chewie. OK, Alden Ehrenreich’s character isn’t called Harry, but neither is he called Han Solo as the story opens. Funny story about that, which I’ll let the film tell you, along with other spoiler-y details.
We first meet Han and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) on the planet Corellia, a nasty place that people just want to leave. Han manages to do just that, but Qi’ra gets left behind.
The movie gets off to a sputtering start — it’s as though director Ron Howard, taking over from Phil “creative” Lord and Chris “differences” Miller, told his star: “Don’t get cocky, kid.” And it winds down in a similar fashion, as though unsure whether to make room for even more sequels. But the middle 80 per cent is a great ride, real edge-of-your-seat, seat-of-your-pants adventure. Hence the four-out-of-five stars.
Alas, in a technique that reached its zenith in Rogue One, Solo has a habit of introducing new characters only to kill them off just as they become interesting. These include (I’m not saying they all die) Thandie Newton as the smuggler Val, Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37, a real droids’ libber, and Paul Bettany as a criminal overlord named Dryden Vos.
You already know the main characters, their ultimate safety ensured by previous/ later-set movies. Donald Glover captures the suave swagger and cape-tastic dress sense of card shark Lando Calrissian. Finland’s Joonas Suotamo once again inhabits the role of Chewbacca, though this time as a spry 190-year-old. The biggest newcomer is Woody Harrelson as Beckett, a rogue and thief.
This is the first of the 10 (!) Star Wars films to date not to have a galaxy-saving plot at its core. Han just wants to earn enough money to buy his own ship, and perhaps reunite with Qi’ra, although their singular lack of chemistry suggests it might be a doomed affair.
The lower stakes make for an odd fusion of elements. Basically, Han is at the pointy end of a heist that goes south, and now needs to double down on an even more risky endeavour to pay off his debts. This is pretty much the state he was in back in 1977. Some smugglers never learn.
The story is set against the usual backdrop that includes some leftover costumes and musical stings — John Powell is listed as composer, but the most memorable bits of the score are lifted from the earlier work of John Williams. There’s also the customary desert planet, exotic watering hole, giant monster, shady hologram and glowy weaponry.
What else to say without spoiling the surprise? Only that the Empire is amusingly corrupt in ways other movies only hinted at, and that Ehrenreich manages the insouciant grin of a young Han Solo without overplaying it.
There are a few zingers in the dialogue, though maybe not as many as we might like. Even with Chewbacca’s help, Han Solo seems predestined to always end up just a little bit in debt to someone — in this case his fans.