Strong Solo ef­fort

Montreal Gazette - - MOVIES - CHRIS KNIGHT ck­night@post­ twit­­film

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (In the­atres May 25) out of 5 Cast: Alden Ehren­re­ich, Joonas Suo­tamo, Woody Har­rel­son, Emilia Clarke Di­rec­tor: Ron Howard

Du­ra­tion: 2h15m

“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.

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