Solo: Star Wars by the numbers
A great outcry arose from the basements and the bedsits of the world, and so normal service is resumed.
After The Last Jedi threatened – briefly – to bring the creaking franchise into a place of some relevance and freshness, Solo more or less concedes the impossibility of even hoping for a Star Wars movie to ever both confound our expectations and still be universally liked.
Solo is Star Wars by the numbers, doing exactly what was promised, staying inside the lines and not doing anything as confrontational and outrageous as ohhhh... showing awoman over the age of 30 giving orders to aman. Because that, apparently, will not be tolerated by the internet.
Solo isn’t bad at all. In fact, it’s a lot of fun, in a leave-your-brainin-the-glove-box and just enjoy the show kinda way. But after 40 years, are we being unreasonable to ask this franchise to deliver something fresh and unexpected?
We know, as we have known since 1977, that young Han Solo won his spaceship – The Millennium Falcon – in a game of cards with Lando Calrissian.
And we know, because it is the most deathlessly nonsensical line in cinema history, that the Falcon once ‘‘made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs’’. (George Lucas thought a parsec was a unit of time, not distance. Although, if you really want to waste a couple of hours, there’s some deeply geeky stuff down the web-hole about Han being a time-traveller and George Lucas actually being very, very clever. Hint: He wasn’t.)
And so Solo: A Star Wars Story sets about dutifully filling in the blanks and delivering us exactly what we know is coming. Thankfully, under the baton of – eventual – director Ron Howard, it also delivers us a pacy, funny and mostly likeable film.
We meet young Han – no second name yet, but the film does fill one in, in a peculiarly affecting and poignant scene – as a rebel without a clue on an industrialised dump of a planet. Slave labour is the only gig in town, but Han (Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar) and partner Qi’ra (Emelia Clarke) are destined for bigger things.
Howard conducts the pair’s partially successful escape without wasting too much time at all, and then basically hurls the remaining narrative through a succession of well staged setpieces.
There’s an unlikely evocation of World War I-era trenchwarfare, as Han works out that he is not made to be a soldier of the Empire, leading quickly into ameeting with the smugglers Tobias and Val (Woody Harrelson and Thandie Newton), one very large Wookie, and then an absolutely terrific and happily lengthy train-heist sequence which is about as good as anything the Star Wars universe has ever delivered.
It sets a benchmark Solo never quite reaches again, but that’s hardly a criticism. Once that scene is complete the mechanism of the storytelling finally clicks into gear and the film keeps us mostly engaged until the credits.
It’s amostly terrestrial affair, this Solo. Apart from the muchheralded Kessel run, the action mostly plays out with the character’s feet on solid ground against a backdrop of ice, deserts, mine-shafts and vertiginous mountains.
There’s an appropriately Indiana Jones quality about the action, while Howard throws in references to Stagecoach and Where Eagles Dare to keep the trainspotters happy.
As Solo, Ehrenreich does just about enough to make us believe he might one day grow up to be Harrison Ford’s iteration of the character.
Ehrenreich has been handed an impossible task, but he acquits himself pretty well. The smirk and the charm are there, even if some of the menace and gruffness is lacking.
Ford’s Solo always looked like the guy you’d put money on to win the fight, Ehrenreich doesn’t have that same quality.
Next to Ehrenreich, Harrelson and Newton are both fine, while Donald Glover does an eerily credible impersonation of a young Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian. The only weak link in the cast, oddly, is Paul Bettany, just not looking anything like scary enough to be the main villain.
Bettany was parachuted in late when Michael KWilliams ( The Wire) became unavailable for reshoots, adding just one more problem to be overcome on this famously troubled production.
A late cameo from a genuine Star Wars bad guy – no spoilers – reminds us just how underdone Bettany looks.
Solo: A Star Wars Story delivers exactly what it promises. It is a very competent and, at times, riotously enjoyable film.
If that is all you want your Star Wars to be, then you’ll go home happy enough. Just don’t expect it to do anything you haven’t seen before or challenge any of your preconceptions of what a popular blockbuster can show.
For this franchise, like most others, that’s more than we are allowed to hope for. - Graeme Tuckett
is is a very competent and, at times, riotously enjoyable film.