Han gives western his best shot

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

HAR­RI­SON Ford’s devil-may-care performance as space cow­boy Han Solo was one of the key in­gre­di­ents that sent the orig­i­nal 1977 Star Wars into the strato­sphere.

He was cool, he was funny, he was brave with­out be­ing earnest; he put the smug in smug­gler. So pity poor Alden Ehren­re­ich, the 28-year-old who has to try to recre­ate the rak­ish Ford charm some 40 years later in this Han Solo ori­gin story.

Cast mostly be­cause he looks a bit like a young Ford once you style his hair with some 1970s split ends, Ehren­re­ich ac­quits him­self pretty well with­out ever giv­ing view­ers a killer Solo com­edy mo­ment to rank with those crowd-pleas­ing lines “It’s not my fault”, “bor­ing con­ver­sa­tion any­way” and “I know” (fans, you know the con­text).

The trou­bled pro­duc­tion, ul­ti­mately steered into dock by the ca­pa­ble Ron Howard, is a space western in the vein of (but not the league of) Joss Whe­don’s Seren­ity.

On the im­pov­er­ished world of Corel­lia, the young Han and his sweet­heart Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) hatch a plan to es­cape the un­der­world clutches of a cen­tipede-like crime queen.

The scheme lands Han in the com­pany of a gang of thieves led by To­bias (Woody Har­rel­son) and Val (Thandie New­ton), and soon they’re hi­jack­ing a fu­tur­is­tic freight train that snakes around a moun­tain­ous planet like the prover­bial roller-coaster the film as­pires to be.

Fans will sit up in their seats at the touch­point mo­ments, such as when Han meets Chew­bacca (in an an­tag­o­nis­tic meet-cute to ri­val any rom­com); when the debonair Lando Cal­ris­sian en­ters the pic­ture (Don­ald Glover is a nar­cis­sis­tic smooth crim­i­nal with a fetish for capes); and there’s a goose­bumps-wor­thy twist near the end ty­ing the story into the broader saga that’s well worth the wait.

But the movie’s tired plot McGuf­fin, in­volv­ing a valu­able fuel source, has barely enough power to push the sto­ry­line along, and hey, didn’t they use that ex­act same de­vice in Episode VIII six months ago? It’s weak stuff that might have worked in a movie that was 20 min­utes shorter.

Pro­duc­tion de­sign is as beau­ti­ful as ever — the sabre-shaped tower that Paul Bet­tany’s scarred bad­die com­mands, hov­er­ing in the air like a fly­ing Burj Khal­ifa, is a won­drous sight. Phoebe Waller-Bridge hi­lar­i­ously voices a droid, L3-37, who’s like an elec­tri­cal sup­port­ing char­ac­ter from Brid­get Jones’s Di­ary. But none of that coun­ter­acts the nag­ging sense that Dis­ney is suck­ing the blue Star Wars milk­shake dry be­fore our eyes. Still, the movie does ad­dress the eter­nal ques­tion: did Han shoot first?

TO BE SCREENED FROM 24 MAY NICK DENT

Alden Ehren­re­ich takes over Har­ri­son Ford’s role as Hans Solo in the new movie. Pic­ture: AP

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