Han gives western his best shot
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