Solo: Star Wars by the num­bers

Marlborough Midweek - - FRONT PAGE -

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 a meet­ing 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 a mostly 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.

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