Han Solo: Dastardly rogue, charming swindler, cocky pilot, self-assured prick. We’ve known this much since Star Wars first flew into view in 1977. Now, Star Wars has wound the clock all the way back to tell the story of how Han Solo came to be all those adjectives with Solo: A Star Wars Story.
This is definitely a Star Wars film – and while that will give the legions of disgruntled Last Jedi fans something to hold on to – it works to Solo’s detriment.
A sprinkling of light plot spoilers will follow, but rest assured, the major spoilers are hidden elsewhere.
Though Solo opens without a crawl, we’re dropped into Corellia where a Young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is wheeling, dealing and stealing from his crime boss overlord Lady Proxima and kissing young flame Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). He’s like a space Ric Flair, but without all the cash, fame and championships. The film’s first act is a carefully-constructed crawl itself and only kicks in to lightspeed when Han meets a bandit crew and plans the film’s first major heist before settling down again and finding its rhythm late in the piece with a second, more daring, heist.
That yo-yo pace is no real surprise, considering the troubled production history and late filming substitution of duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for one Ron Howard. If you look hard enough, you can see the fingerprints of the former across parts of the film, but it’s clearly a film that belongs to Howard at the end of the day, micro-managed and tinkered with by the Lucasfilm overlords to a fault.
The two major heists keep Solo enjoyable – the first on the snow planet of Vandor lets supporting characters shine and the infiltration of the Kessel Spice Mines is nothing but joy, seeing Chewie slam nobodies and Lando, Qi’ra and Han blast their way out of the caves. On the other hand, they also pull the film away from ever having a clear Big Bad. Two are flirted with – Enfys Nest and Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) – but one is taken care of via the plot and the other barely gets a chance to exist without a ton of exposition.
It’s this exposition that sucks the soul out of the film, with everyone doing their darndest to mould the non-Harrison-Ford-Solo into the venerable smuggler he, in-canon, becomes and lend those supporting characters enough backstory to make you care.
At one point, Vos says something along the lines of “he’s arrogant isn’t he?” and it’s hidden in the pauses between each word that Solo really wants to make sure you know that this is the same Solo you know and love (or know and hate). Harrison Ford’s rendering of one of the galaxy’s most charismatic characters looms like a Chewbacca-sized shadow over Ehrenreich’s shoulder throughout the entire film but Ehrenreich doesn’t (and actually doesn’t need to) channel Original Solo, the film just wants you to believe that he is doing so.
If we travel back to 1977, the first time that the world was introduced to Han, he quickly shot and killed the fly-eyed Rodian bounty hunter, Greedo in a scene that George Lucas then ret-conned to oblivion. That Cantina scene was all it really took to establish that Solo was impulsive, brash and cocky. His cantankerous “she’s fast enough for you, old man” directed laser-pointed, right between Obi-Wan’s eyes sells it and then his obliteration of Greedo by blaster fire seals it.
Here’s a guy that plays by his own rules, we’re told. Oh, the stories he must have.
Where did that bravado come from? Where did the seeds of Han’s impudence first get planted? Solo doesn’t really explain that, instead shunting us into a Young Han storyline in media res that seems to be written just to tick off every whispered backstory mentioned since the seventies.
Han winning the Millennium Falcon off Lando? Tick.
Han completing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs? Tick.
Han getting his name? Tick.
When does Han shoot, first… or second? Tick.
Han and Chewbacca’s first meeting? Tick
Tying the film to the greater canon established since Disney’s take over? Tick Tick Tick.
It’s not that any of these moments are uninteresting — the scene where Han meets Chewie and the Kessel Run both subvert expectations just enough and the reappearance of a prequel trilogy Star Wars figure got a genuine gasp and jaw-drop from me — but rather those moments just don’t feel quite so important. The stakes aren’t all that high. We knew Han won the Falcon, we knew he completed the Kessel Run in record time and those stories have existed since that initial Cantina scene in A New Hope.
Until now, we filled in the blanks. It was always going to be an uphill struggle to make those moments worth remembering.
So what can Solo do that does surprise and enthrall? Introducing a bunch of really great characters certainly helps. Young Han’s love interest, Qi’ra and smuggler-boss Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) carry a lot of the load, while Young Lando (Donald Glover) swaggers around gambling dens and the Falcon commanding attention in a way that only Glover-channeling-Williams could.
In a cinematic universe that generally deals in black-and-white, good-and-evil, the murky, morally-grey motivations of the supporting cast does feel like a breath of fresh air. The light of the Skywalker Saga can’t reach every dark corner of the galaxy, thank the midichlorians. It’s a pity that other members of that cast, such as the hardened, stoic Val (Thandie Newton) don’t get enough screen time to really shine.
A friend said to me, before release, that they felt like Solo would probably be a “very high budget fan film” and that the revolving door of directors would get the canon “mostly right”. Solo certainly meets the expectations of the canon but does little to exceed them. I like to try and take the Star Wars out of the film and imagine if it would be any good and in Solo’s case that leaves you with a serviceable action-adventure film.
It’s becoming clear that Disney won’t alter the formula too much with the Anthology titles, instead, opting to go down the Marvel Cinematic Universe route of pumping out popcorn cinema that gets bums in seats, relies on big Star Wars figures and doesn’t take all too many risks. They’re content to rest on their laurels and it’s obvious Solo does just that — flying in its namesake’s face by doing the exact opposite of what he would do. That puts it just ahead of Attack of the Clones as Star Wars’ least impressive film.
Solo: A Star Wars Story releases in cinemas May 24
People are still angry about The Last Jedi and another Star Wars film is about to drop. SOLO. A Star Wars Story is the second Anthology series film, following in the steps of Rogue One before it. Though it releases in a week's time, we have all the juicy spoilers right here. Which means, yes, this article is FULL. OF. SPOILERS. If you want to go in to the film blind, don't click through. If you're keen to hear exactly how it all plays out - this is the article for you.Read more