Review – Despite production problems, ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ keeps the franchise motor running

Luke Stevenson is one of the hosts of The Popcorn Muncher Podcast. He is only serious about Bee Movie.
 

Poster for 2018 sci-fi adventure Solo: A Star Wars Story

Genre: Adventure
Certificate: 12
UK Release Date: 24th May 2018
Runtime: 135 minutes
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo
Synopsis: After escaping from a scummy underworld of slavery, Han Solo joins forces with a band of thieves to carry out an ambitious heist that could earn freedom for all of them.

 

 

The problem with movies that dramatically change their directors because of creative differences at the eleventh hour is that it’s difficult to fully appreciate what you’re seeing without comparing it to what might have been. Ant-Man is the most noteworthy recent example of a film that felt like two people had made it, with snapshots of Edgar Wright’s directorial flair apparent in between Peyton Reed’s rather safer stewardship of the tiny superhero. And so we come to Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is note-worthy for its relative lack of hype from fans and the dramatic turn of events that saw its beloved directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller replaced with a safe pair of hands in Ron Howard towards the end of the film’s production.

It’s almost cruel, then, to focus so much on this backdrop when considering the overall film. It can be classed as unfair to the filmmakers who saw the film over the line to repeatedly point to parts of the movie that weren’t up to them and say it would be better without them, especially as we don’t and likely will never know which parts of the movie came from which director. However, it’s one of the main limitations of Solo: A Star Wars Story that it feels like two separate films slammed together in a messy edit that also stripped any colour out of its first act.

It’s one part buddy comedy – Han and Chewie, Han and Lando, Lando and his robot companion L3 – and one part conventional franchise starter. It relies heavily on exposition, nifty action sequences and an overbearing amount of fan service. Who’s responsible for which part? We can’t possibly know, but its easy to see that the comedy works, the action sequences are passable and the plot is almost unintelligible.

We meet a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) on the planet of Corellia, where he is doing jobs with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), before making a break for freedom that sees them separated. Han then takes steps to become a pilot so he can return and rescue her, which brings him into the paths of Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). They all have different motivations to chase a big score from big bad Dryden (Paul Bettany), who runs a crime syndicate.

The first hour of Solo is a blur, in both a literal and metaphorical sense. We jump from chase scene to chase scene, sparing little time to get anything but an oppressive grey colour on screen and little dialogue outside of buckets of clunky exposition. There’s enough ambition here to just about carry you through, but it is a testing experience. The jokes work, but they are few and far between and read like somebody stripped back or added them in at the last minute.

One of its greatest limitations is its slavish desire to deliver weak fan service. This movie suffers from the worst of fan service in that it celebrates and lingers on moments irrelevant to people who don’t know Han Solo from the original trilogy, but it also stops the film to focus on them. While both The Force Awakens and Rogue One were exercises in celebrating Star Wars as much as they were in telling an original story, those celebrations were organic and fitted seamlessly in the overall tapestry of the film. In Solo there are few moments of knowing comedy that don’t feel like the entire film abruptly crashing a ship into a wall.

Where Rogue One benefited from being a one off – its plot runs up to the beginning of A New Hope and it’s apparent 30 minutes from the end that all of the characters you’ve met are about to die – Solo sometimes displays the worst of sequel-baiting and prequel limitations. Its final act is an exercise in deflating tension, as all of the major characters are ones we know from later movies, and the film becomes so preoccupied with establishing potential follow-ups that any tension you do feel is academic as this story is serving a larger goal.

Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo in spin-off Solo: A Star Wars Story
Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo in spin-off Solo: A Star Wars Story

On this evidence, though, the idea of more Han Solo standalone adventures (standSolo-nes?) doesn’t sound as terrible as the first one. There are fun elements here. Ehrenreich’s performance is charming and his ability to play off Chewie in a natural way is to be admired, although the noticeable reimagining of Solo as a bit of a charming dweeb is likely to upset the purists. It’s a great shame that the comedy is the part of this movie that consistently delivers, because it only occurs fleetingly.

A great sequence on a mining planet gives an indication as to what this film could have been if it was let more off of the reigns, and it’s in its wildest moments that Solo succeeds in being the fun, roguish adventure we’d expect. However, the movie too often sacrifices this in favour of painfully orchestrated nods towards fans and a crippling desire to set up more movies. It’s almost impressive that an add-on to a franchise currently producing its ninth movie manages to feel like the first one of its kind to actively sequel bait.

Despite the criticisms it’s easy to aim at this movie, and the longing for what could have been if either sets of directors had been able to have a full run at it, Solo is a serviceable two hours in the cinema. It packs some thrills, some laughs and enough twists to keep you interested for further installments, but ultimately it’s limited by conflicting approaches and ideas to what the film should be and, because of this. it’s difficult to walk away feeling completely satisfied.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

One of the most iconic characters in cinema history gets their ‘Solo’ outing in a movie that is not befitting of its characters familiarity. This is a mash-up of ideas and styles that doesn’t always work, but there’s enough good in it to convince you that it might come through in future, much like the original Han we met forty years ago.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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