Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Joonas Suotamo. Director: Ron Howard
There is an issue arising in the Star Wars universe: the films tend to arrive with some very public behind the scenes issues. First, the various issues surrounding Rogue One that led the actors to remark that there was potentially two different movies to be seen of it. Following the critical kicking The Book of Henry received, Colin Trevorrow was booted off Episode IX. Then came the firing of Josh Trank from the untitled Boba Fett movie, following his somewhat difficult behaviour on the set of Fantastic Four. And then, during the production of the Solo movie, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired and replaced with Ron Howard.
It’s a difficult place to work, clearly, but even so the Star Wars universe has the potential the rival even Marvel in its stakes. It’s a ballsy move to replace a director and then move the release date to within weeks of the DVD release of the previous movie.
Solo, such as the final product is, is an origin story for Han Solo. We find him on the shipbuilding colony world of Corellia with his girlfriend Qi’ra, when they are split up he joins the Empire in the hopes of becoming an ace pilot and falls in with a gang of thieves, all of which leads him to a job working for a terrifying mob boss.
It’s not impossible for behind the scenes issues to be present a brilliant film, after all, Rogue One was an amazing addition to the Star Wars canon, and gave us characters we cared about, but there is an issue at the heart of Solo that can’t be helped – what’s the point of it all? The obligatory trotting out of his homeworld, original love, mentor and how he met both Chewie and Lando are all par for the course, but actually, being told about them is much better than being shown them. Hearing the legend of Han Solo is often more alluring than seeing the real thing.
Howard is a good director, with some brilliant films under his belt, but he’s not really adept at this kind of science fiction spectacle. Willow is probably the biggest comparison, and of course, that film is a failure on all fronts. There’s little here (save for an all too brief Clint Howard cameo) to say this is his film, and it lacks the kind of Western influence the trailer had us sold on. The idea of a space western with gunslingers and train robberies is a brilliant one, and would work beautifully in the Star Wars universe, but the film is far too concerned – as many prequels are – with referencing the way in which things will become important later on.
Moreover, the acting is a very mixed bag. Alden Ehrenreich is not a particularly good Han Solo, he lacks the dickhead charm of Ford, and the ability to endear you to him. He’s cynical by the time he’s like twenty, and that doesn’t sound true of a man who fairly easily does the right thing. He’s neither the loveable rogue nor the redeemable asshole, he’s just there.
Similarly, Woody Harrelson struggles with the mentor role and ends up just playing the obligatory father figure, again with very little to add to it. It doesn’t help that the characterisation of him and his crew – underused Thandie Newton, and CGI monkey creature Rio voiced by Jon Favreau – are all fairly standard character types.
Plus, as good as she is in Game of Thrones, Emilia Clarke can’t turn this bland love interest into anything more than a boring woman who does very little. Living in an age where Leia and Rey are leading the charge, and even Jyn Erso was a force of nature, to have such an old-fashioned boring woman as the lead is very disappointing.
Joonas Suotamo gets the easy task of playing Chewbacca, and does well, even if the noises do begin the grate in certain scenes – he’s always one of the series stand out roles, but there is a limit to how much a wordless giant carpet can aid your film, especially when subtitles are thrown in and out for comedic reasons.
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Thankfully, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Donald Glover and Paul Bettany all appear to be able to enjoy themselves massively in their roles, and never let the audience forget they are enjoying joining the universe. Glover, in particular, does the right amount of impression and interpretation of Lando Calrissian and he steals the film.
The action sequences are good too – the train robbery being the most exciting of the films moments, and should very much have been the film’s finale. As it is, when the inevitable Kessel run comes, heavy eyelids follow. It’s not that it isn’t done well, but there’s nothing here to surprise.
This is not the worst the Star Wars series has given us – there are no lines of dialogue about sand for example, but it’s far from the best of the series. This is, in truth, a so-so science fiction movie, hampered by a more interesting production story than the one on screen that happens to showcase how great Donald Glover is as an actor, but very little else. Perhaps a film for die-hard nerf-herders only.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.