Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Joonas Suotamo, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany.
The Plot: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… there was a scoundrel who found his destiny. On his home planet of Corellia, adventure-seeking Han (Alden Ehrenreich) joins the Empire’s infantry. He’s not very good at it, instead bonding with fellow scoundrel Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and wookiee Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Beckett is putting together a team for a high-stakes heist run by crime boss Vos (Paul Bettany). Along the way, Han runs into old flame Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who complicates matters. Things get increasingly dicey, but help might come in the form of gambler Lando (Donald Glover) and his fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy…
The Verdict: ‘I have a bad feeling about this…’ That oft-used Star Wars phrase was bandied about quite a bit when the second spin-off film in the new series hit a snag. Mid-way through production, Solo: A Star Wars Story’s original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were dismissed from the project. Rumours abound that their comedy background in the likes of The Lego Movie was becoming too prominent in the script, along with encouraging their actors to improvise more than Disney and Lucasfilm was willing to tolerate. In steps George Lucas’ old buddy and safe pair of hands Ron Howard to steer the film back on course. The question stands though: is the end result, mostly re-shot with some re-casting (e.g. Paul Bettany), any good?
The answer is that the film is thankfully not a disaster, but neither is it a stone-cold classic Star Wars film. It sits comfortably somewhere in the mid-range sector, with Revenge Of The Sith or Return Of The Jedi. The script by father and son team Lawrence and Jake Kasdan eschews the doom-laden sacrifices of the under-rated Rogue One for a bright, breezy, all-action space western. Han Solo was always a bit of a cowboy, as well as being a cool-as-you-come scoundrel / scruffy-looking nerf-herder. The Kasdans’ script delves into Han’s past as a reckless young man, setting up some familiar relationships with other characters that will play an important part in the years and battles to come.
Han Solo was iconic character for Harrison Ford, so Ehrenreich had big shoes to fill. He mostly succeeds in getting the swagger, confidence and sense of humour right. Though, his limitations as an actor are evident – for now anyway. He apparently had to take acting lessons on set and it shows in some scenes, particularly with the more experienced Clarke – who injects some of that Mother of Dragons steel into her performance. While the bravado is there, there’s not much depth to this younger incarnation of Han. That may be a fault of the script, but there’s no equivalent ‘I know…’ scene here to suggest that Han is willing to look past his own interests for the greater good.
That said though, if you’re willing to look past its faults then there’s a lot of fun to be had with Solo. It’s a non-stop thrill ride, with a stand-out heist sequence on a moving train early on. While not traditionally a visual effects director, Howard directs the action sequences with flair and confidently steers the film home to its thrilling conclusion. Glover’s Lando is a lot of fun too, nailing the essential cool of the character. There are more than a few throwbacks (throwforwards?) to previous Star Wars films, though one scene suggests that the storyline takes place earlier than previously thought in the Star Wars timeline. While Rogue One was very much a solo affair, this Solo has potential for more. That is, if audiences want more. On the evidence of what Howard has salvaged here, another film is certainly welcome. ‘I have a good feeling about this’.