Star Wars has had somewhat of a chequered history since turning over to the dark side, sorry, I mean Disney. You see, since LucasFilm was acquired by the House of Mouse there has been one Star Wars movie each year. The Force Awakens was good, if a little safe and The Last Jedi was brilliant, but incredibly divisive.
What’s been more exciting to see evolve however, is the Star Wars Story movies. Rogue One became my 2nd favourite film in the series after Empire with Godzilla director, Gareth Edwards proving to be a force to be reckoned with. Then, LEGO Movie directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were hired to direct a Han Solo origins story and that got people very excited indeed.
Fast forward a few months and they were unceremoniously dumped from the project during filming with veteran director Ron Howard brought in as their replacements. Howard’s name is a concerning one. He’s become something of a director-for-hire over the last decade: competent but not exemplary. Phew! Keeping up? Good.
The resulting film has been plagued by ballooning costs, expensive reshoots and rumours of on-set acting classes for some of the stars. It’s finally here, but are we looking at the first new generation Star Wars failure?
Young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) finds adventure when he joins a gang of galactic smugglers, including a 196-year-old Wookie named Chewbacca. Indebted to the gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the crew devises a daring plan to travel to the mining planet Kessel to steal a batch of valuable coaxium. In need of a fast ship, Solo meets Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), the suave owner of the perfect vessel for the dangerous mission — the Millennium Falcon.
Thankfully, and by nothing short of a miracle, Solo: A Star Wars Story is engaging, packed full of nostalgia and features an incredible ensemble cast. It’s not perfect by any means, but we’ll get on to that later.
Billed as a heist meets western kinda movie, Solo hits all the right beats to carefully straddle the line between those two genres. The writing is snappy, genuinely funny and engaging with all the cast members doing their fair share of the heavy lifting. Emilia Clarke is great as Solo’s love interest Qi’Ra and Woody Harrelson is as charming as ever in a role that could’ve been serviced by many 50-something actors who could do fancy stuff with a blaster.
It is in Donald Glover however that the film truly belongs. His Lando Calrissian is absolutely, unequivocally sublime. He channels his counterpart from Empire beautifully and you do feel like you’re watching a young Billy Dee Williams in action.
In fact, there are only two of the main cast members that fail to register in the way that they had clearly intended to do. One is Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos; the Star Wars universe’s first real villain failure. Alas, it’s not the fault of Bettany. The part was originally written for a CGI motion capture performance but was changed at the last minute with reshoots being added for Bettany’s scenes.
The other, unfortunately, is Han Solo himself. Alden Ehrenreich definitely makes all the right noises. He’s cocky, arrogant, self-assured, just like Harrison Ford, but, for all of his effort, he just isn’t doing a Harrison Ford in this film. Now, that doesn’t ruin the movie as much as you might think it does, as it’s easy to just go along for the ride, but at no point in Solo’s run time did I think we were watching a young Harrison Ford in action. Ehrenreich is good, he’s just not that good.
Thankfully, what is that good is the cinematography. The action is staged beautifully, though I’m unsure as to whether this is Howard’s influence or the previous directors. There is some striking imagery throughout the film with the western-style finale being absolutely superb. The CGI is nicely integrated with animatronics and props, just like a Star Wars movie should be, and each of the set pieces is brimming with excitement.
One sequence in particular, involving the liberation of some slaves is really nicely filmed with a great colour range and the much-marketed monorail heist is edge-of-your-seat stuff with cracking CGI.
Pacing is generally good, and at 135 minutes that is no easy win though things do drag a little about half way through. What is pleasing however, is how the bromance between Chewbacca and Han takes a backseat up until about 40 minutes before the end in which a familiar theme plays over the action: it’s spine-tingling in its simplicity. In fact, John Powell’s score is rousing when it needs to be and beautifully put together. A real match for John Williams’ classic orchestral soundtrack.
Overall, Solo: A Star Wars Story is better than it had any right to be. Whenever a film goes through such a turbulent production process, it’s always concerning that the final product will be somehow lesser in quality, but this isn’t the case here. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but as a continuation of the new Star Wars mantra under Disney, it’s a fitting entry and a great addition to the series.