Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (2018)

Director Ron Howard’s Star Wars anthology film sees a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) escape a life of hardship on Corellia alongside his childhood friend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) but when the two of them are separated, Han makes it his mission to get back to her, going on to join the Imperial forces and later getting acquainted with a small group of thieves, led by the magnetic Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). On a quest to secure the necessary funds to return to Qi’ra on Corellia, Han joins a dangerous mission to obtain a large quantity of Coaxium for the menacing Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), requiring the help of his future co-pilot Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and the cool, charismatic gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).

Getting the negatives out of the way first, Solo starts off quite rockily as many of the early scenes feature visuals that are far too drab, murky and gloomy and it’s often difficult to see just what’s going on, particularly in an awkward and underwhelming opening scene involving “the foul Lady Proxima” (which is shot with an unappealing and overbearing blue filter) and in a very murky battle scene involving Han and the Imperials – the subsequent introduction of a certain beloved character is a little disappointing because you can’t see him properly! It was surprising to learn that the director of photography was none other than Bradford Young of Arrival fame and those early scenes specifically made me want to watch Thor: Ragnarok again for it’s bright, vibrant colours! The first twenty minutes or so also introduce the romance thread between Han and Qi’ra that goes on to be a slight hindrance throughout the feature and the opening “crawl” is overexplainatory and cliché.

But thankfully, after that uneasy opening, things really pick up as soon as the team gets together and Solo goes on to prove itself as a mighty fine family adventure film with plenty of humour, drama and reverence for previous Star Wars films. While Rogue One was a war film, Solo announces itself as a homage to classic heist movies while also appearing to be something of a western – made apparent by all the gun twirling, Mexican standoffs, duels and the way Howard frames certain shots; in watching the early hijacking of the “space train”, the western influences are clearly there.

At this point in time, it’s certainly impossible to compete with the giants of the saga but the film has enough of a light and breezy tone, making a change from all the doom and gloom of some of the other instalments in the series and in terms of comedic value, it’s not laugh out loud funny but the sense of humour is there and it doesn’t take itself too seriously at all. The writing’s unlikely to pick up any awards but the story of Solo is a simple one, far from the heaviness of something like The Last Jedi, and all the twists and turns found in the final act (admittedly overdone a little bit) constantly wrongfoots the audience, always keeping us guessing what will happen next.

Aside from the iffy visuals at the beginning, Solo proves itself to be technically proficient and as such, there are specific set pieces which stand out above the others – the train hijacking and the Kessel Run sequences. The train robbery truly gets the film going as it is unpredictable, smoothly directed, the music in the scene is excellent (more on that later) and it ends on an unexpected, emotionally jarring note. And later on in the film, the Kessel Run through a maelstrom gives the film it’s standout sequence – a beautifully designed scene which is pretty darn exciting and ends up on a triumphant “punch the air” moment, somewhat reminiscent of the finale of 2009’s Star Trek.

The Millennium Falcon is also quite gorgeous to look at and it’s wonderful to see the ship in her prime – all bright lights, squeaky clean white walls and Lando’s cape room – and as mentioned before, John Powell’s bombastic score is a treat as it successfully gives the film a sense of adventure, danger and drama and incorporating certain John Williams pieces was also a delightful touch.

As the scruffy nerfherder of the hour, though he has some incredibly huge shoes to fill, Alden Ehrenreich is ideally suited to the role of our favourite space adventurer and manages to infuse the role with enough of Harrison Ford’s mannerisms and body language while at the same time taking the role in his own direction, making it his own as much as he can. Ehrenreich is charismatic and very likeable in the title role and successfully shows the character’s arrogance, bravery, cleverness and swaggering, cocksure attitude while also appearing believably flawed – dealing with loss and having to learn some hard lessons. Taking over such an iconic role must have seemed a terrifying notion at first but Ehrenreich proves himself up for the challenge and he carries the film admirably.

Alongside, the beloved Donald Glover is incredibly cool and charismatic as Lando (though having Emilia Clarke blatantly explain his personality right before his big entrance was a bad move) and, like Ehrenreich, he uses the voice cadences and mannerisms of Billy Dee Williams while having fun with the character at the same time; Glover is a strong supporting presence and thankfully doesn’t steal the show away from Han. We also have Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett and though it’s really hard to not see him as just being Woody Harrelson, he acts as a great mentor to Han throughout the film and gets a big moment to shine in the final act.

Thandie Newton also makes a big impact in her all too brief appearance as Val, an important member of Tobias’ team; she is genuinely tough and supportive, she has one of the most emotionally jarring moments of the film and it’s a shame that she’s not in it more as she is so effective in the relatively limited screen time she has. And elsewhere, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a delight as the voice of Lando’s co-pilot L3-37 (a droid with a female personality, for a change), Jon Favreau has a brief but memorable part to play as team member Rio, and, although his character design isn’t quite right, Joonas Suotamo has plenty to do as Chewbacca – given so much more screen time than The Last Jedi!

As Han’s childhood friend/love interest Qi’ra, Emilia Clarke does well enough but, much like Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, her character is mostly generic and she is ill-served by the writing because her allegiances constantly shift all over the place and it often appears that Clarke is too confused as to what her character is supposed to be feeling, resulting in an overall odd character and a performance that’s not quiiiiite up to the task, though it would be interesting to see what would become of Qi’ra and of her relationship with Han in any future films. And finally, Paul Bettany is a good enough sport as the dastardly Dryden Vos but his character is fundamentally throwaway and ends up just being the archetypal “British villain”, as Deadpool might say.

And as for [REDACTED – SPOILER] appearing at the end? I guess we’ll have to wait for the sequel to see if their inclusion goes anywhere but at this point in time, I’d say that the big reveal didn’t quite work since he/she didn’t look right, it seemed too much like a setup for a sequel, and I’m a bit puzzled as to how the character in question is still alive (apparently, you have to have seen The Clone Wars in order to understand his/her reappearance).

So at the end of the day, is Solo a pointless film? Probably. In the grand scheme of things, it may be wind up being forgotten about when stacked up against all the other mammoth Star Wars films (at some points, Solo doesn’t even feel like Star Wars at all) but it’s still a fine film, a great trip to the cinema despite a couple of problems, and is ultimately a fun family space adventure.

Maybe a little unnecessary in the grand scheme of things but Solo is a fun and entertaining heist/western adventure with a couple of terrific setpieces, a bombastic score, and a great cast.

★ ★ ★ ★

2 comments

  1. “Lucky” for me I was near death last weekend and did not rush out to see this. I thought we might take a leisurely gander at the drive-in this weekend, but your comments about the darkness of the early scenes make me think maybe that’s not the best viewing.

    Like

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