- Aesthetics and music blend effortlessly into the Star Wars universe
- Little to do with Episodes, other than small glimpses of the Empire, with no Jedis in sight
- Enjoyable plot, but a little too busy and over-stuffed at times
- Doesn’t tie up story as neatly as Rogue One, but unanswered questions place it more solidly in the wider universe of Star Wars
- Lacks a distinct personality, something original directors Lord and Miller could have achieved…
- Ehrenreich and Glover are exceptional as young versions of Han and Lando, evoking the original performances brilliantly
- Finally we see more Chewie than in the last few films
- L3-37 is a throwaway droid and more should have been done with Beckett, but characters Qi’ra and Dryden Vos make up for it
There’s no denying how Star Wars came back with a vengeance after Disney bought it to add to their ever-expanding Empire (pun intended). Mostly, this has been a good thing for fans of series (especially if you liked The Last Jedi, the Episode that split fans massively). Many have welcomed the idea of prequels and spin-offs, eager for the chance to explore characters’ pasts and aspects of the galaxy far, far away that we’ve never seen before. The first of their Star Wars Story anthology, Rogue One, worked well, many saying it seemed refreshing to see this universe outside the confines of the Jedi-dominated episodes. It still proves to be an exciting idea with Solo: A Star Wars Story, although it does still leave a little more to be desired. Still, there’s no denying how enjoyable the film is nevertheless.
As with Rogue One, we are told this is set “a long time ago in a galaxy far,far away…” but without the famous fanfare and title crawl. But it’s clear from the get go that this is Star Wars. The galaxy is a mess, with resources scarce and criminal underworlds booming, particularly on the planet Corellia where orphaned children are forced to steal just to survive. One man, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), is determined to escape with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). However, on their way out, Qi’ra is apprehended and kept in Corellia while Han joins the Imperial army in an effort to escape. Here he meets a ragtag group of smugglers, eventually teaming up with Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). After a botched job trying to steal coaxium, crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) sends them to steal some more from Kessel. This leads to joining up with Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) so they can use his Millennium Falcon – after all, they’ll need it if they’re to stand any chance of doing the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs…
While this is clearly Star Wars, there’s very little other than characters that connect it to the universe we know. There’s not a great deal of the Empire, let alone the rebellion or Jedi. This could almost be a standalone sci-fi film if it weren’t for the typically Star Wars-esque aesthetic and music – and the characters, of course. This allows Solo to feel less burdened and hindered by the other films, free to do as it pleases. For the most part, its plot is solid and enjoyable. At its heart, it’s a MacGuffin film that desperately includes the famously-mentioned Kessel Run, pleasing science geeks everywhere by making clear that parsec is a unit of distance, not time. Still, sometimes they try to fit a little too much into the story and it feels quite busy. The time spent of Kessel in particular felt very crammed and manic; you’re not sure whether they’re trying to focus on stealing coaxium, fighting for their lives, freeing the enslaved droids… Then during the Kessel Run they’re running from one thing to the next to the next… On one hand it’s a non-stop, thrillingly wild ride – but on the other, it’s exhausting and too busy, not giving you a chance to breathe and take in what’s going on. Whereas non-stop action works with Mad Max: Fury Road, there’s not nearly as much plot-points stuffed in there. The story also seems to open up a lot of questions that are left unanswered. It’s a shame it doesn’t tie it up neatly as Rogue One, but still keeps it interesting and is a joy to see it reference and place itself firmly in the wider universe of the franchise. One surprising inclusion of a fan-favourite character is certainly exciting as is the obvious cameo by regular Warwick Davis. Here’s hoping that there’s a common thread in these Star Wars Stories so we’re not left with unanswered questions for long.
If there is to be a common thread isn’t these spin-off films though, it’s still important that they give each film a unique feel and personality, something that Solo lacks. For example, Rogue One had a distinct feel and personality in that it was absolutely a war film. On the other hand, Solo could have been unique with a swashbuckling adventure feel – something original directors Lord and Miller would have excelled at before Ron Howard took over… Not that that tone is completely absent, but it lacks a distinct personality. Still, it’s fun and fits into the overall feel of a Star Wars film; it’s just a shame that there’s nothing that feels special of different about it. It certainly is enjoyable to see the Star Wars aesthetics blend in so well, opening up the galaxy for us to explore. Powell’s music is a perfect extension of John William’s iconic scores too.
There was a lot of worry as to how well the lead actor would cope with playing a younger version of an iconic cinematic character. Fortunately, Alden Ehrenreich does a terrific job, brilliantly evoking a young Harrison Ford from handsome looks with floppy hair to drooly, cocky voice. He’s not a dead ringer for Ford, but he’s not doing an impression. They’re merely recreated the look and he bases his performance off the original with an impressive result. The same can be said for Donald Glover’s young Lando, who’s arguably even better than Ehrenreich, absolutely nailing that charming, treacly voice. It’s nice to see the two of them meet after seeing them in Empire Strikes Back, but more Lando is needed. Their relationship in Empire Strikes Back seems much deeper, filled with more history. Solo would have benefitted from more Lando with better chemistry and a stronger bromance between the two. Instead most of the bromance is with Han and Chewie, a remarkably pleasing member of the cast, who is finally given the screen-time he deserves after being painfully underused in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
The new droid L3-37 is really a throwaway droid who’s ultimately unnecessary. Clearly the studio want another K-2SO to steal scenes like he did in Rogue One, but she doesn’t make the same impression, though certainly still gets her fair share of laughs. Woody Harrelson’s character seems like a strange one for Han to be inspired by. Not nearly as suave and cool as Han grows to be, Beckett is a missed opportunity, who should have done more than just swirl his guns and look cool. Emilia Clarke ditches her blond wig from Game of Thrones and embraces the typical Star Wars look for all female characters in the series – pale, brunette and beautiful. Why are they all the same? Still Clarke is wonderful, making Qi’ra interesting, enigmatic and effortlessly likeable. A joy to see her dazzle audiences outside Westeros. Finally Paul Bettany moves from superhero in Marvel to villain in Star Wars (Disney must be loving him). As with most English villains (because apparently that accent works for bad guys…), he’s sincere and threatening, though isn’t quite the powerful adversary Han deserves for his origin story.
Solo: A Star Wars Story didn’t perform as well at the box office as predicted – but who could after Avengers: Infinity War (with Deadpool 2 sliding in soon after)? That doesn’t correlate to the strength and quality of the film however. This is no Empire Strikes Back or Force Awakens, nor does it have a distinct personality like Rogue One; and yes, maybe this is just Disney trying to squeeze as much as possible from the Star Wars universe. But when it’s this fun, does it really matter? It’s an undeniable joy seeing younger, fresh-faced versions of these characters we love from the original films soar onto our screens for a fun adventure, albeit a busy one with a little too much crammed in. Nevertheless, this is still light, easy-going and enjoyable. Nothing sets it apart, but it’s a solid adventure in a galaxy far, far away that will keep us happy until Episode IX…