Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Directed by Ron Howard. With Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson and Emilia Clarke.
After Chris Miller and Phil Lord were relieved of directing duties on Han Solo: The Movie for essentially having creative differences with Disney (they were reportedly making it too much of a comedy), safe pair of hands Ron Howard was handed the hydrospanners and tasked with the job of fixing it up.
We meet Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) on his home world of Corellia. He’s joined by love interest, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) in a landspeeder getaway sequence that feels like establishing an early homage to George Lucas’ well-known affinity for the roar-of-an-engine speed.
Considering the size of the ask, Ehrenreich does Star Wars proud in the title role. There is nothing to register as iconic yet he steps into the role without being afraid to allow his vulnerability to show. With this he quickly gets us onside. Han himself might say “neat trick, kid”. Just like the film’s composer conjures the famous themes of John Williams, Errenreich has habitually studied Harrison Ford and with a smirk or a sideways glance he conjures him for us too.
The film jumps forward three-years where we join Han on the battlefield fighting in the ranks of the Empire. It fits because it tells us Han will play any side to get what he wants. Tonally, the setting feels the closest Star Wars has come to describing ‘war is hell’ as the muddy trenches of the First World War are referenced and Han meets Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and a familiar tall, hairy ‘beast’.
What follows is a classic train heist involving multiple characters which achieves a great sense of speed but without the knockabout humour that often creeps into Star Wars. At this juncture the film states its grittier intentions and isn’t afraid to make sacrifices.
Chewbacca plays a pivotal role in helping Ehrenreich become Han. The banter they share (and apparently shower) injects original trilogy warmth to a noticeably under-lit film that seems intent on escaping the colour wheel.
When introduced, Donald Glover is immediately assured as Lando Calrissian. He’s cool and he knows it. He knows we know it. We know he knows we know it. From his impressive cape collection to his pristine ownership of the Millenium Falcon, he easily persuades as a younger version of the smooth smuggler. It counts for a lot.
Despite my admiration for the actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge, she is responsible for a series of frankly wince-inducing moments. Her voicing of the droid character L3-37 is out of step with a verisimilitude-bursting range of all-too-human interactions. Her humour is grating and extroverted. She overwhelms the scenes as opposed to contributing to them, harming the film with every inch of frame she fills.
Paul Bettany brings an air of unpredictability with his intense Dryden Vos. Scenes aboard his ‘yacht’ invoke the feeling of being in a classier version of the cantina as weird and wonderful sights abound. There are brief moments of classic Star Wars dotted around – a springboard for pure imagination to explore.
There are crosses, double-crosses, reveals, subtle fan-service a Kessel Run and not a lightsaber in sight. It is a less starry war than we’re used to. More grounded. Even though he is invoked, John Williams is missed. The plot has mechanics and we can see the gears. Ron Howard was brought in to safely dock the ship and ‘safe’ is what we get.
With its production woes in mind ‘Solo’ emerges mostly intact. Aside from Lando’s squeaky clean Millenium Falcon, little is ruined or damaged. Ultimately, the film has the look of muck under its nails but is more flirty than dirty.