Solo: A Star Wars Story Review
Shoot first, ask questions later
There's a lot riding on Solo: A Star Wars Story, especially after the disastrous The Last Jedi. Although if Lucasfilm was going to pick a movie to bet its billion-dollar franchise on, it probably wouldn't have been an unwanted prequel with a very troubled production.
The good news for Lucasfilm is that despite all the travails the movie holds together quite well, and the better news for fans is that it at least feels like a Star Wars film. That's not to say it's perfect but, unlike the previous instalment in the franchise, it's actually fun!
To be fair, if you possess even a passing knowledge of the Star Wars mythos, then you'll probably have a good idea of what to expect in this film. In that sense it doesn't disappoint, ticking off a series of boxes and including plenty of fan boy asides and Easter eggs; although it does try to subvert expectations on occasion and there's even a big surprise towards the end.
Unfortunately Solo also suffers from the problem that affects all prequels: since you already know the ultimate fates of some of the major characters, it often robs the narrative of any dramatic tension.
The resulting movie also feels a bit paint-by-numbers, but frankly that's preferable to Rian Johnson's wilful attempt to destroy everything good about Star Wars. What we get in Solo is the story of Han's early life – evolving from a young man surviving on the streets of Corellia to the charming rogue we know from the original trilogy.
When Lucasfilm first announced their plans to make a series of stand-alone films set in the Star Wars universe, fans were excited at the prospect of stories that would be free from the strictures of the existing Skywalker saga. It would be a chance to explore new corners of the Star Wars universe, and perhaps try out different genres within it.
Things didn't quite work out that way with Rogue One, the first stand-alone film, turning out to be a direct prequel to the original Star Wars. Still it was generally regarded as a success, and Gareth Edwards' 'men-on-a-mission' war movie delivered plenty of action and fan service. Although there were some last minute re-shoots, they clearly helped to give the film a more epic and emotional climax.
The announcement that the next Star Wars Story would focus on the young Han Solo, showed that these stand-alone films wouldn't be straying too far from the established universe; and if rumours of an Obi-Wan movie are to be believed, it doesn't look as though this trend is set to change either.
The world might not have been eagerly anticipating a Han Solo movie without Harrison Ford in the role, but the choice of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller as co-directors, working off a script by regular Star Wars scribe Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan, seemed inspired.
Like all prequels, prior knowledge of the fate of characters robs the film of dramatic tension
So it came as a massive shock when, just as principal photography was about to wrap, Lucasfilm fired Lord and Miller. For a studio to fire their directors so far into production was simply unprecedented. The pair had apparently been too irreverent, going off-script and ad-libbing jokes, which brought them into direct conflict with both Kasdan and Lucasfilm head-honcho Kathleen Kennedy. Rumours that star Alden Ehrenreich needed an acting coach didn't help matters, and suddenly Lucasfilm had a real crisis on their hands.
Enter Ron Howard. Although he might not be as interesting a choice as Lord and Miller, the Oscar-winning director is the very definition of a safe pair of hands. He immediately set about righting the ship and getting the film back on course for its May 2018 release date, which was then only ten months away. That seemed almost impossible, given the amount of effects work required and the fact that Howard planned to re-shoot 70% of the film.
Sadly scheduling conflicts meant that Michael Kenneth Williams had to be replaced by Paul Bettany as the main villain, but otherwise Howard marshalled the re-shoots like the old pro that he is and somehow finished the film on time. Frankly it's a miracle the film is as good as it is, considering the amount of re-shoots and the accelerated post-production schedule; although the title – Solo: A Star Wars Story – has to be the least-inspired in cinema history.
So what do we get at the end of all this? Solo is essentially a space western, with rival gangs, shoot-outs and a train heist. The latter is one of a number of great action scenes, which we can presumably thank Howard for. The film also provides an interesting insight into the criminal underworld of Star Wars, something that has often been alluded to in the films but rarely actually shown.
Despite all the rumours Ehrenreich is perfectly good in the lead role, and while he's no Harrison Ford (who is) the young actor manages to capture his swagger and charm. Donald Glover, in the other key role, simply nails it as Lando and it's a treat whenever he's on screen.
After being wasted in The Last Jedi, it's good to see Chewie getting plenty of screen time in Solo, and his growing relationship with Han generates some of the biggest laughs. Emilia Clarke is good as Han's childhood friend Qi'ra, Woody Harrelson can play the charming rogue Beckett in his sleep, and Paul Bettany is equally as easy in the role of the polite but dangerous villain Dryden Vos.
Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau have fun in their roles, with the latter providing the voice to a CG character. It's also nice to see Warwick Davis in a reasonably large role, and naturally Ron cast his brother Clint Howard in a small role. Apparently Anthony Daniels is also in the film, playing a droid, although it isn't C-3PO. Speaking of droids, Phoebe Waller-Bridge's L3-37 is one of the more original characters, and since she was cast by Lord and Miller we can thank them for that.
Solo is no masterpiece but it's entertaining, action-packed and often very funny
It's fair to say that neither Lord and Miller nor Ron Howard have particularly unique visual styles, but that means the footage matches seamlessly and it's impossible to tell who shot what. Obviously the scenes with Paul Bettany and Clint Howard are the work of Ron, but otherwise it's hard to tell how much of the film is re-shoots, although presumably the location footage is all Lord and Miller.
It certainly isn't the most attractive film ever made, in fact visually it's rather mediocre, and often uses extremely dark lighting (possibly to hide all the seams). The same could be said for the effects, which are competent but lack any originality and are often very dark as well.
In fact that's the biggest criticism that can be levelled at the film, it's essentially very average. The score is decent but not memorable, the plot is fun but predictable, the performances are all perfectly acceptable, and the direction is uninspired but professional. In other words, the final product is very much a Ron Howard film.
How different Lord and Miller's more comedic take would have been from the final product will probably never be known, but the finished film is often very funny and there is a breezy pace to its two hour and fifteen minute running time.
Ultimately it's an entertaining movie, that sets things up nicely for further Han Solo adventures. Whether Lucasfilm will make more largely depends on the success of Solo, but you'll probably find yourself actually anticipating that prospect by the end of this film. Given that's the opposite of how many Star Wars fans felt after The Last Jedi, Solo might actually have succeeded in saving the Star Wars franchise.
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