When word first appeared of a Star Wars film exploring the origins of a young Han Solo, the general consensus seemed to be…”why?”. For a start, only one person could ever play Han Solo, and that’s Harrison Ford. And, as talented an actor he is, and as advanced as CGI technology can be, it’s unlikely that the 75 year old could pull off playing his iconic character as a boy.
Add to that the well publicised squabbles onset (culminating in original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being fired in favour of old stalwart Ron Howard), and rumours that the new Han, young actor Alden Ehrenreich had been told to take extra acting lessons), and it’s fair to say that expectations for Solo: A Star Wars Story are pretty low.
So is it as bad as advance word has it? Well, it’s not a bad film, in fact it’s a perfectly serviceable sci-fi romp. There is, however, an air of formula and predictability running through it – there’s no real surprises and Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan’s script is pretty pedestrian.
In fact, it sometimes feels like fan service by rote: hey, here’s Han and Chewie meeting for the first time. OK, right now, we’re going to see the Kessel Run. You know, that thing you’ve imagined for 40 years? Well, you’re actually going to see it..
The trouble is that all these things were a lot more exciting in the imagination. Han “doing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” is part of Star Wars legend, something referred to by characters from Luke Skywalker in A New Hope to Rey in The Force Awakens. It’s something that should be built up to and feel like an ‘event’. Instead, it’s a quick scene of Han piloting the Millennium Falcon very fast. And then we’re onto the next scene.
There will be some fans who will be very excited that we eventually get to see the card game between Han and Lando where Han wins the Millennium Falcon, but the truth it that it’s just a scene of two men playing cards. However, there are some good moments, including a genuinely funny reference to Han’s most famous line in The Empire Strikes Back (you’ll know it when you hear it). There’s also an undeniable thrill to seeing Han and Chewie behind the controls of the Falcon for the very first time.
The cast do well, and once you’ve got used to the fact that Ehrenreich doesn’t look much like Ford nor has many of his mannerisms, he makes for a decent lead. However, it’s Donald Glover who’s the star of the show here – as young Lando Calrissian he’s funny, charismatic and steals every scene he’s in. With his excellent TV show Atlanta, his musical side-project Childish Gambino and now a burgeoning film career, it surely can’t be long until he’s one of the biggest stars in the world.
There’s also good support from Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany and an underused Thandie Newton, although the fact there’s barely any chemistry between Ehrenreich and Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke means that she’s scuppered as a love interest from the start. Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge does have a gloriously weird cameo as Lando’s love interest, a robot called L3-37 (really).
Overall, while Solo is a decent enough film if you like that sort of thing, it’s missing the sense of occasion that should come with a Star Wars film. Only three and a half years since JJ Abrams rebooted the franchise, it’s already feeling worryingly stale. There’s some hope though – Marvel have proved that, by hiring young, exciting directors like Ryan Coogler and Taika Watiti, a long-standing franchise can be refreshed and revitalised. We’ve got 18 months till the next Star Wars film: hopefully Kathleen Kennedy and the powers that be at Disney can work on breathing some new life into this galaxy far, far away.