After The Last Jedi things have gotten hotter than a Mustafar summer in the Star Wars saga. The fanbase has seemingly fractured, as people continue to not so much debate the film’s quality, as scream (or at least aggressively tweet) their opinion as loudly (or in as many caps) as possible on social media and call it fact. The real fact, however, is that the divisive ripple of the last Star Wars film’s reception is still being felt and as Solo: A Star Wars Story lands in cinemas, optimism could not be any lower. People never really asked for a film covering the youthful origins of Harrison Ford’s beloved rogue smuggler Han Solo and as the 37% “people want to see this” poll on Rotten Tomatoes denotes, people are still clearly upset. Add to this a reportedly problematic production, involving original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller dropping out, performance issues and reshoots taking place, and the odds were not good for this one. Still, what was that Han once said about odds?
Solo: A Star Wars Story picks up on a crime-filled Empire occupied Corellia, as a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) looks to leave with his friend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and pursue other aspirations. When all does not go to plan, and the two are separated, Han does what he can to survive, as he is pulled deeper and deeper into a world of treachery, risk and scoundrels (some of which are scruffy lookin’). Like Rogue One, this spin-off film settles in the period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, as the Kasdan’s story covers some ground we expect (one of Han’s much-proclaimed achievements, the formation of his bond with Chewbacca) but with surprises dotted along the way.
After some fears of a coherent final product, we were unsure what to expect, but Solo has really got it where it counts. Reminding of an episode of Star Wars The Clone Wars or Rebels (especially with one later revelation), this feels like an EU novel come to life. To say that the film had a bumpy production, the final product bares few scars of these behind the scenes troubles and Ron Howard’s (and Miller/Lord’s) film is an engaging and charismatic summer blockbuster, which exceeds expectations. Old fashioned in its adventurous spirit, not to mention its moments of war movie influences, this is a heist caper come Wookiee meets smuggler bromance that is quick on its feet, charming and – despite how the fans are treating it – it feels genuinely constructed for them.
Unnecessary? Cash in? Fan service? Perhaps the film is one of these things but Solo is spectacular fun all the same and it presents to us another strand of Star Wars brimming with imagination and life in every frame. The odd line of dialogue may be a little on the nose (as may some references) but it’s a big fun wallop of space spectacle. A traditional entry in the franchise and yet, perhaps destined to be its most unusual, fans are rebelling against it but really have no need to. This is unmistakably Star Wars: the set pieces are exciting, the scoring by John Powell is imbued with the classic Williams motifs yet operatically distinctive at points (and John Williams himself provides his own Han Solo theme too to the soundtrack) and the characters are interesting company for the entire duration.
Alden Ehrenreich really had the most unenviable task in the galaxy following up Harrison but he does a very good job, with an enigmatic turn that eases you into the film and keeps you hooked. Within minutes this writer had wholly accepted that he was watching a young Han at work. Meanwhile, Joonas Suotamo brings us the powerhouse action-ready Chewbacca that many of us have always wanted to see, and really Han and Chewbacca are the emotional core to the film and the formation of their iconic attachment is splendidly realised. Donald Glover also has a real standout presence as Lando Calrissian and spot on captures the smuggling smoothie made famous by Billy Dee Williams. These three are aces in the deck but there are also some very strong turns by Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and a very creepy Paul Bettany.
This is a lively affair with treats for fans and a barrage of entertainment for all. In many ways, this is the Adventures of Tintin of the Star Wars saga and we mean that as a compliment. The pleasantly surprising Solo: A Star Wars Story is an absolute blast. We’d call it luck… but in our experience there’s no such thing as luck!
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: RON HOWARD / SCREENPLAY: JONATHAN KASDAN, LAWRENCE KASDAN / STARRING: ALDEN EHRENREICH, WOODY HARRELSON, EMILIA CLARKE, DONALD GLOVER, JOONAS SUOTAMO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW