SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Ron Howard

Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Donald Glover, Paul Bettany, Joonas Suotamo, Linda Hunt, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jon Favreau, Erin Kellyman, Ray Park.

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This stand-alone Star Wars film gives us the backstory of the roguish Han Solo, how he met Chewbacca and got his hands on the iconic Millennium Falcon. Solo has been written by Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi, etc) and his son Jonathan. Kasdan knows his Star Wars lore, and Solo is filled with sly references to characters and events from the series.

The adventures of the young Han Solo take place in a galaxy far, far away, set in the days before the rebel alliance began its struggle against the mighty Empire. We meet Solo long before he met the rebel alliance and the young Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and became part of the struggle against the Empire.

When we first meet the young Han, he is an orphan working as a thief on the planet of Corellia, along with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, from Me Before You, etc). They are in the employ of crime boss Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt, from tv series NCIS: Los Angeles, etc), a centipede like creature. Han has dreams of becoming a pilot. He escapes from Corellia and Proxima’s clutches but has to leave Qi’ra behind. Eager for adventure he enlists in the Empire’s air force, where he tastes battle for the first time.

Han meets the younger version of the hairy Chewbacca (now played by former Finnish basketball player Joonas Suotama, replacing Peter Mayhew) and charismatic hustler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), who has a sassy and talkative droid named L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who provides some much-needed comic relief.

It is on the battlefields that he first encounter smuggler and career thief Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who becomes his mentor. Solo becomes part of his team of pirates and rogues. Beckett works for ruthless crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, etc), who is the leader of a criminal syndicate known as Crimson Dawn.  Beckett has been tasked with stealing a valuable consignment of coaxium, a rare mineral that is used as a power source.

When the job goes spectacularly wrong, Beckett has one last chance to redeem himself. He is summoned to Vos’s lavish headquarters. When he meets Vos, Han is surprised to discover that Qi’ra is now one of his trusted lieutenants. Solo and Beckett are ordered to travel to the mining planet of Kessel to hijack a shipment of coaxium.

Director Ron Howard was brought in to replace original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (of The Lego Movie, 22 Jump Street, etc) whose approach to the material was considered too irreverent and jokey by the producers. Howard is a populist filmmaker who gives the material here a lighter touch than the previous Star Wars films, which had crossed into darker territory. With this rollicking space opera that is part spaghetti western, part heist film, Howards seems to share a similar sensibility as George Lucas’s original film. In spirit at least, Solo is a throwback to the early films from Lucas and should please the fan boys. It is a lot of fun, moves at a fast pace, and has the same flavour as those early Saturday afternoon matinee adventures.

There are some great special effects from the ILM team, although a few climactic scenes seem to overdose on the CGI effects. There are plenty of high speed vehicle chases, gun battles, double crosses, and a couple of well-staged action sequences, the highlight of which is the audacious raid on the Conveyex, a super train that is carrying a load of valuable chemicals. And there is some great creature design for the various aliens that inhabit the Star Wars universe. John Powell’s score provides some hints of John Williams’ iconic music for the series.

While no-one can replace Harrison Ford as Solo, Ehrenreich (from Rules Don’t Apply, etc) gives it a red hot go, capturing some of the cocky demeanour and ego of the roguish Solo. He does a good job of capturing his laconic style, mannerisms and derring-do. Ehrenreich’s disarming boyish grin also reminded me of a young Dennis Quaid, and he seems to be having a great time here in the iconic role. Clarke brings a feisty quality to her performance. Unfortunately, there is little chemistry between him and his love interest in Clarke. Harrelson is good as the duplicitous Beckett and brings a touch of swagger to his roguish character as well. Glover brings plenty of roguish charm and swagger to his younger incarnation of Lando Calrissian.

However, Solo has not done quite as well at the box office as expected. A case of Star Wars fatigue maybe, as this one was released less than twelve months after The Last Jedi, arguably one of the more divisive films in the series.

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