I can’t say that I am suffering from Disney induced Star Wars fatigue just yet, but I will admit that Solo, the latest in the ‘A Star Wars Story‘ spin-off series of films, was the first of the new batch that I wasn’t fully on the hype train for. Whilst I wasn’t particularly excited to experience a Han Solo origin story (Harrison Ford’s incarnation is simply enough for me), the fact that 2016’s Rogue One fast became one of my favourite Star Wars films of all time encouraged me to give this second Disney spin-off project a fair shake.
Unsurprisingly, Solo tells the story of a younger Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), detailing his formative years on the ship building world of Corellia, a hometown romance with fellow orphan Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), and the events that lead up to his partnership with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and eventual infamous record time Kessel run in Lando Calrissian’s (Donald Glover) Millennium Falcon.
If that description sounds a little workmanlike to you, that’s because ultimately that is was the film feels like. I’m not going to say I didn’t have a good time, because on the whole I did, but Solo is the first of the new Star Wars pictures that feels a tad too forced (pun intended). The film takes every tiny detail about Han Solo that made him the mysterious scoundrel we all know and love, and sets about connecting the dots in a way that makes the universe feel like a very small one. Honestly, I never found myself wanting to know why his surname is so, or how exactly he won the Millennium Falcon, or the circumstances under which he and Chewie met, and after finding out through this narrative the answers really don’t do anything to enhance or expand his character. In my opinion, Rogue One succeeded in filling in vital gaps that actually served to improve A New Hope on many different levels, but there is hardly anything about Solo that feels particularly pertinent.
Of course, on a pure spectacle level, the film is filled to the brim with action scenes befitting of any movie about a group of adventurous space smugglers. From breathtaking train heist sequences to some very gritty Imperial military trench warfare to a look at the Kessel run that features probably the biggest, scariest Star Wars monster to date, action is very much the central focus of Solo.
With the exception of one fantastic new droid character L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), what is extremely noticeable about the film is that everything enjoyable about it stems from the nostalgia and love you already have for certain characters and myths. My interest peaked for moments between Han and Chewie, for scenes involving Lando, for snapshots of the Millennium Falcon. Again, I can’t say that I didn’t have a fun time watching Solo, but when nearly all of the fresh, brand new content being brought to the table feels lightweight and kind of inessential, you have to wonder how effective the film as a whole really is.
It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford as Han Solo, but credit to Alden Ehrenreich for giving us the next best thing. Ehrenreich possesses that kind of smarmy, easy charm that makes Han an irresistible force of nature, although he doesn’t evoke that air of full blown cynicism that Ford lent to the older version of the character. The dry senes of humour is certainly there, but this incarnation of Han Solo is much more willing to be the unabashed hero, and Ehrenreich does a solid job of portraying that.
As Qi’Ra, Emilia Clarke has a much more complicated plot progression than a usual ‘love interest’ type character, and whilst I think Qi’Ra as a concept is an interesting addition to Han’s mythology, I have more of a problem with the performance given. Emilia Clarke is good, at times great, in both Game Of Thrones and Terminator Genisys, she clearly has the strong, kick-ass characterisation down to a tee. The role of Qi’Ra, however, demands something a little more complex and I have to say that I wasn’t impressed by Clarke at all. Next to a supporting cast of truly great performers, her performance felt extremely one note and lacklustre, a real shame when playing a character so integral to the twists and turns of the plot.
And speaking of supporting cast, the likes of Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson and Paul Bethany all do really good work in their respective roles on either side of the good/evil divide. Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian is everything you dreamed he would be. The film springs to life whenever he is on screen, his slick, smooth and suave characterisation perfectly complementing the iconic performance given by Billy Dee Williams in the originals. Special mention for Phoebe Waller-Bridge who manages to steal the film as the voice of Lando’s droid L3-37, an anarchic, amazing lady whose fight for droid rights marks one of the highlights of the film. In all honesty, the Lando/L3 buddy movie is the movie that you will wish you had seen.
Overall, Solo isn’t a bad film at all, it’s a fun space smuggling romp that connects a lot of the dots that have always been hallmarks of Han Solo’s character. The thing is, I’m not sure that any of the dots really needed to be connected to begin with. Do I regret seeing Solo? Absolutely not. Am I aching to see it again like I was with Rogue One, The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi? No. Disney need to be careful now, the early box office numbers for this latest offering show that Star Wars fans aren’t just going to lap up everything that comes their way with feverish delight. These spin-off tales have to be good, and they have to be significant. Solo is just on the right side of acceptable, but that doesn’t mean the next one will be…