Ever since its inception, the Star Wars brand has been synonymous with science-fiction, and a great influence on the many films that proceeded it. Today, that same franchise finds itself being outclassed, unable to match the awe offered by the competition. Even so, its lesser releases still possess the ability to enliven, much like this example.
Years before he became the cocky-yet-affable hero of the Rebellion, a young Han Solo (Alden Enrenreich) was an orphan with no place to call home and only his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) for support. Hoping to lead a better life, the two bribe their way into a transit centre run by the Empire – the evil government that rules the galaxy – only to be separated once they enter. Having now lost everything, Han applies to become a pilot for the Imperial forces, and is promised a place at the Empire’s training academy.
Cut to three years later, and Han is now a foot soldier for the Empire on a war-torn planet, a role which he tries to desert, only to be imprisoned for doing so. Whilst incarcerated, he meets his future co-pilot and pal Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) – a tall, hairy animal who communicates only through growls – who helps him to escape. Soon after, they are offered refuge by fellow deserter and smuggler Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) in exchange for their help on his next mission.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (to give the film its full title) is the second feature film to appear as part of an expanded universe, a vision which began with Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One approximately eighteen months ago. To craft the franchise’s second Story, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were hired as directors, only to be fired partway through production because of “creative differences”. Industry veteran Ron Howard was appointed as their replacement, promising a film closer in tone to the other Star Wars instalments.
In actuality, the finished product feels more akin to an interplanetary Western, with stand-offs, gunfights, chase scenes and a train robbery (of sorts) all contributing to this sense – the only thing missing from these set pieces is a horse. With that said, Solo remains a sci-fi film at heart, complete with holograms, lasers and spaceships, including the most iconic spaceship in cinematic history, the Millennium Falcon, which gets to partake in the much-fabled Kessel Run.
Another element that aligns with the spirit of Star Wars is Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. Ehrenreich’s casting was, along with the firing of Lord and Miller, a major point of contention during production, with multiple outlets reporting that several acting coaches had been employed to help Ehrenreich with his performance. If these reports are true, then the producers made a good investment, because Ehrenreich is nothing but charming and convincing in Solo, with shades of Harrison Ford to be found in his portrayal.
Similar remarks could be made about Donald Glover, who portrays a younger version of Lando Calrissian – a role originally played by Billy Dee Williams. Glover’s delivery and mannerisms mimic those of his predecessor, occasionally adding his own flourishes to make the character his own. He’s easily the most likeable and memorable member of the supporting cast, if only because none of the other characters share his levels of charisma – the one who comes closest is L3-37, a droid voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Elsewhere in Solo, things are pretty mundane. Ron Howard’s direction is solid, blemished only by some odd pacing in the first act; composer John Powell has concocted a score reminiscent of John Williams’ earliest work, though lacking in grandeur; and it isn’t until the Kessel Run that events truly become tense. While the film possesses no major flaws, one would hope that a prestigious brand like Star Wars would have an end product of a slightly grater calibre.
Solo: A Star Wars Story has taken the tropes of a Western and creatively applied them to George Lucas’ imaginative science-fiction property. It may not succeed in outshining the competition, but it does triumph in channelling the spirit of a much-adored franchise – especially when it comes to two of its most celebrated characters.