Solo: A Star Wars Story review - I was right to have a bad feeling about this...
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Verdict: If you’re a die hard fan, of course it’s a must-see, but if not? Don’t waste your money.
The announcement of Solo: A Star Wars Story was met with outpourings of both wildly positive and negative reactions, but the film itself isn’t wildly anything. The best word I can use to describe it is “flat,” in story, in character, in visuals.
The ‘opening crawl’ tells us that “This is a lawless time,” but did it have to be a light-less time?! The entire film is dim and dark and washed out, presenting a sort of gritty underworld to the galaxy that we haven’t seen before. It might make sense for Corellia to be lit like that, but as the film goes on, the realisation slowly dawns that you’ll have to be squinting at the screen the entire time. It’s certainly a contrast with the hyper-saturated sequels trilogy, but it just didn’t do it for me.
We were promised a fun smuggler’s romp, but we start out with one of the worst opening sequences of any Star Wars film to date. We’re introduced to Han mid-action sequence, and he soon ends up having to talk his way out of a sticky situation — classic call-backs that would hit home except for the fact that the surroundings are so ridiculous. What’s worse, his girlfriend Qi’ra has impeccable hair and a full face of make-up while plotting how to escape slavery in these filthy slums. It’s a weird detail to note, but it all adds up towards throwing the audience off right from the start.
While Alden Ehrenreich delivers a performance that varies from charming homage to awkward impression to white bread bland, Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is consistently completely wooden. The lack of chemistry between the two of them makes it hard to get behind their relationship — as does the fact that everyone loves Princess Leia, and she’s not her. This is a problem, since Han’s entire motivation all the way throughout the film, is driven by his love for her. It’s somewhat disappointing that this is the case, since it’s hard to believe that this Han would be motivated by money and rescuing a beautiful princess at the beginning of A New Hope.
The escape sequence is, like a lot of things in this film, entirely formulaic. Littered throughout in no particular order, we have a gambling scene, a couple of mob boss scenes, a couple of heist scenes, and a black hole sequence that anyone could have written in their sleep, just from having seen a bunch of other films where those things happen. It’s not bad as much as it’s lazy, which is somehow more disappointing from a franchise which means so much to so many people.
Despite these weaknesses, there are some great moments, and some great performances too. Woody Harrelson's Beckett, as expected, pretty much carries single-handedly every scene that he’s in. He provides the emotional ties that are lacking elsewhere, he perfectly balances old romantic, mercenary, and sly swindler — you can see how he’s the predecessor of Harrison Ford’s Han for sure. His partner-in-crime, Thandie Newton’s Val, is criminally wasted in a tiny role, as is Donald Glover’s Lando.
Anyone with a brain in their head would have understood that Donald Glover is the biggest asset this film had, and Lando rivals Chewie for most important not-Han character, so why on earth is his role so small? He’s introduced halfway into the film, and remains on the ship absent from the action for most of the mission he does go on. It’s an absolute travesty, because the performance he does manage to deliver is phenomenal. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have to maintain it for an entire film, but his homage to Billy Dee Williams’ original character is far less forced than Ehrenreich’s. His easy charm, his smile, and the cadence of his voice, is utterly effortless, and his heartfelt banter with his droid-rights activist partner R3 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is one of the highlights of the film.
Paul Bettany’s mob boss villain is sufficiently threatening and creepy, but not particularly groundbreaking. The character almost feels like someone out of the Star Wars cartoons, which isn’t a bad thing at all. The cartoons often delve into the stories of people less grand than the Skywalker Saga, and there’s space for more complicated morality.
There are a few genuinely exciting and surprising moments towards the end, as characters’ loyalties flip-flop all over the place, and it’s somewhat refreshing to see grey morality in the Star Wars universe which is so often black-and-white, good-and-evil. On the subject of evil, there's a certain cameo towards the end of the film that'll make absolutely no sense to the casual viewer who hasn't watched all the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons ... which makes me think that so-and-so will play an integral part in the rumoured Boba Fett and Obi Wan films that will also be set between Episodes III and IV.
Despite this, it’s hard to raise the stakes when everyone knows Han and Chewie are going to be fine, so the film does suffer from strange pacing. There are five distinct acts, and a left field new storyline barrelling in right at the end, which ties everything to the upcoming events of A New Hope. It manages to be hopeful indeed — an uplifting twist that delivers a nice general message — but Han’s character arc loses all coherence as a consequence. His journey from unconcerned smuggler to Resistance hero that takes place across the Original Trilogy is invalidated by that same journey taking place, albeit on a smaller scale, here.
One of the best moments of the film is undoubtedly Han and Chewie’s first meeting — and it’s great that we are given a little more of Chewie’s backstory on screen too. A ‘Han shot first’ call-back manages to steal the show for me, perfectly encapsulating the essence of Han’s character, while being the most powerful emotional beat of the film.
The film’s pretty up and down overall, but when those ups and downs even out it’s left simply … flat.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is in cinemas now, distributed by Walt Disney Studios.