New Star Wars doomed from the start
Solo: A Star Wars Story may never reach the pantheon of the greatest Star Wars films, and its perfunctory execution and lurching-from-one-sequence-to-the-next does not do it any favours. It may have been doomed from the start, writes Darren Bevan.
Enigma, mystery, the eternal riddle of how an iconic character came to be. These are the things nightmares are made of for writers tasked with origin stories.
Whether it's an infamous line, or an cool-sounding reference tossed into a script as a throwaway line, it's a conundrum.
The name is evocative - he's the guy who shot first, the guy who made the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, the guy who was cool and detached in those original films back in the 1970s.
But scratch beneath the surface and peer into the veneer to explore his origins and that's where the mystery starts to fade.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, production company Lucasfilm set the directors of The LEGO Movie - Phil Lord and Christopher Miller - to work. They were however removed due to "creative differences" - causing the sound of a million geeks to cry out in existential terror at what lay ahead for their beloved smuggler.
In came Ron Howard to try and rescue what was left.
So, what we're left with is Solo: A Star Wars Story, an origin tale no one really wanted (because Han's backstory is best left to tantalising lines and imaginations), and questions answered no one really asked.
Displaying some, but nowhere near enough, of the charisma that Harrison Ford delivered in the series, Hail Caesar!'s Alden Ehrenreich is Han, a scum-rat who's trying to break away from his home planet of Corellia with his girlfriend Qi'ra (Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke).
Separated when their heist goes wrong, Han signs up with the baddies to become a pilot, and ends up in the trenches (the closest Star Wars has ever got to showing the gritty World War I edges of warfare) before falling in with Woody Harrelson's Beckett and his band of merry mercenaries.
Teaming up to pull off a job on a flying train (one of the film's stand-out action sequences), Han does all he can to get back to Qi'Ra and the life he used to know.
It's fair to say that Solo: A Star Wars Story doesn't really feel like a Star Wars film.
In fact, for the most part, the sparkle you'd feel for being part of this world feels absent, with those in charge hoping the thrills would come from the fact a line was referenced, or you see how Chewbacca and Han actually met - it's a perfunctory take on the legend, and one can't help but feel shortchanged in some of the execution.
It's to be commended for trying to widen the universe without always having to tie back into it (something the countless novels and stories have always done) and the how-he-became-a-smuggler isn't quite told in the way you'd expect.
Donald Glover manages a perfect Billy Dee Williams impression, but his Lando isn't quite the high-stakes scoundrel we'd expect, and most of the performance feels bathed in the "cool" that's currently surrounding Glover, rather than anything else.
Equally, it has to be said, that while Alden Ehrenreich comes occasionally close to matching some of what Ford did as Solo thanks to hints of where his future lies, the cocky edges are missing. It feels like he's come from a Western, and is trying to impress as Solo, but the script doesn't quite serve him as well.
In fairness, Han and Chewie's relationship - along with Phoebe Waller-Bridge's L3-37 robot and Lando - are where the film really does hit its straps. Playful, earnest and with heart, these fire unexpectedly off the screen from the moment they're seen - and really make parts of Solo: A Star Wars Story stand out. It's a shame there's not more of this, as when they come, they're joyous.
Unfortunately, Clarke and Ehrenreich have little chemistry, and what little they can muster pales into insignificance with the ease of what Carrie Fisher and Ford achieved. For an emotional centre, it's sorely miscast.
Ultimately, Solo: A Star Wars Story feels muted; it doesn't help that most of the mystery of Solo is unravelled in other's hands, leaving you the feeling none of his hinted-at reputation was earned, merely given. What emerges from the spinoff space saga is a feeling that it feels like a project that floundered to find an edge, a piece of fan service that tries too hard to hit its core audience in the intergalactic feels.
Solo: A Star Wars Story may never reach the pantheon of the greatest Star Wars films, and its perfunctory execution and lurching-from-one-sequence-to-the-next does not do it any favours. It may have been doomed from the start, thanks to the weight of what happened in 1977, but it certainly shows that not everything in this endless galaxy needs to be explained, and that sometimes, a hint of mystery should be - and indeed is - more than enough to sustain a legend for cinematic eternity.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Director: Ron Howard
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