Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson & Emilia Clarke
Rating: 12A Duration: 135 minutes Release date: 24 May (UK)
For one reason or another, the latest instalment in the Star Wars saga does not seem as highly anticipated as is usually the case for the popular franchise. There may be various reasons for this, but only an individual can attest to why that is. Solo: A Star Wars Story arrives with little fanfare, but few will be surprised to know that Disney have made another fun-filled spectacle, high on adventure and with a fair amount of wit thrown in for good measure.
The idea that Han Solo needed a standalone film is a subject for debate among the online Star Wars community, and many will argue that we didn’t want or need this film. And yet we have it anyway. Various fandoms will seemingly always argue within their groups about which direction a franchise should go, and perhaps a more sober argument can be for why established characters need to have their entire story told on the big screen. Solo in particular, with his roguish charm was the complete package when we met in A New Hope and the elements behind his character did not seem like they needed examining at any great length. We knew he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian. We also knew that his sidekick Chewbacca could rip arms out of sockets. And we also knew that Han completed the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. Regardless, we get to see all that and more here, and whether we wanted it or not, Solo delivers on all counts.
At over two hours long, Solo is a lengthy film. There is so much going on here that the film could last another 45 minutes and still feel like there is more to explore. As an aside, and without spoiling anything, there is potential here for a sequel to Solo, but whether or not that will happen is down to the box office results more than anything else. When we first meet Han he is escaping an unnamed danger and attempting to get himself and his love Qi’ra (Clarke) off his home planet of Corellia. The film then jumps ahead three years to Hans time as a soldier for the Empire, here he meets Beckett (Harrelson) and his team of smugglers. Events then take us to gangster Dryden Vos (Bettany) and then fatefully to Lando (Glover). Solo has many avenues to explore and despite having a lot to pack in, it largely succeeds in telling each story and giving its characters the time to breathe.
One of the films biggest successes is in its casting. Alden Ehrenreich nails the role of the younger, more cocky, way more naive Han Solo and wisely stays away from doing a young Harrison Ford impersonation and instead focuses on what makes Han such an interesting character. Likewise, Donald Glover has the playboy Calrissian completely figured out and provides some of the films most entertaining scenes, the only downside being we do not see enough of his character throughout the film. Woody Harrelson adds another mature performance to his CV and, partnered with War for the Planet of the Apes and Three Billboards, is showing what a complete actor he has become. Paul Bettany relishes the chance to play the villain here, and his well-mannered crime lord makes a change from the usual type of villains we see in this franchise. Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau round out a well balanced cast of rogues while only Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3 android, who campaigns for equal rights, seems a misstep.
Credit must go to Ron Howard for stepping in at the 11th hour. Solo had already seen directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller fired by Sith Lord Kathleen Kennedy and it was his job to steady the ship. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel Howard doesn’t get enough credit for the films he has made. He lends Solo a sense of adventure and crafts an interesting story, while hinting at the bigger picture playing out in the background. Along with writers Jonathan & Lawrence Kasdan there is warmth and humour here and a wonderful sense of adventure. Solo may not be the film may were looking or hoping for, but that doesn’t matter. What we have here is a film that defies expectations and feels more like a Star Wars film than either The Last Jedi or Rogue One and perhaps that’s just what we needed.