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New Release Review - SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY review
The origins of everyone's favourite space smuggler.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ron Howard

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke. Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Joonas Suotamo, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY poster


Modern TV writers will tell you their medium is superior to cinema because it allows more time for character development. That's utter hogwash of course, as a good storyteller can create a memorable character in minutes, and most of the development happens before a character arrives onscreen. After the first Columbo TV movie we felt like we had a real grasp of whom the titular detective was, but three decades later we didn't really know a whole lot more about the LAPD lieutenant. We didn't need to. Do TV disciples look at the work of Shakespeare and think "If only he had six seasons, he could have really made something of that Othello dude?"

Few filmmakers understood the importance of instant character development quite like George Lucas in his prime. By the end of A New Hope (or as my generation call it, Star Wars), we feel like we've known these goodies and baddies forever. Few scenes can rival Han Solo gunning down Greedo in cold blood in terms of letting the audience know just what type of character we're dealing with. Throughout the original trilogy we get enough hints at Solo's past to make us feel like we've been on a journey with the character for far longer than three movies. We don't need to see how Han Solo became Han Solo (especially when it's not Lucas's version of the character's backstory), but there's gold in them thar origin story hills, and so we have Solo: A Star Wars Story, a (not quite) standalone tale of the space smuggler's exploits as a young man.


SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

Solo never quite pins down the age of its eponymous hero, but the actor playing him, Alden Ehrenreich, was 27 at time of shooting, a mere seven years younger than Harrison Ford was when he created the icon. When a Han Solo origin story was first announced, I feared we may get a Bugsy Malone take on the story, with Han and Chewie played by 12-year-olds. That version would probably have been unbearable, but Solo suffers heavily from the lack of years between Ehrenreich and Donald Glover (a young Lando) and Ford and Billy Dee Williams. It's impossible not to draw comparisons, and while Ehrenreich and Glover imitate the physical swagger and shit-eating grins of their forebears, they possess none of the smouldering seductiveness of Ford and Williams. The Solo and Lando of the original trilogy were the sort of guys women knew were dangerous, but couldn't help falling for; the baby-faced stand-ins here resemble the sort of nice guys whose girlfriends would be stolen by Ford and Williams.

This is most problematic in the unconvincing relationship between Solo and his love interest, Emilia Clarke's Qi'ra. The film attempts to evoke Bogie and Bacall, but neither Ehrenreich nor Clarke can sell the passion between the duo. What should be an emotional reunion between the pair plays out like two old college roommates bumping into each other down the pub. When you consider the script is co-written by Lawrence Kasdan, who gave us two of the screen's hottest romantic pairings in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Body Heat, the lack of chemistry between these leads is staggering.


SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

Despite the title, Solo often feels like a supporting character in his own story, and in the film's many lengthy conversational scenes, Ehrenreich is often left to merely stand around in the background while the likes of Woody Harrelson's veteran smuggler Beckett and Paul Bettany's mobster Dryden Vos hammer out plot details in some of the worst dialogue to ever leave the mouths of a Star Wars character (and that's saying something). It's as if the film is attempting to ape John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China by making the character who believes he's the lead in reality the sidekick, but Big Trouble worked because Kurt Russell's Jack Burton wasn't in on the joke; Ehrenreich's Solo is all too aware he's a bit-part player in his own story.

The recent Star Wars entries have seen a growing encroachment of the real world into its fictional universe, and it's especially notable here. Characters utter terms like "Arse," "morons" and "Hell," and we simply feel like we're watching Americans and Brits from 2018 rather than aliens from a long time ago. Qi'ra mentions a stolen macguffin weighing a certain amount of "K-grams." Really? You're too lazy to come up with a Star Warsy unite of weight? A feminist paralleling robot voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the most annoying character seen in the franchise since he who shall not be named, and the implications of her relationship with Lando are cringeworthy, as the film delves into the nature of characters' genitalia.

Controversially, Ron Howard was brought in to wrap up the film when original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were given the boot. Howard claims 70% of the final cut is Lord and Miller's material, and due to the homogeneous nature of modern franchise filmmaking, it's difficult to distinguish which scenes may have been overseen by which directors. The entire movie has the same flat sheen throughout, and there's a distinct lack of energy in both the acting performances and the dull staging of action scenes, the latter of which are geographically confusing and nonsensical in their conveying of spatial relations. Like that much mocked runway sequence from Fast & Furious 6, there's a train heist here that lasts so long it appears that said train is simply travelling in circles.


SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

As you might expect, bones are thrown to the fanbase, with riffs on old catchphrases that are so played out at this point that they now resemble Dad jokes. A late cameo by a fan favourite character hints at a sequel, but I couldn't figure out how said character could exist at the same time as a twentysomething Solo (or how this movie could feature stormtroopers). By my calculations, this makes Solo old enough to be Darth Vader's father, which makes him old enough to be Leia's grandfather - zoiks!

There's a popular Irish biscuit called a Jacobs Fig Roll, and when I was a kid its ad campaign revolved around the question of "How do Jacobs get the fig in their fig rolls?" I asked my parents and teachers, but it remained a mystery throughout my childhood. I never did learn how Jacobs get the fig in their fig rolls, and I wish I could say the same about how Han Solo became Han Solo.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is in UK/ROI cinemas May 24th.




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