I’m far from alone when I say that growing up as a kid, I only ever wanted to be Han Solo. Oh, sure, Luke was the blonde haired fantasy hero we were all told we should like, but Han had attitude. Han represented the rebel in us all, the arrogant know-it-all with just enough skill and bravado to accomplish anything – and still end up with the girl at the end of it all.
Whether this was down to the brash space-pirate that is Han Solo, or was more to do with Harrison Ford’s scene stealing charisma, I don’t think I’ll ever truly work out. One thing’s for sure, though. You can never beat Han. His role in the original trilogy has formed a trope all of its very own, and has often been repeated across the Star Wars franchise, and beyond.
Little wonder, then, that Disney would eventually push for a Han Solo standalone film. I mean, everyone loves him, right? He’s the greatest character of all time! People will be queuing around the block to discover his backstory! I wonder where he got those stripes on his breeches? OH! Or where he found that awesome blaster? You could almost taste the expectation from the Disney offices.
Except, well, it never really worked out all that smoothly. Given the minimalist title Solo, the Han Solo standalone film production has been to hell and back. Originally given to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, of The Lego Movie (2014) fame, the project fell into trouble when it was deemed “too funny” to the suits back at Disney, and so Ron Howard was dragged onto the project to either direct new sequences , or start over again, or something – it was never all that clear.
Long story short, it’s now May 2018 and I just watched Solo! The film nobody wanted, but everyone is talking about!
So What Happens?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… and things are looking a bit rough. Set some time after Revenge Of The Sith (2005) and before Rogue One (2016), Solo opens on the shipbuilding world of Corellia. Beneath the shadow of the vast Imperial Star Destroyers being built in orbit, orphans and low lives are forced to steal and scavenge to survive, mostly to pay tribute to their criminal masters.
Among them, a young man by the name of Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is desperate to leave this life behind him. Together with his partner Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), the two launch a desperate bid to escape the gang lifestyle and start a new life beyond the stars – thanks to Han acquiring a sample of coaxium, a rare and valuable form of hyperspace fuel. Unfortunately, the gangbangers catch up with the fleeing couple, and Han and Qi’ra are separated. Suddenly alone and at danger of being arrested by the brutal Imperial Stormtroopers, Han’s attention is drawn by an Imperial Recruitment advert being broadcast (with extremely satisfying backing music).
Han enlists in the Imperial Navy in order to become a successful pilot – with a view to returning to save Qi’ra. Unfortunately, things don’t go well, and three years later we find Han again, forced to fight on the front lines in the Imperial Army – having been expelled from the Imperial Flight Academy for insubordination.
During some extremely satisfying trench warfare from the Imperial perspective, Han meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who, along with his associates Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio Durant (Jon Favreau), have acquired Imperial uniforms with an aim to hijacking an Imperial Landing Craft to aid them in stealing a shipment of coaxium. Desperate to leave the Empire behind, Han tries to weasel his way into Beckett’s posse, but not before he is thrown in a cell with an angry creature. That angry creature, as it happens, is revealed to be Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Han eventually manages to persuade the Wookiee not to eat him, and soon earns his trust as the pair escape from their prison – and straight into Beckett’s crew.
From here, Han follows Beckett from job to job. With Chewie at his side, Han earns himself a reputation as a fighter and a pilot, and under Beckett’s watchful eye, is gradually taught the skills necessary to survive in the unforgiving far away galaxy. Han eventually comes face to face with Qi’ra, who has apparently escaped her life on Corellia, and is now in the employ of the crime lord, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).
Together, they hatch a scheme to acquire a huge haul of unrefined coaxium from the spice mines of Kessel – the only problem is getting it to a refinery in time before the resource spoils. Naturally, they’re gonna need a ship. A fast ship. And it just so happens that Qi’ra knows a guy… A seductive, charming kind of guy, wears capes a lot. Name of Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Han and Lando are quick to hit it off, though tensions remain high as the group set out to embark on a dangerous mission, that might just earn them all a huge fortune.
I want to pause here to discuss Lando’s associate and droid companion, L3-37, or Elthree (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Now, I am over the moon that Star Wars has become more representative as a whole. I love it. I can’t fathom a world where I would ever side with the absolute tools behind such movements as #BoycottSolo, but Elthree comes close to changing my mind. Who the fuck though a screaming, one-note droid ‘activist’ would be a fun character on screen? I hated every second of it, and can only agree with the handful who have compared Elthree to Jar Jar. What’s weird, is it felt like some sort of sour parody of your cliche Social Justice Warrior. Do not get it. Do not want. Burn it to the ground.
But anyway, as the story develops, Han’s idealism is stretched to the limit, where he is forced to see the galaxy through Beckett’s narrowed vision. Betrayal, murder, underhand deals all serve to sour Han’s mind, but when push comes to shove, he acts as only a hero should, thus laying the groundwork for Han and Chewie’s adventures in the wider galaxy, on board their signature ship – the truly magnificent Millennium Falcon.
I didn’t expect to love Solo the same way I loved Rogue One. And yet, something about it really appealed to me. In particular, the first half of the film as we see Han move from city slum to waitron battlefield, and all the way to a swanky crime lord wine and cheese social circle. Unfortunately, as way of arcs go, there isn’t much more than this.
I must point out that the performances in Solo are surprisingly great. Despite the rumours of acting coaches and casting errors, no one felt out of place in this film. Alden’s portrayal of the iconic Han Solo was never going to please everyone, and you should never expect anyone to pull off the charisma that Harrison Ford brings to the big screen – but, frankly, who needs it? At this stage, Han is little more than a cocky 20-something. The pirate we see in Mos Eisley is an experienced veteran, jaded to the galaxy and only looking out for number one. Han has a lot to learn before he reaches those heights, but the scruffy petty criminal we do see works just as well. The important thing, for me, was the chemistry between Han and Chewie – and this was perfect. I would say, however, there is a slight weirdness about the writing with Han. It feels like he should be more of a rogue figure, but he seems to flip flop between a deer-stuck-in-headlights, and cocky outsider – with far too much weight on whether or not he is a good person or not. Surely this should be left to the reveal in the original trilogy?
Donald Glover’s take on Lando is shockingly good. We hear him before we see him, and he sounds perfect. The tone, the inflections, everything. It’s almost a shame we didn’t actually see him displaying his supposedly pansexual tendencies – because let’s face it, if anyone in the galaxy is likely to throw his hat into every ring, valley and crevice – it’s gonna be him.
I do, however, have issues with the film’s pacing. Between the climax of the second act and the eventual final set piece in the third act, nothing happens. After watching the Falcon twist and turn through a CG nightmare, it feels a little… underwhelming to then have the characters kicking dust about looking bored for the next ten minutes. Likewise, the ending felt a little lacklustre, like it was just being phoned in.
I get that Solo is more of an enclosed story, I do. I love that. But it just needed that little extra boost of coaxium in the story’s reactor to really grab me, and sadly it just wasn’t there. I don’t know if this is a symptom of multiple directors and studio problems, but something was missing. Personally, I think I would’ve liked to see Han be betrayed, or to betray others, or something to set him up as a true rogue. The whole thing just felt a little too safe, when now is the period when you can make people explore their inner bastard.
On a technical note, there seems to have been some odd decisions in cinematography. I won’t go into too much detail, but often it felt like the film was deliberately obscuring several details – and it is immediately noticeable, too. Particularly early on, I found that several scenes that were washed out with a heavy blue very hard to watch. It begs the question whether Ron Howard was brought in to tone everything down – including the colour temperatures. I don’t know. But it feels odd. I just wish there was a more consistent feel to these shots – preferably that of a space western, which feels like the film was stretching for more than once.
On reflection, then, as I’ve said to others – I liked it. It’s certainly worth watching. But I was disappointed to not feel the need to swagger and strut my way out of the cinema, like a Corellian orphan with a pair of watermelons smuggled in my boxers. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. But after watching a story about Han frickin’ Solo, I want to feel like I can be Han frickin’ Solo.
Well, anyway. I recommend you see this one for yourself and make up your own mind, and for god’s sake, don’t watch this immediately before you walk in (it will only disappoint you to not hear it in the cinema):
A P Tyler