Updated: Dec 20, 2021
The first Star Wars Anthology film - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) - was critically and commercially successful. It benefitted from a pre-existing, direct link to the original trilogy, and by extension, the ability to use established series icons such as the Death Star and of course, Darth Vader. It wasn’t especially logical from a narrative standpoint, but it ultimately played out like a love letter to the very idea of Star Wars (1977). Rogue One had an extremely problematical development process, with various delays, casting issues and ultimately, a change of director. Yet by the time THAT scene had concluded - and one’s senses had returned to normal - many within the fanbase were hailing Rogue One as the best thing to happen to Star Wars in three decades.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) experienced an equally fraught transition from concept to screen, with significant issues concerning casting, tone, editing and once again, direction. Originally pitched as being more comedic in tone, Disney rapidly became concerned the film would lean too heavily in that direction, and ultimately fired the original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Despite an intriguing premise and exploration of a much-heralded aspect of the Han Solo mythos - the Kessel Run - the film simply wasn’t embraced by the Star Wars fandom. On the contrary: they reacted with outright hostility. Part of the reason for this lies in the fundamental stupidity of the concept. Of all the characters to explore in greater detail, Han Solo was and is the least desirable and most unnecessary. Harrison Ford is indelibly associated with the character he brought to life. De-mystifying Han’s origins and requiring another actor to portray him, only serves to (arguably) diminish the character’s original legacy. Obi-Wan Kenobi, who has already been portrayed by two different actors, or Boba Fett, of whom so little has been officially established, would’ve been much wiser choices.
I could quite feasibly spend the rest of my natural life detailing the various political and cinematic issues associated with Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017), but I’m not going to. Suffice it to say, Episode VIII polarised the hardcore fanbase like nothing before it. This all stems from the alleged role the film plays in advocating specific societal values, roles and lifestyles, at the expense of continuity and creative choice. It’s an occasionally interesting but mostly tedious debate. In truth Episode VIII is a good but inherently flawed film. There are thousands of articles, pseudo-studies and screaming rants on YouTube regarding its chequered place in the Star Wars cannon, and if you find yourself so inclined, one or two actually contain some cogent observations. Most of the others apparently originated in Russia, and are artificial in origin. Which is most curious. What matters is this controversy, and the ensuing discord, destroyed any possibility Solo had of monetarily succeeding. Legions of Star Wars fans boycotted the film, thus hitting Disney in their dollar-shaped testes. As such, Solo has become the cinematic equivalent of collateral damage.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a genuinely good film. It is very well cast with a slew of enjoyable, credible performances, that honour the original spirit of the characters. Special mention must go to Donald Glover, who delivers a simply uncanny performance as Lando Calrissian, and Alden Ehrenreich, who undertakes the thankless task of embodying Han Solo - sans Harrison Ford - with gusto, and by the end of the film has found some authentic swagger. Hell, even the wildly inconsistent Emilia Clarke manages to convince. The film has an intriguing story and maintains a sharp, well-balanced pace throughout. Hollywood veteran Ron Howard brings his redoubtable quality to the director’s chair, and the film is never boring, nor does it take itself too seriously. It even incorporates a Marxist droid - perhaps owing to the Russian thing again - and a genuinely exciting twist! How ironic then, in this time of discontent, that a film deliberately ignored by fandom should represent such a good example of a Star Wars film. It’s a popcorn movie, and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It’s bloody good fun and deserves a second chance to be appreciated via home media. All good films deserve to be seen, and Solo, though by no means perfect, is worth mine and your time.
| Review written in February 2021 |
My initial reaction to Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is that it is an enjoyable romp, but fairly inessential to the wider Star Wars universe. The film's relative lack of success at the box office (due to the backlash directed at Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) as Dan has discussed) led many to suggest that the future of ‘Star Wars’ as a cinematic force very much hung in the balance. The largely indifferent response to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) did little to dissuade the naysayers.
The irony is, Solo is a film made for 'Star Wars' fans. It is, therefore, a shame that many fans didn't want to see it out of principle. Stubbornness on the part of a divided audience with an axe to grind? I am sure that is a significant aspect of it. But it arguably highlights a more fundamental issue – it doesn't feel like a particularly necessary story to tell. However, watching the film without an awareness of the background shenanigans between creatives, studio and fans, it is definitely true to say that Solo: A Star Wars Story does what it says on the tin.
Solo is pacy, witty and boasts an excellent cast. It works as a heist film in sci-fi adventure clothing, subverting and celebrating familiar tropes (and particularly, some well-known dialogue) of its illustrious predecessors. We meet a younger Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), ten years prior to the events of Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), as he endeavours to escape a life of enforced crime on the mean streets of the planet Corellia, to pursue his dream of flying among the stars as the pilot of his own ship.
The Han Solo of this film is an idealistic dreamer; cynicism is yet to fully set in and his intergalactic adventures are just beginning. Ehrenreich does a fine job of hinting at the wisecracking rogue the character will develop into, but also putting his own confident stamp on the role. It reminded me of Chris Pine's exceptional reinterpretation of Captain Kirk in the recent Star Trek (2009) films – less an imitation, but just enough suggestion. Han is initially accompanied by his childhood friend and romantic interest Qi’ra, played by Emilia Clarke; a character caught in an uneasy alliance between Han’s former life and his newfound liberty. Paul Bettany brings his best Bond villain to bear – complete with requisite facial scar – as ruthless and unhinged crime lord Dryden Vos. Donald Glover, a particularly striking modern talent, is engaging and dynamic as a younger version of Lando Calrissian, the man who loses the Millennium Falcon (an iconic character in itself) to Han in a bet. And, of course, a mud wrestle with a famous fuzzball (just stopping short of becoming a lost scene from Bigfoot and the Hendersons (1991-1993)), ensures that the presence of key players, alongside new characters, is complete.
Disney certainly spent some time licking their wounds following the lacklustre response to Solo. As they have now turned their attention to continuing the ‘Star Wars’ legacy on TV, with The Mandalorian (2019 - ) particularly breathing new life into the franchise, Solo does perhaps leave the impression that the main hero’s backstory would be better served in a longer-form, episodic format, giving the story and characters time to breathe. But, as Dan observed, on its own merits, Solo is the very definition of popcorn entertainment and, like its rugged protagonist, what you see is what you get.