By midlandsmovies, Jun 5 2018 08:30PM
SOLO (2018) Dir. Ron Howard
With a troubled production you have to ask is it all Happy Days at Disney as it releases yet another new Star Wars movie? As Ron Howard stepped on board the galactic train after original directors Lord and Miller were ditched, many wondered if we would be getting a Suicide Squad/Fantastic Four chop job. Well, from first glance Howard has done stellar work in bringing a film back from the brink of collapse where the cohesive whole shows no sign of the multiple hands at work.
Solo is another Star Wars “Story” film – originally called Anthology films, Disney has done a great job in convincing everyone that this is expanded universe territory – but make no mistake that this is pure prequel fare. With huge reservations after the dull and misjudged Rogue One (another SW film with production woes), I had very low expectations for a narrative filling in a back story that I had no interest in.
That said, Howard (with sci-fi and fantasy skills honed with Apollo 13 and Willow) does a pretty solid job at the helm as we are introduced to Han, who is part of a gang of youths under the protection of slimey space worm Lady Proxima. But he soon wants to leave his home planet for a new freedom with his lover Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). However, whilst Han escapes to join the Empire’s war, Qi’ra is captured and returned home. Moving forward in time we catch up with Han as he tries to escape the violent war by selling his skills as a pilot to Woody Harrelson’s gang of outlaws. They intend to grab some McGuffin power sources to fulfil a contract to Paul Bettany’s facially scarred baddie Dryden Vos.
The film actually keeps things simple in the main and is all the better for it as we follow a likeable and active protagonist (unlike the charisma-free Jyn Erso) who takes his life decisions into his own hands. Alden Ehrenreich is very alluring as a young and cocky Solo – some hints of Harrison Ford’s legendary charisma are present – but mostly avoids a direct impression of the actor as he blags his way through risky plans and double-dealing hunters. If anything, in seedy caverns and bars, he at times will remind audiences of Indiana Jones rather than Han. Which is no bad thing.
The subtler nods to the franchise and the muddy-brown battle scenes feel a far better attempt at a Star Wars “war” film than Rogue One and I thoroughly enjoyed the real location work given my constant struggle with dodgy CGI. The light-hearted banter was fun, the characters were broad but understandable and although not hilarious, the dialogue avoided the under-cutting Marvel quips to make the characters well, actually, likeable.
But it’s not all good right? Well, yes there are some problems. It’s ultimately not needed as an entry into Star Wars lore, that much is true. Also, the Starship Troopers-style Empire recruitment video was a mess alongside (in the same scene no less) a reveal about the origin of Han’s surname so heavy handed it will draw groans.
Emilia Clarke returns later in the film and is passable after some worrisome performances (her stilted Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys still grates) but Donald Glover certainly delivers as a young Lando. His space gambler is a mixture of sleaze and, strangely, sexuality that has him build more than a just a friendship with sarcastic freedom-fighting robot L3-37. It was also great to see Ron throw some romance back into the galaxy after the amicable friendships of the last 3 movies with a bit of frisson between Han and Qi’ra. And he also gives cameos both to his brother Clint and his Willow (and Star Wars) star Warwick Davis.
On a technical level, a slightly strange vignette-sepia colour palette with backlighting that sometimes drowned out the foreground characters was an enjoyable aesthetic but I predict some may think it doesn’t ‘sit’ well in the SW universe. The small sets were intimate yet underwhelming but they did remind me of the matinee style of the original films and this more compact story was a nice change from planet-destroying space battles.
As Han inevitably meets Chewie in a fun, if again unnecessary, prison break scene, the film ticks off its obligatory story beats whilst some surprises arrive in a lack of a Jabba appearance and a rather shocking Lucas-prequel reference. And after a rollicking rollercoaster heist on snowy mountainside (especially fun in 3-D it has to be said), the film heads towards a more interesting final third act with plenty of double-crossing character beats.
Solo is not perfect and as a prequel (yes, it is!) it just cannot compare to the forward-thinking joys of The Last Jedi but it is far more fun than Rogue One’s deathly hellscape of non-characters and forced fan service. Howard has done more than an admirable job with a production that was deep in trouble and his classic filmmaking style gives Solo some intimacy and old-fashioned movie making gloss. It won’t set the world alight – and I’m dreading the inevitable internet backlash – but ignore the haters as this is a fun, if a little undistinguished, family blockbuster.
Midlands Movies Mike