Venue Reviews, Solo: A Star Wars Story

After turning up to resume the turbulent production of Solo: A Star Wars Story, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ron Howard quaked a little. After The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street creators (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) were removed over creative differences, Howard was introduced and reportedly reshot about 70 percent of the film’s scenes.

And for a film no one had really asked for, that doesn’t do much to raise expectations. Is this the reason why Solo – for a movie based on the tall tales of Harrison Ford’s 1979 swashbuckler – feels so safe? Indeed, Howard could have told us something we didn’t know about the sardonic adventurer (an avenue I suspect The Lego Movie creators would have been all too happy to explore), but instead his film plays like a collection of top Solo tales, sprinting gleefully between set-pieces, and with very few surprises.

Given, Solo attempts to distance itself from the (brace yourselves) ‘main’ Star Wars trilogy. It knowingly avoids monumental space battles and the eminent Force, delving instead into seedy underworlds inhabited by gangsters, crooks and a chilling Paul Bettany. It’s a grubbier, dirtier, less consequential tone than anything supplied by The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi; an intergalactic heist movie with rather transitory appeal.

The young Han Solo is introduced in exactly the sorts of conditions one might expect; as a low-scale scam artist working the grungy streets of Corellia. When he’s not spinning deals, he’s smooching his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), with whom he plans to escape the planet, and become the best pilot in the galaxy. After the escape goes awry, Han becomes determined to buy his own ship to return to Corellia. In the process, he runs (well, slides) into a Wookiee named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and quickly teams up to join a band of space thieves to rob a freighter filled with explosive fuel. Not quite Jesse James, but you get the picture. The story is only vaguely coherent, but that’s because it’s largely a vehicle for Han references. From the origin story behind the golden dice we see in A New Hope, to the card game that won Solo the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian, Solo visualises Han’s innumerable boastings as if working from a checklist, with more than a few winks. Less than 12 parsecs my arse. Ehrenreich paints a convincing image of a young Harrison Ford (complete with lop-sided grin and bleeding sardonicism), but whatever charm can be felt coursing through this sparky-eyed, yet ever so slightly hesitant Solo remains an imprint of Ford’s original performance.

There are some moments in which Solo tries to be something more than a glorified Buck Rogers episode. Though Han’s signature arrogance is pummelled into the viewer consistently, Alden Ehrenreich’s Solo establishes an effective base for the jaded grumpster on all the T-Shirts (though if Disney’s proclivity for merchandising is anything to go by, that’ll surely change), glimpsing instead the moral tentativeness of a hero whose actions have yet to be confirmed as ‘heroic’. The seedy, gangster-dominated Wild West that is Corellia also nudges toward exploring the darker side of the space fantasy; an approach The Last Jedi actually intended, and generally executed better.

Since returning in 2015, the Star Wars franchise hasn’t ceased production, birthing a sequel and two anthology movies. But while there’s an appreciative level of fan service surrounding the anthology films, their frankly surface appeal raises questions as to the future of the franchise. With a Boba Fett movie next in line (and interest in an Obi-Wan film later), I wonder whether the franchise wouldn’t do better to stick to progression, rather than furiously backpedaling to cash-in on familiar icons.

Abi Steer voiced a certain amount of ambivalence toward the concept of a Solo movie, calling it the prequel ‘that absolutely nobody asked for.’ There’s certainly truth in that, and I’ll admit to finding my own faith in the series painfully levelling with the ‘new low’ Steer observed of the post-revival disappointment amid Solo’s marketing. The trailer represented the height of Star Wars cynicism: a collection of Harrison Ford impressions intended to milk the icon’s global fame for as many credits as possible.

This said, Solo is at least heartening in that it reveals the trailer to be a collection of the film’s very worst moments; those that pander to the Solo IP with no zest or subtlety. But amid the eye-rollingly obvious reminders that, yes, we’re watching the Han Solo movie, there’s just enough flourish to constitute an inoffensive action romp. I’d argue most (if not all) of the movie’s quirks arise through the supporting cast: in Donald Glover’s delightfully peculiar Lando, (whose debonair grin seems as much due to the actor’s delight in playing the intergalactic gambler, as the character’s unmistakable charisma), and the scene-stealing L3-37 (played by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge), whose dedication to droid independence is both bluntly funny, and almost troubling in the thoughts it provokes about the wider canon.

But I reiterate, there will be a point (I’d imagine in the very near future) at which flaunting the history behind well-known figures will become tired. Despite its inoffensive charm (and for what it is, it is charming), Solo reminds that there’s only so many more backstories we can endure before becoming ever so slightly numb.

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March 2021
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