Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Thandie Newton, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany. Running time: 135 minutes.
Solo: A Star Wars Story may mark the beginning of a prolific period for Lucasfilm. Of course, this should not come as any great surprise. Parent company Disney have pursued the same agenda with Marvel films of late; the Avengers, whether together or apart, have scarcely been out of our theatres for the last five years. Coming just five months after the release of The Last Jedi, this film carries several indications that the galaxy far, far away may be heading down a similar path.
For one thing, Alden Ehrenreich (who plays Han Solo) has confirmed that the contract he signed secures his services for a total of three films. Whether the next two will turn out to be the remainder of a Solo trilogy, as has widely been speculated online, or rather see Han return as a supporting character in other standalone efforts is not yet clear.
The question that this knowledge leaves us with, of course, is whether a relentless barrage of Star Wars movies is something to be welcomed. After The Last Jedi, which left fans aghast at its poor script and deeply problematic storyline, there may have been little appetite for more. Solo, however, has landed much closer to the mark.
We begin with a brisk introduction to Han and his other half Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) as unfortunate folk who are imprisoned by a gang of criminals, for whom they are also forced to steal. A botched escape attempt sees Qi-ra re-apprehended and Han left with no option but to join the Imperial Army.
Once becoming disillusioned with the Empire’s policy of bloodily colonising every planet it can get its hands on, Han defects with a group of criminals (Harrelson and Newton) and joins them in their attempt at a lucrative train heist in order to win himself the means to support a new life of freedom. Unsurprisingly, not everything pans out quite so straightforwardly as that.
The first half of the film treads all the requisite ground in predictably boring fashion. As with any movie that deals with the humble beginnings of an iconic character, there are certain boxes that require ticking. Mercifully, however, there are not many of these in Han Solo’s case, and by the end we are left with an engaging space Western that eschews predictability and feels in no way restrained by the shadow of its source material.
Alden Ehrenreich proves a good fit for the titular role, emulating Harrison Ford’s swagger and boyish charm while also adding a subtle air of youthful innocence that draws an interesting parallel with the more cold-blooded incarnation we meet in A New Hope. Donald Glover, on the other hand, takes far more dramatic license with the character of Lando Calrissian, replacing Billy Dee Williams’ brash charmer with a quirky, thoughtful, Glover-esque version. It is difficult to imagine the progression from one to the other, but Glover’s Calrissian fits well here.
As for the new characters, Woody Harrelson is reliably excellent as the crafty Tobias Beckett, and Paul Bettany once again proves his flair for portraying criminal derangement as chief villain Dryden Vos. Emilia Clarke does her best as Qi’ra, but the character is poorly written and her story somewhat jumbled.
Development of this film began as far back as 2012, when George Lucas was still the owner of all things Star Wars. Many creative influences have had their say since then, with the original directing pair of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller replaced by Ron Howard in June 2017 due to “creative differences.” Despite this, the film has arrived in neat order. Howard’s direction is well-focused, and Lawrence Kasdan’s script, while overly deliberate in places, complements it well. The obligatory nods to the source material are not allowed to become overbearing, and the story’s disconnection from the central thread of the Star Wars saga allows it to become a snappy sci-fi thriller all of its own.