Benjamin has been reviewing films for sixteen years and has seen more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the big deal?
Solo: A Star Wars Story is an action sci-fi film released in 2018 and is the second standalone spin-off from the ever-expanding Star Wars saga. The film follows the original trilogy characters Han Solo and Chewbacca, depicting their initial meeting and partnership with Lando Calrissian on a daring heist as part of the criminal underworld. The film stars Alden Ehrenheist, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Thandie Newton and Joonas Suotamo and was directed by Ron Howard. The film was hit by creative differences behind the scenes after original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired and it's reportedly one of the most expensive films ever made with an estimated budget of around $275 million. Sadly, the film only managed to earn around $393 million globally which makes this the lowest earning live-action Star Wars picture released so far; it's the only one considered to be a box office bomb. Critics were generally positive about the film though and it even earned an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects.
What's it about?
Ten years before the events depicted in A New Hope, a young Han manages to escape slavery on his home planet of Corellia with his childhood sweetheart Qi'ra. Bribing an Imperial officer with stolen starship fuel known as coaxium, they are betrayed and find themselves split up with Qi'ra being captured while Han manages to disappear by enlisting with the Imperial Navy as a pilot. As an orphan, he is given the surname 'Solo' but is soon sent to the frontline on Mimban as an infantryman after becoming insubordinate.
While there, Han encounters a criminal gang masquerading as fellow Imperial officers led by Tobias Beckett. Attempting to blackmail Beckett into letting him join, Han instead finds himself arrested and thrown into a pit to be fed to a beast - who turns out to be an enraged Wookie. After speaking to him in Chewbacca's own language, Han then finds himself involved in Beckett's latest heist on behalf on crime syndicate Crimson Dawn and the villainous Dryden Vos...
Rio Durant (voice)
Jonathan & Lawrence Kasdan*
Release Date (UK)
24th May, 2018
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Academy Award Nominations
Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
Say that you're into Star Wars but are fed up with the films all feeling a bit samey, especially the last three proper 'episodes'. Well, this may well be the film for you. Borrowing heavily from the aesthetic of the original movies in the same way that earlier spin-off Rogue One did to great effect, the film feels thoroughly immersed in the deep lore of the series so fanboys will feel at home here even though there isn't a lightsabre in sight. The film enjoys a rich and varied visual style that looks like traditional Star Wars but utilises CG to enhance things like alien bystanders. Also the space scenes feel different, bringing something not seen before to the series during the oft-mentioned Kessel Run.
The cast work really hard which can't been easy when several key characters are synonymous with the actors originally cast. Ehrenreich has the thankless task of playing the young Han and does well but doesn't quite bring the same level of charm that Harrison Ford did. By contrast, Glover is fantastic as Lando Calrissian who brings charm, flamboyance, humour and machismo to the film. I also enjoyed Waller-Bridge as the droid L3-37 who happily blurs the lines between robot revolutionary and your girlfriend's cheeky girlfriend. The film is certainly more fun than Rogue One which had a downbeat and depressing tone - by contrast, Solo is light and colourful and kinetic.
- Ehrenreich wears a small scar on his chin in his scenes, even though it's barely noticeable at times. This matches the scar that Harrison Ford has on his chin in real life and was visible in all his roles.
- The word 'Wookiee' was originally inspired by Bill Wookey who was a friend of actor Terence McGovern. McGovern appeared in George Lucas' first feature film THX 1138 and improvised the line "I think I ran over a wookiee back there."
- Original director Christopher Miller was once an intern at Industrial Light & Magic and actually played a Stormtrooper during re-shoots for the rerelease of The Empire Strikes Back in 1997.
- Warwick Davis appears in a cameo in his second film with director Ron Howard after his appearance in Willow. Davis made his cinematic debut playing the Ewok Wicket in Return Of The Jedi.
What's not to like?
Unfortunately, the film's beauty is only skin deep. The narrative feels a bit confused which perhaps isn't surprising considering the change of direction the film underwent. Lord & Miller's original plan for the film was more of a comedic outing but Lucasfilm (who retained creative control over the project) disagreed and presumably made the film more serious instead. This makes the film feel unbalanced, as though it can't make its mind up what exactly it wants to be. The film still contains 20% of the footage the duo shot and even without knowing this beforehand, I couldn't make my mind up about the movie. It looked like Star Wars for sure but it didn't feel like Star Wars somehow. It felt like a kid dressing up in his father's clothes, pretending to be his dad.
I've already discussed how Ehrenreich fails to match up to Ford's impossible standards but other cast members have no excuse. Harrelson, Newton and Bettany feel underwritten but Clarke is especially disappointing as Qi'ra, a bland heroine and love interest who hints at deeper things without really giving anything away. By contrast, Waller-Bridge's performance as the droid L3-37 was far more interesting and made the character more enjoyable than it had any right to be. The story and action scenes also didn't make much sense to me, feeling like a collection of discarded ideas from other Star Wars projects - the initial heist on the tilting train felt uninspired and I didn't particularly enjoy the Kessel Run sequence. When I think of space, I don't envisage billowy clouds of dense gas that can obscure Imperial warships and giant monsters. Worse still, the attempted plot twists weren't that much of a shock and felt tacked on at the last minute as if anticipating further films down the line - which is a pet peeve of mine. Stop making films with no proper endings and then disguising it as part of a longer narrative! The only real surprise came from the reappearance of a much-loved but very-dead character from the prequel trilogy but that only left me with more questions. Doubtless, the answers are somewhere in the vast extended universe but I haven't the time to go looking for them.
Should I watch it?
Solo isn't a bad film as such but the Star Wars label carries huge expectations and a rabid fanbase demanding perfection, which this film isn't. It feels bloated and slightly indulgent although it makes the most of its rich setting. But it isn't up to the standards of the main episodes or even Rogue One but it won't convert non-fans to the series either. So I have to ask: who exactly is this film for?
Great For: undemanding fans of Star Wars, anyone who somehow hasn't seen the original trilogy
Not So Great For: the hardcore fans, Ehrenreich's future career prospects, anyone fearing for the franchise's future after Disney's acquisition
What else should I watch?
Frankly, almost any Star Wars film is worth watching because it will be better than this - even the much maligned The Phantom Menace which is not as bad as many suggest. However, I would advise avoiding Attack Of The Clones which is just a dull mess of an exercise in CG and The Rise Of Skywalker which is borderline insane and makes about as much sense as tickling a Rancor. Rogue One is a much better example of a spin-off film, feeling part of the bigger overall narrative but reinvigorating the original films with modern effects and clever story-telling. And of course, if you're lucky enough to subscribe to Disney's streaming service then you can boast about enjoying The Mandalorian to people like me who don't. But please don't.
Fans of the franchise already know what films they should watch because the original trilogy still stands head-and-shoulders above everything else. A New Hope introduced stunned audiences worldwide to this engrossing and exciting universe while The Empire Strikes Back expanded the lore and the innate coolness of Darth Vader. Even the final entry to the trilogy Return Of The Jedi, which didn't win over everybody, still manages to effortlessly entertain with its explosive opening in Jabba's palace to the thrilling climax on the forest moon of Endor. Fact is, nothing else since has really come close.
© 2020 Benjamin Cox