And so, it’s finally here – the film that nobody asked for but Disney gave it to us anyway… yes, it’s the Han Solo origins story. Plagued by production woes (original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired by Kathleen Kennedy several months into production, resulting in Ron Howard taking over and re-shooting an astounding 80% of the film) and reports of acting coaches needed for its leading man; Solo: A Star Wars story seems destined for failure before it’s even graced the big screen.
Fan expectation isn’t high and Disney have adjusted their box office projections accordingly. But viewed on its own merit away from the controversy and hoo-ha, is the second Star Wars standalone (after Rogue One: A Star Wars story) any good? Has it triumphantly poked a lightsaber into the eye of naysayers, or should it be banished to the spice mines of Kessel?
Well, I never thought I’d say it but this is one Star Wars film that we really didn’t need, and should be dispensed into the nearest Sarlacc Pit at the earliest possible convenience. Whilst marginally better than you’d expect, the troubled production still shines through which results in a disjointed and rather uninteresting muddle of a movie.
Alden Ehrenreich is the man chosen to bear the enormous weight of Harrison Ford’s iconic performance upon his shoulders. This is the film’s first major pitfall. Han Solo is so intrinsically linked with Ford that it is virtually an impossible task for any actor to live up to the role of young Han. Ehrenreich tries his best to evoke Ford’s mannerisms without performing a complete imitation, but it simply does not work. He spends much of the movie standing around with his hand on his hip and smiling whenever he speaks.
The second issue is the story – simply put, it is dull, uninspiring, and above all, simply unnecessary. Han’s backstory had already been outlined in now-defunct EA stories (now re-branded as ‘Legend’ stories), so we already have some idea as to how he won the Millennium Falcon in a card game with Lando, how he met and rescued Chewie from slavery, his background as an Imperial soldier etc etc. Solo ticks these boxes, and strings them together along with a shoddy romance thread (courtesy of yet another awful performance from Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra), a pantomime villain (Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos) and a by-the-numbers heist plot headed by Han’s mentor Tobias Becket (Woody Harrelson).
The trailers teased a playful tone mixed with gritty action, but the truth is that Solo is closer to Spaceballs. One of the major criticisms of last year’s The Last Jedi was its over-abundant use of humour and on-the-nose referencing. Sadly, Solo suffers from much more of the same. The script is littered with ‘gags’ that just feel out of character and out of place, and the fanboy referencing is absolutely ridiculous – the Empire is using Vader’s Imperial March theme as the soundtrack for their recruitment videos; Aurra Sing, Bossk, and Teras Kasi all get name-checked. And for all you eagle-eyed viewers, yes that is a Crystal Skull and the Golden Idol statue from the Indiana Jones movies you can see sitting in Dryden’s office.
Chewie (Joonas Suotamo reprising his role after The Last Jedi) makes some unusual character choices without any logical explanation, and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) feels far removed from who the character should be. And the less said about his strange relationship with droid L3 (possibly the most annoying character ever to grace a Star Wars movie since Jar Jar or Rose) the better. Plus, Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman) is one of the weakest character in Solo, which is crazy seeing how much importance is put on her as apparently one of the founders of the Rebel Alliance.
The story hops from one planet to the next, introducing characters that are really hard to care about. Solo’s action sequences are big and loud, but without the audience’s investment in the characters involved, they illicit no sense of danger. The film is all show and no depth. Its one saving grace, however, is the surprising appearance of - spoiler alert! - Darth Maul, complete with robotic legs. Maul is once again portrayed by Ray Park and voiced by Sam Witwer. He had of course already returned in The Clone Wars and Rebels, but his re-appearance in a live-action movie now possibly sets up yet more Star Wars standalone movies to come. For these, Disney really need to think about creating movies that aren’t connecting to the main saga in any way. A fresh new take on Star Wars would be most welcome - films without the restraints of familiar character backstories or opening crawl plot lines. But with the latest announcement of a Boba Fett backstory film (facepalm) next on the production line, I can only react the same way I imagine George Lucas does when he hears news like this - roll my eyes and shake my head in despair. But at least he has $4.05 billion of Disney’s money to console him.
Shallow, soulless, self-aware and unnecessary. If the (loose) Star Wars brand was removed, this would just be another forgettable run-of-the-mill multiplex actioner. Move along, move along.