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Review – Solo: A Star Wars Story – “A breezy, rollicking romp”

Here it is then – another Star Wars movie from the churning furnaces of Disney. Wracked with tales of difficult production, fired directors, remiss acting coaches and an ‘unworkable’ script. Surely not even the calm on the tiller of Ron Howard could save it?

The answer is yes he could. In fact, were it not for the noises on the social media vines, one wouldn’t have guessed at the pains behind the scenes.

The handsome, charming and energetic Alden Ehrenreich is an able Han. He riffs off Harrison Ford’s mannerisms without descending into an impression, and brings a zesty rebel heart to the main role.

We first meet him trying to hustle his way out of trouble on his home planet of Corellia. He plans to flee the ghetto with his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). It’s a zippy start and throws us straight into action, but when the two are separated, Han has to find his way to both his destiny as a pilot and back to his love, via a stint in the ranks of the Empire.

Written by father and son team Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, this clearly Greek quest approach is the main strength of the film, which firmly sets itself out as an adventure story. Along the way, several established Han Solo backstory elements are shown in detail, most notably his meeting with Chewbacca (wonderfully written) and the famed Kessel Run.

The supporting cast is suitably heavyweight. Woody Harrelson adds his sage charisma as the obligated, experienced mercenary, a sort of advanced role model for the life Solo will eventually lead. He even calls people “kid” a lot, and the tenderness even through occasional enmity with Han highlights the respect the younger pilot has for the life. Thandie Newton is terrific as Harrelson’s gritty squad mate Val, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3-37 is a delight, a dryly snarky feminist droid equipped with a lion’s share of the dialogue humour.

Other proficient turns come in from Paul Bettany, who continues to show he can take any role from clipped English good guy to clipped English bad guy, and cultural polymath Donald Glover, who revels in the jazzy role of the young Lando Calrissian. Even Warwick Davis pops up briefly to continue his stellar Star Wars universe appearance frequency.

The story drives compellingly towards a tense finale, with Han’s flying skills at the fore. The Kessel Run sequence is a nail-biting, dark, stormy joy. The grand visual sequences in general are bold and beautifully elemental – cloud bases compete with snow, desert and coastal settings in a jostling race for awesomeness. The tech design plays well against the sister-movie ROGUE ONE, with large flip switches, Atari-style buttons and wireframe monitor scanners the order of the day.

If SOLO does have faults, it is that sometimes the dialogue is a bit clichéd and template-y. The phrases “hell of a pilot”, “long shot but worth a try” and “putting together a crew” all make an appearance, but these are superficial faults rather than fatal. In general, this is a breezy, rollicking romp and, rather than diminishing the Star Wars universe, adds another fine diversion to the main spine of the original vision.

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