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Review – Solo: A Star Wars Story – “An absolute blast”

If there is one mantra that director Ron Howard shares with the roguish smuggler at the heart of his latest film, it’s this; “never tell me the odds.” When the Oscar-winning director agreed to direct Solo he not only steadied the ship of a production in trouble (after the departure of its original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) but also faced the challenge of making a prequel for one of the most loved characters in the Star Wars saga. No easy feat.

Since its release, it hasn’t taken long for the clickbait cycle to latch onto Solo’s tepid opening box office return, with many conducting the autopsy before it even completes its first full weekend. But this ‘jury by box office’ criminally hides the fact that Solo: A Star Wars Story is an absolute blast, an energetic adventure with thrilling set pieces. It’s different but still woven into the fabric of Star Wars magic and while it doesn’t hit the heights of some of its predecessors, it is deservedly a solid entry into the long-running space saga.

Firstly to Han himself, Alden Ehrenreich had big boots to fill, with Harrison Ford ubiquitous with smugger and scoundrel Han Solo, it is initially peculiar seeing someone else play him. Ehrenreich grows into the role, however, giving young Solo a similar swagger and cocky confidence straight out of the Ford playbook. The film opens with his escape from an Oliver-twist style life of thiefdom with love interest Qi’Ra played adequately by Emilia Clarke. When his plan fails, stranding Qi’ra and promising to return for her, Han embarks on a criminal life to return to his love.

To say much more would spoil the film, but along the way Han encounters a few recognisable characters and some new ones too. Donald Glover brings a unique panache to fellow scoundrel and high-stakes card player, Lando Calrissian who makes a distinct impact despite not appearing till much later in the film. Criminal and father figure Tobias Beckett who takes Solo under his wing is given grit by Woody Harrelson who alongside Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio (voiced by Jon Favreau) are a likeable gang of criminals.

Not every character is distinct enough to have a significant impression, Crimelord and antagonist Dryden Vos especially suffers as Paul Bettany simple doesn’t have enough in the script to do. This might not be much of a surprise when you consider that Bettany was hired as a replacement after Michael K. Williams (originally cast to play Vos) was unable to fulfil Howard’s reshoot demands. Nevertheless, you never end up feeling menace from the main villain of the film.

It wouldn’t be Star Wars without a droid, with the role here being filled by a motion-captured Phoebe Waller-Bridge who plays Lando’s comic foil L3-37. This robot is obsessed with equality and is responsible for some of the better jokes and moments in the film, including a fun moment of freeing robots from slavery in the middle of the film (an entire scene that was reminiscent of Temple of Doom) but she is a little bit too close to Rogue One’s sarcastic K-2SO to be truly original.

The script, written by Star Wars Stalward Lawrence Kasdan (Empire Strikes Back) and his son Jonathan, has a problem shared by Rogue One before it; is it has to exist under the weight of original films. This means it results in a tick-list of ‘essential’ and predictable plot points.

Seemingly inconsequential names and references from the original trilogy used to hint at a much wider world suddenly become an integral story element. So, in Solo we find out how he met Chewie, when he got his infamous name and we experience the Kessel Run, where one mysterious throwaway line in Star Wars becomes a whole segment in itself.

The outcome of these will never be able to please every protectionist fan, but where Solo does excel is that on the whole these moments are exciting, fun and drive the story forward. The action set pieces are thrilling, especially both a daring train heist and the famed Kessel Run, where Ron Howard takes lessons from the George Lucas school of “faster, more intense.”

Bradford Young’s cinematography excellently encapsulates the dirty, lived-in galaxy of Han Solo. This gritty criminal world is a vista of dark and rich tones. A departure from any Star Wars aesthetic we have seen before yet a clear relative to George Lucas’ Star Wars and Han Solo as a character. It gives a gritty real-world feel which looks great, especially on the IMAX canvas. Howard and Young work together to blend this grit with a Western-esque look, not at least in the multiple shots of Han un-holstering his gun ready for action.

Overall, Solo is not without its issues. We all know where the story is heading which means it is open to criticism for being ‘unnecessary’ and often is too scared to take risks to make as lasting an impression as the original trilogy. Where it really suffers for the lack of a genuinely convincingly dangerous antagonist. For better for worse it also has a surprising cameo appearance at its finale, which will mostly delight fans but potentially confuse a general audience.

Despite this, as a film Solo is a very enjoyable experience, it’s fast-paced popcorn action and fun character interactions mean the adventure flies by. Ron Howard has done an excellent job of steering Solo into the film it is. It’s not revolutionary but who cares, just buy into it and you will be enjoying yourself too much to care, or at least I did.

You can read another review of the film here.

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