It’s fair to say this was not the Star Wars spinoff most fans were looking for. Rogue One may have proved that George Lucas’ universe could more than hold its own outside of the main Skywalker saga, but that was a movie about a band of plucky heroes forgotten to a few lines in A New Hope’s opening crawl.
Solo is a very different game of Sabacc. Not only tasked with telling the origin story of one of cinema’s most iconic heroes, it must do so without the laconic charms of a too-old Harrison Ford and in a way that hits all the fan-pleasing beats in new, exciting ways. And that’s before we even mention original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s ‘creative differences’ with Lucasfilm.
With so many potential pitfalls in its path, it’s remarkable how breezy and unencumbered the resultant film feels. Solo is a fast and loose action adventure romp that acts as a spirited alternative to the main saga, albeit one that lacks the confident vision, inventive verve and unexpected thrills of its galactic peers.
The action kicks off at a frantic pace, whipping through the dank industrial slums of Corellia, the fire and bloodshed of a World War One-esque battlefield, and a tensely-mounted over-and-under train heist on a remote mountain planet as a baby-faced Han struggles to find his place in the galaxy.
While Alden Ehrenreich is by no means a perfect replacement for Ford (who could be?), he grows into the role, exhibiting enough rogueish charisma and dry one-liners to be convincing and adding new layers to the character. Untouched by life’s rigours, Young Han is an eternal optimist, believing he can take on the world, win big and punch it into the sunset with the love of his life, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Solo sets about dismantling that rose-tinted world view in brutal fashion as Han’s smash and grab for a load of valuable hyperfuel throws him into a dangerous alliance with Paul Bettany’s icy crimelord Dryden Vos. By the time the credits roll, you’ll be entirely convinced of how a swift-footed dreamer could become the cynical smuggler we know and love.
While Han’s frenetic tactics throw him in and out of some tight spots, replacement director Ron Howard’s handling of the film is far too safe and by the book. The anticipated beats – meeting Chewie, winning the Millennium Flacon, the Kessel Run – fail to live up to expectations. The plot’s twists and turns are effortlessly predictable. And a wealth of intriguing characters drift in and out of scenes with little impact. Glover’s pitch-perfectly smooth rendition of Lando, his cheeky activist droid L3-37 (played by a whip-smart Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Wood Harrelson’s hard-bitten career criminal Beckett, and Clarke’s ambiguous Qi’ra all have promising backstories that are never given enough time to flourish.
One relationship Howard and screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan get absolutely right, though, is the comradeship between Han and his big furry friend. From their initial meet-cute scrapping in a mud pit, Han and Chewie’s burgeoning friendship is a joy to watch, the brotherly back and forth flowing effortlessly as they bond and join forces to rise against their tormentors.
With an ever-expanding family of Star Wars movies dropping out of hyperspace, Solo offers a fun, fast-paced, if patchy, palette-cleanser to the main saga’s fate-of-the-galaxy dealings. The only question is whether a young Han Solo has a distinctive voice strong enough to stand alone in such a crowded galaxy.
Runtime: 135 mins (approx.)
Director: Ron Howard
Screenwriters: Lawrence & Jonathan Kasdan
Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany