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Released: May 25, 2018 (United States)
Length: 135 Minutes
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo and Paul Bettany
The sequel trilogy of Star Wars has been making steady progress, with the “Star Wars Stories” filling the gaps in-between. The second of these, based on a young Han Solo is set to continue the side-stories, albeit it with a rather mixed set of results.
As the title implies, Solo tells the tale of how the legendary smuggler (played by Alden Ehrenreich) earned his reputation as one of the best pilots in the galaxy; Han himself is a loose cannon, bribing and talking his way through most situations and soon he teams up with a rag-tag group of smugglers led by Thomas Beckett (Woody Harrelson) to pull off heists across the galaxy. It’s a tantalising premise to learn a bit more about a popular character, but the result leaves much to be desired. The pacing in the first act is very sloppy as we’re dumped into the first action scene with very little context or background to set the scene in Han’s home town of Corellia. From here, things don’t really improve as transitions often occur jarringly from planet to planet, evidently the result of studio cuts and reshoots. For a film series that has always shown its heroes travelling from one place to another, you’ll often be left scratching your head as characters suddenly appear in other locations without much of the way of progression, resulting in a knock-on effect on the film’s pace. The action scenes are at least fun to watch but ultimately there’s very little in the way of tension, urgency or unpredictability here and because the film doesn’t tell us much that we don’t already know it lacks the impact of its contemporary prequels.
The characters, despite being well-acted, stand as a missed opportunity in Solo. Alden Ehrenreich is perfectly serviceable as Han, having taken some guidance from Harrison Ford in the lead-up to production, but his character doesn’t go through much change throughout the film; he’s very much the same cocky rogue we knew in the original trilogy. Joonas Suotamo fills in for Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca who is well portrayed, but disappointingly, we don’t learn much about what happened to the humble Wookie between Episode III and this film. Donald Glover plays a young Lando Calrissian, and is easily the best performance of the bunch, but again the story doesn’t give much time to fill in the gaps of his character. Like the film’s insistence on transitioning without proper depth, the characters are highly lacking in backstory and other explanations. 2016’s Rogue One had this problem to an extent, but here the moments for character development are fleeting and overall none of the characters have any real arcs to go through. The film only hints at these, the most glaring of which being Thomas Beckett, who was inspired by Treasure Island’s Long John Silver to be a mentor to Han, but the film never follows through on making this bond work. Similarly, Han’s relationship with former flame Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is never fully explored, particularly in the third act which ends up cutting the dynamic off before the film’s conclusion. The other characters are horribly underdeveloped, mostly there to fill up screen-time and this is particularly true for Paul Bettany’s Dryden Voss, a crime lord who does little other than hang out in his fancy space yacht throughout the film.
Solo continues to distinguish the spin-offs from the main episodes by opting for a greyer, more industrialised look that very much falls in line with Rogue One. It works well enough at portraying the seedier underbelly of crime slotted in-between the Rebel Alliance and Empire factions. Creature effects are also solid, keeping pace with the both the original and sequel trilogies in terms of practicality. The most impressive aspect of the presentation though, is the use of the Millennium Falcon; we’ve all heard about the 12-parsec run that made Han the legendary pilot he is, and the film takes full advantage of modern technology to create a dazzling sequence around two thirds into the film. This, along with the planet-based action sequences are all well-shot and edited, often involving many vehicles and aliens taking each other on. The soundtrack relies on countless remixes of older Star Wars tracks, which again grounds the proceedings without being all that memorable. Solo is very well-produced, but all told it can’t make up for the lack of plot and characterisation.
Poor pacing and shallow characters among other problems put Solo firmly at the bottom tier of the new series of Star Wars films. It has its entertaining moments in places, but much of the production fails to expand on the central character of Han Solo as well as the universe it takes place in, coming across as very unmemorable. Disney and company should ensure this doesn’t become a regular trend in the spin-off films to come.
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars (Mediocre)