So, it’s official. Solo is the first ever Star Wars flop. It’s got a fairly good critical reaction but people just aren’t exactly flocking to see it. And I can kind of see why. It’s only been about 6 months since the last Star Wars film was released and it all seems a bit unnecessary. Out of all the people in the Star Wars universe who fans may have wanted to make a standalone film about, Han Solo may not have been the top of everyone’ list. Yes, we all loved the scruffy looking nerf herder in the original trilogy but did we need to see his life pre-Princess Leia? He was a fan favourite but, as a character, he was so tied up with Harrison Ford that it didn’t make sense to recast him. But, clearly the good people at Disney believed differently and started making an origin story for the ultimate anti-hero. And it turned into a huge fucking disaster. There were so many issues with this film that it’s impressive it was even made at all. But, as we’re seeing, there was clearly some sort of curse on this film. Maybe Harrison Ford has been dabbling in black magic or maybe Star Wars fans are just being more judgemental and stubborn than usual? Because let’s be honest, they have a history of not tolerating new things. So how bad could Solo really be?
I went into Solo without any expectations. I hadn’t seen many of the trailers and I’d avoided reading anything about it. The only things I’d really taken notice of were the London bus adverts that described it as the UK’s number 1 film Though that, let’s be honest, is a meaningless title. Imagine all of the films that have been the UK’s number 1 in their day. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Anyway, I was able to sit down to this film without having any preconceived ideas about my experience. So I could just enjoy this newest addition to the Star Wars anthology. Something that I think very few of the franchise’s more intense fans would be able to do. Probably explaining why there has been such an ambivalent attitude towards it.
Solo takes us back to a time before A New Hope when the galaxy is being ruled by the Empire but before Luke Skywalker has made any kind of impact. Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) starts off his life as a young pawn for a crime gang on Corellia. It’s not a great life so he and his girlfriend, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) double cross the gang in order to escape. Unfortunately, the young lovers are split up when only Han escapes. He vows to become a pilot, buy a ship, and return to get Qi’ra out. To do this , he ends up joining the Empire, working with a criminal gang trying to pull off a huge heist and, finally, planning an even more daring one when that goes wrong. It’s basically like Star Wars meets Ocean’s Eleven and if you don’t think that’s worth seeing then I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
Solo seems like a film that is stuffed full of little set pieces but, really, it’s a very simple story. One that hopes to answer some questions that original trilogy gave us. Where did Han Solo come from? How did he meet Chewie? How did he get his hands on the Millenium Falcon? How did he come to know Lando? And how, exactly, did he make the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs? Yes, it’s not a narrative that is going to offer huge fights with terrible villains or have any real galaxy saving final act. It’s not a very daring or high-stakes kind of deal. But it’s a film that is, unashamedly, all about having a bit of fun in this expanded universe.
And, when it comes down to it, I liked it. It gave us a greater insight into a world that we’ve only seen such a small part of. I think Alden Ehrenreich did a great job of conveying the character that Harrison Ford first created so long ago. He has the perfect level of swagger and charm so you can see how this Han can eventually become the man we all know. Of course, he was never going to completely measure up to Ford but he does an admirable enough job that you can go with it. Despite the underwhelming romance and alliance with criminal for hire, Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) that distract us along the way, this is a film about the greatest bromance in science-fiction history and the ship that unites them. As soon as Han comes face to face with the Wookie that is set to be his co-pilot everything falls into place. It is a relationship that is handled perfectly and gives a deeper insight into their friendship. It’s a delight to watch the pair interact.
Which is good considering there are few other stand out characters in the whole thing. Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is particularly forgettable as a street urchin who was forced to make some difficult choices. Some time after Han left Corellia she was taken in by the ruthless crime boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and now works for Crimson Dawn. It is through his connection with Beckett that brings Han into the path of Crimson Dawn and his former love. Together they must attempt to steal of bunch of coaxium, a super powerful fuel, from a mine on Kessel. Clarke looked set to be a great addition to the cast but there’s no getting away from the fact that Qi’ra is such a non-character. She and Ehrenreich hardly have great chemistry and, really, she just spends her time doing very little.
In fact women don’t get much of a look in here as Thandie Newton can attest to. Her interesting and badass thief is criminally underused. It is only the droid L3, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who brings anything to the female side. I have to say though, with her fight for droid equality, she has quickly become one of my favourite droids in the entire franchise. I’d still have liked to have seen more of her. Just as I would of Harrelson’s Beckett and Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian. Both of these actors are fantastic but never really get anything meaty to do. Glover is an absolute highlight in his sleazy but captivating turn. It’s just that his screen time is far too short.
There is a lot to enjoy about Solo, though, provided you can get away from the fact that this story doesn’t feature Jedi’s or Skywalkers. There are some problems with the story and the final act’s double-crossing starts to get a bit confusing. However, non of that really matters. This is a film unlike the ones we have seen before but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one. It has a lot of fun with the universe and gives us a greater insight into a time we didn’t know much about. It shows us the start of the rebellion that we all know is coming and it gives us more background on some of the franchise’s most important people. But, really, this is a film that just lets us see how the magical pairing of a pilot and a Wookie started. It lets us see how the love affair between a man and his ship began. It’s a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously and, if you’re willing to let it, will really entertain you. And isn’t that all that matters?