Solo: A Star Wars Story

 

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The stand-alone story of Han Solo is let down by a weak leading man and by-the-numbers direction 

from, surprisingly, Ron Howard.

 

Solo A Star Wars Story

Rogue Two: Chewbacca, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke and Alden Ehrenreich

 

Disappointing is not the word for it. With Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan credited as screenwriters, and Ron Howard at the reins, this stand-alone Star Wars episode was busting with promise. However, the freshness of the original has given way to formula, and it’s deadly. Adopting the Saturday matinee stance of the first Raiders of the Lost Ark (scripted by none other than L. Kasdan), Ron Howard sets the scene with a handful of perfunctory captions (“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...”) and launches into the action in top-gear. This is the story of Han Solo, the buccaneering space pilot originated by Harrison Ford back in 1977.

 

The opening is hardly auspicious. This is the sort of routine sci-fi fare cloaked by a meaningless smog of music – the sonic chloroform of credibility – and featuring gunshot-ricocheting punch-ups. It’s also the sort of film in which a character informs his minions, just as stormtroopers start firing on them, “Here they come!” It seems a pointless observation, not to mention a waste of breath. One wonders who actually sat down at their laptop to craft such a line of dialogue: “Here they come!” Lawrence? Jonathan?

 

In any case, Han and his girlfriend Qi'ra (pronounced Keira) work on the shipbuilding planet of Corellia and dream of escaping to a better world. It is all that’s on Han’s mind. Even so, Qi'ra reminds Han that’s what they’re planning, for our benefit, obviously. Sadly, there’s not a smidgen of chemistry between Alden Ehrenreich and Emilia Clarke, the latter being the standard-issue English rose of the new Star Wars universe, following in the plucky footsteps of Daisy Ridley and Felicity Jones. The part of Tobias Beckett, Han’s mentor, goes to the go-to character actor of a franchise, Woody Harrelson (cf. The Hunger Games, Now You See Me, Planet of the Apes) and, at least, he is an appropriately ambiguous figure. But it’s really Ehrenreich who lets the side down. Whereas Harrison Ford exuded effortless dash and charisma as Han, Ehrenreich seems to be mimicking Ford in the part, depriving the viewer of a flesh-and-blood character.

 

Unfortunately, there is not a nanosecond when we sense any real threat, fear or menace, let alone awe, allowing the CGI shenanigans to wash over us like a warm breeze. There is a thrilling dogfight near the end, but by then it is rendered almost ineffectual. This is a terrible shame, particularly as Ron Howard is usually such a terrific storyteller. Here, there’s not so much a narrative as a rollercoaster of vaguely interconnected episodes with virtually no forward thrust. There is, though, a wonderful new character in the form of Lando Calrissian's waspish droid, L3-37 (piquantly voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). When Lando (Donald Glover) asks if ‘she’ needs anything, she shoots back: “Equal rights.” Now there’s a premise worth developing.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau (voice only), Linda Hunt (voice only), Warwick Davis, Clint Howard, Ray Park.

 

Dir Ron Howard, Pro Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur and Simon Emanuel, Screenplay Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan, Ph Bradford Young, Pro Des Neil Lamont, Ed Pietro Scalia, Music John Powell, Costumes David Crossman and Glyn Dillon.

 

Lucasfilm Ltd-Walt Disney Productions.

134 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 24 May 2018. Cert. 12A.