This low stakes placeholder film is an entertaining, if predictable, space-heist origin film.
One of the most important elements in any good action/adventure film is the element of jeopardy. i.e. the genuine belief there is a danger of loss, failure or death. For example when Luke Skywalker and his father Darth Vader finally meet in The Return of the Jedi, there is a genuine belief that Luke may fail to defeat the Emperor, that he may die or be seduced to the Dark Side. Due to its status as a sequel movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story struggles to create any real tension, jeopardy or suspense due to the fact that we know the fate of many of it’s main characters (Spoiler: Han doesn’t die). That’s not to say that the film isn’t enjoyable – in the main it is a well scripted, fast paced ride which embellishes and expands on the mythos of one of the most enduringly loved characters in the Star Wars universe. Yet it’s journey in doing so is at times painfully predictable; almost a painting by numbers Star Wars film.
If you’ve seen a few Star Wars films, you could probably watch the trailer and the introductory scene of each new character and guess pretty accurately where that character ends up; do they live or die, are they good or bad. Chances are you’d be right with most of your guesses. While The Last Jedi divided fans for some of its decisions, you couldn’t level the same accusations at it. That’s not to say that Solo is devoid of any originality – some of the characters are refreshing. Phoebe Waller-Bridge excels as L3-37, Lando Calrissian’s (Donald Glover) sassy co-pilot of the Millenium Falcon. Far from being a bland and subservient driod, L3 is a fierce social justice warrior who fighting for robot rights – the android version of the suffragette. For all the internet’s misgivings about his original casting, Alden Ehrenreich is an excellent Han Solo. A space scumrat from Corellia who is born in the gutter but looking up to the stars, Ehrenreich’s portrayal is the right level of cocksure and charisma. As the film progresses and he learns the ropes of inter-galactic smuggling under the tutelage of Becket (Woody Harrelson) you can the glimpses of cynicism which became Harrison Ford’s trademark.
The plot of the film is also very generic – a gang of smugglers group together to steal Coaxium (a rare and unstable energy source which is this film’s McGuffin) in order to pay off debts with a syndicate of other smugglers led by Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Along the way we travel through fights with rival gangs on different planets, escape run-in’s with the Empire and find out more about the legendary Kessel Run. Yet the cost of failure in this film is so low, it is difficult to feel at any point fearful for the consequences of defeat. Rogue One functioned as a one off film explaining how the Death Star plans were stolen, meaning the stakes were clearly high for the rebels. Yes, we already knew the outcome, but with a band of character we had never heard of before, their fates were far from certain. With Solo we already know the characters, and the outcome (well, unless for some strange reason you haven’t seen any other Star Wars films, in which case who the hell are you and why are you watching Solo). The film is also clearly setting up the next anthology film – an unexpected returning character teased for a few moments towards the end of the movie is likely to surprise you even if their inclusion feels needlessly tacked on. Considering the widely reported production issues that hit the film, the end result is surprisingly cohesive. As a run of the mill action/origin story it is functional and generally entertaining. While it certainly won’t go down as one of the stronger Star Wars films, does it do justice to the character of Han Solo? Just about.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is now showing in cinemas across the UK.
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