Solo (2018) – Review by Matt Fox
Mild spoilers – would recommend seeing the film before reading.
Arriving just 5 months after The Last Jedi, Star Wars fans have never had such a short wait between movies, and fittingly Solo isn’t a film that needs or demands a lot of fanfare.
A Guardians Of The Galaxy meets Fast and Furious mash up. Solo is certainly the most lightweight and inconsequential Star Wars movie by some margin, without the gravitas and mythical undertones that have traditionally underpinned the franchise. As a fan of these things I do miss them… but you have to judge a film for what it is, rather than what it isn’t and taken on its own merits – as a standalone ‘Star Wars Story’ – this one is a right rollicking ride!
We begin ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ but instead of that orchestral BLAM! and screen-filling logo we instead have some sombre text to set the scene. Young Han Solo and his girlfriend Kira are a pair of Aladdin-style street rats on the Imperial slum world of Corellia. They luck into a means of escape, and this involves quite a tense and powerful sequence as they hope to blag their way through the border controls, and we get to see how fascistic and filled with random beatings Imperial rule can be for the luckless citizens.
This gives Han his motivation (at least for the first two-thirds of the film) and propels him on his adventures through the galaxy, pinged from one planet to the next like a pinball. Han is not yet the cool cat with no mystic force controlling his destiny – he is very much thrust from scene to scene by others with little opportunity to call the shots himself.
So how does Alden Ehrenreich do as Han (or “Harn” as he corrects Lando at one point)? Well I really hope he does get to do another movie, and one in which the character can be more of a proper protagonist, in charge of his own ship and fate. Alden does extremely well considering not only the big boots he has to fill but also the fact that he is in almost every single scene. Apart from one moment towards the end – which I won’t spoil - we don’t ever cut away from Han’s POV to see what the villains or other characters are up to. He has to carry the whole movie, in a way that no other actor has had to before in the Star Wars franchise. When the movie was first announced many fans, myself included, thought Anthony Ingruber might make a great choice for Han as despite his acting inexperience he looks the spitting image of young Harrison Ford – however having now seen the film and the sheer amount required of the star I think Lucasfilm made a very astute choice with Alden.
Unusually the film doesn’t have an overarching big bad, instead Han butts up against a string of antagonists throughout the run time. Starting with the centipedal Proxima (love the practical FX here), then his on-off partner in crime Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson, acting like Woody Harrelson), the striking looking Enfys Nest, card shark Lando (a scene-stealing turn by Donald Glover), a giant Octopus, and Han even finds time to briefly go up against a filthy Wookie! The closest the film gets to a principal villain is Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos, who is a generic urbane British baddie, the type who will put his hand on your shoulder and you don’t know if he is being a perfect host or is about to kill you.
Han doesn’t exactly have a ‘good guy’ team around him, as they are all varying shades of shady, except for one. Chewie. What a legend. For me, Chewbacca elevates this film beyond the sum of its parts, and his bromance with Han and loyalty forms the heart of the film. It is suggested at one point that although Han thinks of himself as a pirate, he has a big heart, and it’s in his relationship with Chewie that this most comes across. You get more Han and Chewie interaction in this film than in any other, and it’s a constant joy!
When it comes to the other characters they are all ‘okay’, but not hugely fleshed out or memorable. Lando’s robot in particular didn’t entirely work for me on first viewing. Droids have a history of providing comic relief in Star Wars films but the jokes here are pretty clunky and the notion that she’s an ‘activist’ seems somewhat jarring with the other droids we have seen in the saga. I also wouldn’t naturally associate an upper-class British accent with an anti-slavery campaigner. Maybe a different voice actor would have sold the character better for me. The CG work was certainly stellar though.
Whilst we are on the negative critique then I’d say the film is also lacking an iconic new planet such as we’ve recently seen with Jakku, Scarif, Ach-To and Crait. However, it is consistently filled with visual detail to interest the eye and well-designed sets and props. There is a lot to see on-screen to make a second viewing essential.
The other things that I can’t wait to rewatch on a second view are the films two biggest set pieces. In a movie that has a lot of action, two sequences really stand out; the train heist and the Kessel run. The train sequence gives us something we haven’t seen in a Star Wars movie before, an almost literal rollercoaster, filled with both thrills and unpredictable turns. Kessel involves a journey through a tunnel of cloud (beautifully lit by floating lanterns at one point) before turning into the maelstrom. I was only this week reading a credible scientific theory that frozen cephalopod eggs from space could have spawned octopi on Earth, and I’ve always rather enjoy tentacled creatures in Star Wars (from the trash compactor’s Dianoga, to the Sarlaac and the Rathtars, there is a long tradition of Lovecraftian horrors).
Solo left me wanting more, and the film finishes with a very juicy tease of what a sequel might include. Alden Ehrenreich let slip that he is under contract for two more films, although this does not necessarily guarantee anything. Solo is not essential. It is not a Star Wars film that had to be made. But I for one am glad it was - the filthy Wookie fight alone was worth the admission…