Saturday 14 March 2020

Thoughts on Solo: A Star Wars Story

I've finally gotten round to watching Solo, the only Star Wars film since I'd not watched at the cinema since the original trilogy, and that's only because I hadn't been born in time. I even saw the Clone Wars movie on the big screen. I had no particular reason for not watching it at the cinema. There are always a lot of film on and I haven't the time or money to watch all of them, and we'd just had The Last Jedi, so I gave it a miss.

Also, while the trailers made it look like a fun sci-fi movie, it didn't look much like a Star Wars film. I got the Blu-Ray for my birthday and put it on the other night, and to be fair, I stick by that assessment, but it's actually to the film's benefit. I found the film a very pleasant surprise. I can't argue that the Han Solo's origin story was a necessary addition to the franchise, because it's not. Solo is a hell of a lot of fun, though, and it's honestly a nice break to have a Star Wars film that isn't tied up in the fate of the whole galaxy. I mean, there's some of that there, with the events tying into the very beginnings of the Rebellion, but it's mainly concerned with heists and getaways. The seedier side of the Star Wars Galaxy was always the most fun part.

It's cool to see Corellia at last, even if it is a bit of a shithole. There are plenty of fun locations, my favourite probably being the Lodge, Lando's regular on Vandor, which is the sort of cruddy but exotic dive that Star Wars has always excelled in showing. The film is absolutely gorgeous, and the action sequences, especially the Vandor train heist, are amazing. There's a slight case of CGI overload, but unlike many films of its type, I could follow what was happening onscreen at all times. Plus, there's a satisfying amount of puppetry, animatronics and good old men-in-suits to create the various aliens and monsters. "The foul Lady Proxima," a sort of gigantic vampire worm who runs a crime den on Corellia, is a strong contender for the new Jabba.

To begin with, I really couldn't see Alden Ehrenreich as Han, and to be fair to him, Harrison Ford has big shoes to fill. There was pretty much no way anyone was going to be able to live up to the part. By the end of the film, though, I'd totally bought that this was the same character, thanks to a strong performance peppered with some spot-on Ford-like moments. Other than actually going back in time and filming Ford in his early twenties, Ehrenreich is about as great as a young Han could be. I didn't much like how he got his name; it made sense, but I really think it was unnecessary. I absolutely loved his first meeting with Chewie, an Ehrenreich did what Ford always managed, in maintaining believable chemistry with a walking carpet.

There's an excellent cast all round here. Donald Glover is absolutely perfect as Lando, and I liked the little nods to his having a more complicated sexuality than we might assume. Emilia Clarke is pretty great, but the character Qi'ra doesn't give her a lot to work with. She's a pretty generic character, really, in spite of some attempts to give her hidden depths. Woody Harrelson is always good value, and I enjoyed his unscrupulous father figure character, although his relationship with Thandie Newton's character felt a bit forced, and she was underused in any case. Paul Bettany provides exactly what he was hired for: a sinister but charming arch-villain with a British accent, although as I understand the original conception and casting of Dryden Vos was very different.

I had somehow missed that Phoebe Waller-Bridge had been cast in the film, and jumped when I recognised the droid L3-37's voice. The droids often have the most personality of Star Wars' characters, but L3 is different to the droids we've had before, and seems to have stepped out a completely different movie to everyone else. It should be jarring, but it works, almost like a Red Dwarf character crashing a Star Wars movie.

Seeing Han acquire the Millennium Falcon is, of course, a wonderful thing, but I'm not sure the Falcon needed a hero's backstory itself (a frankly weird addition to the story, really). The revelation of the real mastermind behind everything was a nice surprise, although anyone who hasn't at least dipped into the spin-off animations is going to be confused by his sudden back-from-the-dead appearance. As an origin story, it works, with everything running a predictable but always entertaining course, although I feel that Han was perhaps a bit too heroic in the end. Perhaps he becomes more of a cynical bastard over the years between here and A New Hope, but I really feel he should have been shaded a darker grey.

Altogether, though, Solo is just tremendous fun, which is exactly what you want from a movie like this. I enjoyed it more than The Rise of Skywalker, which, although entertaining, I find I have very little to say about. Solo ended up barely making its money back, partly because it was ludicrously expensive to make, and this is a shame, but I feel it's one of those films I'll end up watching again and again as a nice bit of escapist fun. 

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