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Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Joonas Suotamo, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau, Linda Hunt
If it looks like a Star Wars movie and sounds like a Star Wars movie, then surely it is a Star Wars movie?
Considering the well publicised problems that occurred during production and ultimately saw the end of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie; 21 Jump Street) as the movie’s directorial duo deep into photography, Solo: A Star Wars Story somewhat surprisingly does not feel like a Frankenstein’s Monster of a movie and actually flows a little better than fellow Star Wars spin-off Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a movie which featured a similarly as extensive list of re-shoots. According to reports, anywhere between 30 and 70 percent of the theatrically released feature was re-shot by the steady and trustworthy hand of incoming director Ron Howard, who reportedly added key characters and sequences in the process of transitioning the movie from a meta comedy with an apparent likeness to Guardians of the Galaxy into a much more traditional Star Wars adventure inspired by old swashbuckling tales and grand Westerns.
Solo is a fun and modern take on a friendly outlaw Western adventure flick with Han the unlikely hero at the centre of everything – often surrounded by smarter and more powerful characters he looks up to – but it does lack a deeper level of investment that seemed super-glued onto the Star Wars franchise until this point. Alden Ehrenreich sufficiently delivers a similarly as charming but infinitely more innocent portrayal of Han Solo than Harrison Ford did, but his effectiveness in the role is ultimately ruled by the character’s position in the narrative as a want-to-be pilot turned “secret” good guy looking to please every bad father figure he comes across; a characterisation that feels skewed from the Solo we’ve all come to know and love for his resistance to teamwork and general opposition to doing the right thing in the original trilogy. This is where Solo begins to fall down, as through presenting the iconic outlaw as an easily influenced child searching for a meaning to his life and a sense of belonging within his own universe, the movie sets forth an arc that should ultimately see his vision of the universe destroyed and idea of grandiosity crumble, but it doesn’t do this and the entire movie is left without a natural conclusion; it feels void of any real connection or purpose. Han’s arc ends just inches forward from where it began, making for an almost hollow reincarnation of a character that develops more in your own mind as a result of his association with the Han from the other movies than it does of its own accord – the film succeeds in developing a deeper understanding of Han from Episodes 4, 5, 6 and 7 but barely develops anything for the Han from Solo.
It’s an issue that comes to encompass the negatives of Solo as a whole, as the characters we’re familiar with are left with little to nothing from which we can progress our understanding of them with as far as their characterisations in this movie go, while side characters that do have more sufficient character arcs are weighed down by the film’s premise being so irrelevant to anything iconic or even unique to Star Wars lore. Unlike in Rogue One, where the brand new cast of characters were interlaced with the ongoing adventures of the popular central franchise in order to add a sense of meaning to their adventure and to reinforce the popular mythos of the universe, Solo offered much lower stakes, with the central character’s transition from caring, optimistic, loving kid to grumpy “if I have to” Harrison Ford being the only anchor point for a movie that missed the boat entirely in terms of this story thread’s importance and left a feeling like there was something missing that you couldn’t quite put your finger on, but that you knew didn’t quite overwhelm you like The Force Awakens, Rogue One or The Last Jedi did (for better or for worse).
Paul Bettany’s take on the cold and calculated villain Dryden Vos and the highly anticipated Donald Glover portrayal of iconic Empire Strikes Back character Lando Calrissian can each be considered far more positive outcomes for Solo however, with each actor bringing a unique sense of charisma to the screen during their limited involvements, really helping to develop at least a semblance of that special Star Wars feeling that we’ve come to know and love. Similarly as praiseworthy were the visuals, which were phenomenal. In fact, this was one of the more well constructed Star Wars movies in this respect, with the environments being specifically noteworthy for their epic scope and sometimes awe-inspiring construction. Characters, landscapes, weaponry and space-tech were all at their most convincing and at the creative limits of Lucasfilm’s CGI, with the factory-like planet Han occupies in the opening act being one of the more visually striking environments in any Star Wars movie ever. The combination of these very good performances in the face of a level of adversity caused by their underdeveloped characters, as well as the beautiful, seamless CG constructions, did evoke a much more positive outcome than could have been the case without them, and this was matched by the score composed by John Powell which evoked that familiar sense of universal belonging that comes with every famous Star Wars composition.
Solo: A Star Wars Story looked and sounded like a Star Wars movie and will work for fans of the pre-existing mythos who want an extra slice of Han Solo shaped information, but ultimately this film did not live up to what we’ve come to love and expect from the Star Wars franchise because of shoddy characterisations and boundaries placed on the writing that made the necessity of a complete arc for its central character a clear afterthought. As such, Solo is the type of movie that will likely feel long and even perhaps tiresome to someone less knowledgeable or invested, and bears little to no resemblance to the other Disney-owned Star Wars movies in terms of its heart and conviction. This A Star Wars Story comes across like a studio looking to play things safe, hoping that a pre-existing character name will be enough to draw the eye (and the money) from many an expectant fan, but it could also go down as the first movie in a strong down-swing for the franchise under Disney’s ownership and must stand as an example of how fun adventure movies based on popular IPs and centred around well-known and beloved characters do not succeed in a paint-by-numbers, creation-by-committee environment, and that for all the good this movie had, it is this that will ultimately tag Solo as an average 2018 release and mediocre Star Wars movie. Fun but unessential – Rogue One it is not.