Back in April I wrote how important Solo: A Star Wars Story is going to be for the Star Wars franchise, as it presented the fandom with its first chance to show Disney what it really thought of The Last Jedi. As it’s turned out that’s pretty much exactly what happened, and it’s currently looking 50/50 as to whether the film will even break even.
Yet it all seems a bit unfair to punish Ron Howard’s undoubtedly hard-working crew and cast for the stalled sequel trilogy – especially when Solo is a competent, well-made ride that actually adds to the characters we already know. And since this is the passion project of Lawrence ‘The Force Awakens‘ Kasdan we’re talking about, it could so very easily have gone the other way…
The biggest factor to think about when considering whether or not Solo is a success is that it all hangs together. Given the late-in-the-day directorial change and extensive re-shoots you could be forgiven for thinking that the seams would be obvious, but the film flows remarkably well – no stand out scenes or obvious joins whatsoever. Howard’s directing is assured and effective; without the visual majesty of Edwards or Johnson but still delivering pulse racing moments of spectacle. If he was hired to bring a competent and safe pair of hands to proceedings, he certainly succeeded.
Other than the directorial change, the other cause for concern ahead of Solo’s release was the acting ability of Han himself, Alden Ehrenreich. You would not have thought it from the finished film. Ehrenreich builds the swagger and charisma of a young Han excellently throughout, making the character recognisably Solo by midpoint.
It’s his relationship with Chewbacca that seals the deal. Chewie himself is treated with respect and the friendship that develops between the two carries the better moments of the story. They form a true partnership, and it’s great to see.
Qi’ra is a decent-enough complicated love interest, while Beckett is the kind of mentor Han’s character deserved. Lando is given additional layers of depth that work (it’s not too difficult to draw a line from cheating at Sabaac to betraying your friends to the Empire), and the frenemy-ship that grows between the two scoundrels is believable and well drawn. L3 is as annoying as you may have heard, though thankfully short lived.
As antagonists go it’s refreshing to go beyond the Rebel/Empire divide. Vos is a believably terrifying villain, Paul Bettany exuding the menace that made Gangster No. 1 so brutal. Enfys Nest and her cohort of Marauders work well; Nest may have been young, but the fact she had taken on a hereditary title dispelled any doubts I had about her character (which I was enjoying by that point anyway).
There’s no escaping that Darth Maul’s return was ridiculous in Clone Wars and it’s just the same here. If he never makes another appearance in Star Wars media after this, it would still be too soon for me. Of course for Clone Wars fans this cameo could have been the validation they’ve been waiting for – and I can respect that – even if the idea is fundamentally flawed…
Despite the decent character work Solo becomes a bit of a slog through the second act. The first hour is excellent; full of action, character, charm, strange new worlds, aliens and camaraderie – exactly what you want from a Star Wars film. The plot loses momentum through the Kessel heist as it goes on for such a long time, offering moments of tension but also stretches of boredom. The conclusion wraps everything together nicely – some of the character lines get a little messy before being resolved conveniently, but Han and Chewie shine.
The score is excellent, with composer John Powell blending Williams’ memorable Han Solo Theme with an evocative mix of Clone Wars-esque vocal tracks and some fine orchestral work. It incorporates a few choice OT signatures at key points, and is something I look forward to revisiting over the coming weeks.
Overall, Solo feels like as solid a Star Wars film as you can get. It’s well made, and Darth Maul aside it’s not divisive, or disrespectful to what came before. On the other hand it lacks invective, a reason for being. After four attempts, Rogue One is still the only one of Disney’s films that feels like it belongs with the other six – but Solo is comfortably second.
The thing is, I appreciate the effort. I would much, much rather Disney focus on creating new adventures that feel like Star Wars. Give us more smugglers, gangsters, rebel insurgents and corrupt Imperials in the melting pot of Imperial rule. Give us more young Han Solo and Chewie – it’s all infinitely more interesting than anything taking place in the sequel era.
Solo deserved better than the box office it’s currently taken. Perhaps not by much, but it definitely deserved better. My hope is that Disney recognises how big a part The Last Jedi played in this, and how poor the marketing was, rather than just blaming Solo itself.
Star Wars, more than at any other point in its history, is on the knife edge of irrelevance. Solo: A Star Wars Story is the first casualty of that fact – not the cause.