Back in December Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi hit cinemas and it will be a day long remembered. For the many who loved Rian Johnson’s film, there has been an equal number, if not more (hard to tell with the hate adoring social media age), who cried out in terror and were never silenced. The shockwaves of the film are still being felt and the controversial reception has fractured the fandom, leaving a tall task for Solo: A Star Wars Story, a film already up against it. Detailing the beginnings of Harrison Ford’s iconic smuggler, this film had huge shoes to fill but was admittedly not asked for in the first place. Add to that a plethora of production troubles that saw original directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord drop out, budget inflating reshoots and a wave of online cynicism including prepared boycotts and hijackings of review aggregator sites. Those are some pretty huge odds to overcome… but as Han once said, “never tell me the odds”.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a charismatic summer blockbuster with a lovable swagger that offers a shockingly enjoyable adventure. While not on side with the online Sarlaac Pit of negativity, I was concerned about this spin-off and its unavoidably unnecessary need to exist but Ron Howard’s (and Lord/Miller’s?) film is an absolute blast that shoots (first) and scores in bringing a Han Solo film together coherently onscreen. This is, in many ways, The Adventures of Tintin of Star Wars movies, and I mean that as a great compliment, as the film is a lively assembly line of location-jumping adventure, set pieces and giddy fan pleasing fun. Fan service? Undoubtedly. As some references and lines of dialogue are very in your face but this hardly detracts from what is an affectionately crafted space spectacle.
Some fans rebellion against it is unwarranted because this is a film made for them and is, in essence, an Expanded Universe novel or Star Wars The Clone Wars/Star Wars Rebels TV show episode come to live action life. This is especially the case, come the arrival of one huge surprise towards the end of the film, which will certainly provoke debate and it is one of a few surprises dotted throughout a very old school adventure penned by father and son, Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan. True the script covers certain details that were expected (including Han’s much proclaimed achievement) but it is the film’s focus on Han and Chewie that is best realised. This is a fun, quick on its feet, ride but the bromantic element of Han and Chewbacca gives the film an emotional core and from an unexpected origin to a smile-raising finale, this film really is successful in establishing the roots of one of cinema’s greatest ever friendships.
As we go across the stars once again, Star Wars continues to be full of imagination and life. The aesthetic is vast and alive, with some excellent CGI effects, set design and make-up, creating an array of wonderful new characters and developing more corners of the ever-expanding Star Wars universe. Speaking of expansion, as John Williams has recently hinted at retiring from the franchise soon – though he does deliver a predictably adventurous Han Solo theme for this film – more composers will no doubt be entering the saga over the next few years. Scoring duty here goes to How To Train Your Dragon’s John Powell, who does a sterling job with an operatic soundtrack which makes fine use of some of Williams’ classic musical motifs, while remaining distinctive in its own right.
Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) had an unenviable task matching Ford but he does a great job and genuinely convinces as a young Han, easing you into the film and delivering a quite enigmatic performance. While Joonas Suotamo makes for a brilliant Chewbacca, as the film presents the powerhouse action-ready Chewbacca many of us have always wanted to see and we are truly shown why it’s not wise to upset a wookie. Meanwhile Donald Glover fits into the role of Lando Calrissian as smoothly as expected and nails the old (or in this case young) smoothie made famous by Billy Dee Williams. These three are aces in the deck but there are also some very strong turns by Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and a creepy Paul Bettany in roles we won’t delve into right now. While Jon Favreau, Linda Hunt, Erin Kellyman and Thandie Newton make their smaller supporting characters feel very distinctive and memorable.
Overall, the pleasantly surprising Solo: A Star Wars Story is an absolute blast that far surpasses expectations…Don’t everybody thank him at once.