FilmSpace - Solo: A Star Wars Story

In the new and improved FilmSpace, critic Scott Wilson will review the week’s release most worth talking about. First up, we’re off to a galaxy far, far away...

Solo: A Star Wars Story – ★★☆☆☆

Dir. Ron Howard; Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Paul Bettany; Rating: 12A; Runtime: 135 mins

It’s hard to believe but Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the Star Wars film to bring light back to the series, is only two and a half years old. Since then, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story jump-started the anthology entries, while last year’s Episode VIII: The Last Jedi split the audience (and a certain character) in two. 

Which means Solo: A Star Wars story is the fourth feature from a galaxy far, far away in a remarkably short space of time. The only other brand demanding this many trips to the cinema is Marvel, regularly releasing three films per year, but their scheduling strategy saves them from running stale. The hyper-comedic Thor: Ragnarok bore little resemblance to the preceding John Hughes-inspired Spiderman: Homecoming.

The Gareth Edwards-directed Rogue One was keenly aware of this. Coming a year after the roaring success of The Force Awakens, the two had strikingly little in common. While the latter was typical of a December blockbuster (not to mention J.J. Abrams’ ability to turn anything into a Spielbergian romp), the former was a much more harrowing war film. It contained a sense of gravity and dread where usually there is swashbuckling spectacle. It justified the anthology and its future entries, showing they could exist alongside the main saga by deviating tonally.

Essentially an extended flashback sequence, legends which gave Han Solo his essence of cool are robbed of their mystique.

Solo, on the other hand, does little to elevate itself past a pleasant formality. Essentially an extended flashback sequence, legends which gave Han Solo his essence of cool are robbed of their mystique. The Star Wars series can take pride in its extended universe through novels, videogames, and TV series, but a large part of the appeal has always been its sense of wonder. That wonder requires imagination on behalf of the audience, who take joy in filling in the missing pieces on their own. 

Solo strips them of that pleasure. Rather than spend time expanding the series’ universe, the Han-specific lore of the main saga is told in full: the Kessel Run, how he came to own the Millennium Falcon, where he acquired his iconic blaster. Parts of Han’s history ripe for fantasising have been given form, making them less exciting in the process.

Frustratingly it contains features from the saga that could benefit from their own film, most obviously Lando Calrissian. Donald Glover’s Lando is a suave, smooth, pansexual (though you wouldn’t know it from the film) smuggler, on his way to where he ends up in The Empire Strikes Back. He has a droid companion, L3-37 energetically portrayed by an always game Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and his ship is kitted full of capes, acknowledging a wealth and pompous flair that could well be worth a standalone film.

And then there’s the question of whether this is a standalone film. Rogue One’s prologue to A New Hope was concise and complete, while Solo hints at an unresolved menace, as well as the rebellion’s origins. When it throws up new questions, it’s frustrating rather than exciting. The wait between The Last Jedi and the as-yet-untitled Episode IX ought to have fans wanting more, but this supposedly lone entry to the series would have benefitted from a similar sense of containment to Rogue One. 

In many ways it is an insignificant addition to the Star Wars canon, but it isn’t without entertainment. 

To its credit, there is no evidence of the film’s troubled production to be found on screen. Taking over from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller after they were fired, Ron Howard’s reliable pair of hands have at least crafted something with a pace and flow. In many ways it is an insignificant addition to the Star Wars canon, but it isn’t without entertainment. 

Any doubts about Alden Ehrenreich’s capabilities to portray Han are dealt with almost immediately, and his charm carries the story where it needs to go. The chemistry between him and Emilie Clarke’s Qi’ra is a selling point, though Qi’ra herself is a narrative pain. The glaring gaps in her story are left unsaid and unsatisfied, leaving her a puzzle we don’t care to solve. 

Given its production, Solo is not the mess it could have been. It just isn’t much of anything at all. The stakes are inherently lowered both by its prequel premise and it not making up part of the main saga. By showing what we already know, it demystifies whispered tales, retroactively making Han Solo less exciting. A daring change of tone, like Rogue One, may have given Solo more of an identity, but instead it feels like a forgotten album track to the last three films’ hit singles. 

Episode IX has gone through its own reshuffle, with J.J. Abrams taking over from Colin Trevorrow. With any hope, the force will remain strong with these modern Star Wars films, leaving Han’s story a solo misfire.