Love it or hate it, Star Wars is here to stay… at least until everyone gets sick of the remakes, spin-offs, reboots and prequels. Right now, it seems it’s spreading in all directions… extending its empire through the universe under the dark overlord, Mickey Mouse. I’m talking about Disney, not Star Wars, who hold the keys to the Lucasfilm treasure chest. They paid a ton of money for it and by gum, they’re going to get that money back through merchandise, syndication, distribution and cinemas. How else are they going to fend off the advances of the monolithic, Netflix?
Releasing in the month of May the Fourth, you could say that there’s already been a great deal of Star Wars celebration and ceremony. Unfortunately, for Solo: A Star Wars Story… the reception has been rather tepid and rightly so. The latest Star Wars installment is a spin-off from the series, even adjusting the title naming convention to distance itself from the main starship. “A Star Wars Story” makes it seem like a tie-in novel rather than a bona fide Star Wars epic. Thankfully, Solo plays more like a pop-up book than a dusty novel.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is an origin story for Han Solo, which deals with the rise of the iconic character played by Harrison Ford and his shaggy friendship with long-haired companion, Chewbacca… imagine an Afghan hound if it walked on its hind legs, stood 7ft tall and was armed with a pew-pew thingy. While distanced, the spin-off prequel manages to make some important Star Wars connections in terms of the relationship between Han and Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian and how they came to be in control of the Millennium Falcon.
While they probably could’ve gone with a CGI version of the character, the young Jeff Bridges in TRON: Legacy probably scared Disney off the idea… amid all the Peter Cushing furore and the minefield that is resurrecting and recreating digital characters. Instead they went for real bone, skin and hair… getting Alden Ehrenreich to play a young Solo. While he has ‘reich’ in his surname, he’s one of the good guys… even though he’s a rebel… you probably worked this out from the expanse of other Star Wars movies out there. While Ehrenreich makes a pretty good go of it, his casting and middling performance underscores the tone of this bastard of a Star Wars movie.
“I guess you could say I’m a rebel with a cause. Ask your parents.”
One gets the impression no one’s really wanting to own it. While quick-paced, spectacular at times and even enjoyable, the character is aloof and the film is subdued. The stakes aren’t high enough and Han is distant, despite an admirable performance from Ehrenreich. Solo is quite dark in terms of lighting, dirty in terms of its colour palette and serves as more of a starlit pirate adventure as opposed to a being a swashbuckling deep space opera, introducing a number of ragtag characters to the crew, who tie-in at various points across the Star Wars saga.
While flawed, it’s still entertaining, buoyed by the presence of Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany and Emilia Clarke. While divergent, it’s a somewhat refreshing take on the Star Wars universe under the direction of Ron Howard. Harrelson gets to mix it up as a would-be father figure and mentor with his typical wink-wink charm and hardy disposition. Clarke is looking more and more like Felicity Jones, whose disambiguation is carried out by the existence of Jyn Erso in Rogue One. She’s gorgeous and innocent as hell, making a wonderful counterpart to Ehrenreich. Then, it’s always wonderful to see Paul Bettany… whose sinister grace is welcome, now bridging two of Disney’s biggest franchises.
Solo: A Star Wars Story toys with robotic ethics and keeps to the shadows, serving as a slightly grittier, cutthroat and underground adventure. It’s different to what you’re used to and demonstrates that Disney isn’t going to simply churn out the same-old look and feel of the six original films. The Star Wars nuggets help curry favour, the muddy visuals are still action-ready, the themes are quite complex and while a bit weary, the performances are good enough to keep this one airborne. Perhaps getting more than one Star Wars film a year, when they were averaging every couple of years, is messing with people’s heads too much?
The bottom line: Okay