Solo: A Star Wars Story is Ron Howard’s exhilarating entry into the Star Wars alumni with this swaggering Western (complete with low slung gun holsters, high-tech stage coaches, honkey tonk saloons and high noon shoot-outs)…all set in a galaxy far far away, a long long time ago.
It’s everything Star Wars:The Last Jedi wasn’t: the characters, led by the swaggering Alden Ehrenreich (from “Hail Caesar”) as Han Solo and the rakish Donald Glover as Lando Clarissian are charismatic and engaging, unlike the dour, boorishly angst-riddled Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). The story is straightforward and focused (unlike the multi-tiered confused narratives of …Last Jedi, that wander forever aimlessly like drunks). The yawningly dull aerial battles are kept to a minimum and there are elements of genuine tension and excitement.
In short, compared with the leaden …Jedi, Solo… is fun. It levitates. More than this, it’s visually spectacular. There’s a big-screen, epic feel about director Howard’s stunningly realized wastelands of dingy equipment and ragged cities.
The story hangs around a love affair. Han and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia, mother of dragons, Clarke, who convincingly transforms from the ingenue to the imperious) are young lovers (juvenile delinquents really) who attempt to bribe their way out of the light and freedom deprived city of Corellia. There they’re indentured to a vast aquatic centipede. Han escapes, but not Qi’ra. As is only right, he makes it his mission to return and rescue her. It’s a long return journey that takes him via a stint as a fighter-pilot (thrown out for insubordination), a thrilling heist onboard a high speed, abyss-clinging train, near death from a black hole type vortex and encounters with a wide range of (mainly unsavory and unscrupulous) characters including the 190 year old Chewbacca.
But the Qi’ra he finally reunites with only seems the loving girl he once knew. Much has changed. And not for the better.
Father/son writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan offer enough plot-heavy excitement to keep you gripped while feeding out those many ‘origin’ storylines that perhaps only the die-hards would ever have wondered about, but which are nice the discover…such as how Han met Chewie (He’s thrown down a muddy cave to face Chewie aka ‘the beast’, whose guttural language he understands), the origin of his name (He belongs to no tribe and is thus dubbed “Solo”), and his first encounter with a rag tag group who evolve into the Empire-defying rebel forces.
While these origin myths are being spooled out, we’re introduced to an eclectic group of engaging characters: among whom are Woody Harrelson’s untrustworthy Beckett who becomes a sort of thief mentor to Han; the slick, smooth voiced gambler/hustler, Lando (in the person of the protean Danny Glover) from whom Han wins the famous Millennium Falcon; Beckett’s kick-ass girlfriend Val (a wasted Thandie Newton almost unrecognizable under a large wig) and the most fascinating of them all, a hip-swinging, sassy female droid pilot, LD-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) convinced that Lando has the hots for her.
Thing is, Lando, Han and Beckett are really only expressions of that archetypal lovable rogue, Brett Maverick. His slick, wise-ass, gunslinging spirit hovers like a blessing over this joyful enterprise
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. Dir: Ron Howard. With: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Joonas Suotamo. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Brettany. Writers: Lawrence Kasdan (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Raiders of the Lost Arc)), Jonathan Kasdan. Cinematographer: Bradford Young (Arrival), Production Designer: Neil Lamont (Edge of Tomorrow; Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens)