Sunday, 27 May 2018
Solo - A Star Wars Story
2018 USA Directed by Ron Howard
UK cinema release print.
Warning: At some point near the end of this review there will
be a big spoiler. I’ll warn you about it again as it approaches.
Okay, so I’ll be honest and say I really wasn’t expecting the new Star Wars spin off, Solo, to be any good. In fact, after hearing about the troubled production history of this particular film and adding in the fact that I didn’t think much of either Rogue One or The Last Jedi, I was pretty much expecting this movie to be almost unwatchable. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found that this was one of the very few of the new wave of Star Wars movies I actually quite liked.
Alden Ehrenreich stars as the young Han Solo and I have to admit that, when I first heard this casting news I was really happy about it because I’d recently seen him in the wonderful Cohen Brothers movie Hail Caesar! (reviewed here) playing a singing cowboy and I thought he might be able to pull this kind of role off... would that it were so simple. However, as more damaging ‘on set’ stories emerged about him needing acting lessons and a, frankly, not so great couple of trailers where he looks and acts nothing like Han Solo (I noticed some of those moments were thankfully absent in the final cut off the movie), I was beginning to get very down about the whole thing.
As it happens, I needn’t have worried. Ehrenreich is superb as the young Corellian and he really does look... and act... exactly right in a lot of the scenes here. Everyone is saying that Donald Glover’s portrayal of a young Lando Calrissian (one of my favourite characters in the original trilogy) is the one to watch and, although he’s kinda okay (if somewhat more of a caricature of the original rather than something that convinces me it’s really the same character), I thought Han was definitely the scene stealer in this.
And Chewbacca, played in this one by Joonas Suotamo, is even cooler.
I have to say that when a certain scene comes up and Han is in peril, I realised about 30 seconds before Chewie entered the movie what was going to happen. It doesn’t matter though because he knocks it out the park here. Of course, in terms of the chronology of the characters, this is Chewbacca’s second appearance in the saga, after helping Yoda escape from Chewie’s homeworld Kashyyk in Revenge Of The Sith. The version of Chewbacca here seems strangely skinnier but maybe that’s because the situation he finds himself in is not an ideal one. He’s great in this movie, though, and it’s nice to see him forming a bond with the young Han Solo as the running time progresses.
There is also a wide range of new characters who all work very well in the film and have good chemistry with the lead, including Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany as the villain of the piece and Han’s lost love Qi’ra, as played brilliantly by Emilia Clarke.
And... it’s an okay movie. It’s not great Star Wars in terms of feeling but it is close and even when I had pause for thought during the first sequence, I remembered the prequel trilogy’s opening chase scene from Attack Of The Clones and realised the high tech Blade Runnerish feel of this moment was acceptable, at least in terms of staying near to the spirit of what has gone before. There are also a lot of fan moments where various parts of the mythology pop up, including two returning characters from another film in the series, one of whom I will most definitely... and in the most spoilery way... get to soon. But, yeah... stuff like the dice, the mention of bounty hunter Bossk, the spice mines of Kessel and various other things are all touched upon here (although I was sad that this is the first ‘Star Wars’ film not to include C3P0 and R2D2 in it... they could have easily had them appearing in this one). It also doesn’t make the mistake, at least in this particular film, of ruining the exact line reading of Han and Lando’s past relationship from The Empire Strikes Back. It come close to getting it wrong but the lines in Empire will still, just about, read right... at least in this movie, as it stands.
Some of the stuff in this film is absolutely brilliant, like the train heist scene (why the heck would a light spacecraft owning civilisation be using trains?) and the way in which Han is portrayed as the ultimate good guy who thinks he’s the bad guy but... there’s also some bad stuff too. The structure of the film seems somewhat loose and doesn’t feel like it’s leading up to anything in terms of the way the action works. Also, the celebrated (by some viewers) Kessel Run scene, which we’ve been hearing about since the first movie in 1977, was really confusing and anticlimactic for me. Even the music in this scene sounds a little like warmed over John Williams... which it kinda is. John Powell’s score at this point starts quoting various Star Wars action motifs all muddled together (including one of my favourite John Williams cues, The Asteroid Field) but it somehow seems somewhat diluted here. I don’t know if this was because it’s deliberately dialled down in the mix, played by a smaller orchestra or even if it was the sound set up in the screen I saw it on that was amiss but, this scene felt like it could be a little punchier than it is here, that’s for sure. That didn’t detract so much from my appreciation of the movie though so, yeah, nearing the end of the movie I was in the state of mind that I was having a fun, relatively Star Warsish feeling, kind of good time and that it was one of the better of the late entries in the saga.
And then the thing happened...
And this is your big spoiler warning folks. If you haven’t seen this movie, do not read past this point.
So we already know the person who the lead villain of the piece is answering to is the ‘real’ villain and, after a not so surprising twist in terms of the allegiance of one of the characters in the movie, we finally get to see who the real 'menace' behind the scheme was and... my jaw totally dropped. There are few movies that manage to surprise me like this one did because there, on the hologram talking to one of the other characters in the film was... Darth Maul. Yep... the same Darth Maul we saw young Obi Wan slice in half with a lightsaber decades before in The Phantom Menace. He’s got robotic legs so it’s shown he’s survived somehow and, apparently, if I’d watched the Star Wars cartoon shows The Clone Wars and Rebels, then I would know how that character managed to survive his seemingly mortal wounds. I did get very excited for a minute because I realised this could maybe explain the lineage towards the villain of the first two films of the latest trilogy, Snoke. However, I then also realised that Maul couldn’t possibly have retained his woggly, baby making equipment after the wounds he received so I’m somewhat less excited about this reveal now. It is an interesting turn of events though but, alas, I can’t quite see how they can follow through with a final showdown between this character and our heroes in any future sequels because he’s already been killed off again by Obi Wan on Tatooine in the cartoons, apparently. Nice idea though and it certainly surprised me.
End of spoiler zone!
And that’s me done on this one. John Powell’s score seems a little less Star Wars than I thought it would be but certainly seems consistent with a lot of this composer's other work. I like this guy a lot but he’s not who I would have picked to score a Star Wars movie, that’s for sure... the score is still nicely done though and maybe giving it a different feel was kinda the point (it certainly plays better as a stand alone listen than The Last Jedi CD... asides from the awful song... but, for goodness sakes, why do they keep missing off the end title music on these things... oh, right, they want us all to double dip an expanded CD edition in five to ten years time. Got it.). Who knows what’s in the minds of the people bankrolling these things at any given moment? All in all, though, Solo is an enjoyable bit of light space opera and, like I said, probably the best of the series we’ve seen since the release of The Force Awakens. I’ll probably revisit this one again before it leaves the cinemas.
Star Wars at NUTS4R2
Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones
Episode 3: Revenge Of The Sith
Episode 4: A New Hope
Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode 6: Return Of The Jedi
Episode 7: The Force Awakens
Episode 8: The Last Jedi
Episode 9: The Rise Of Skywalker