For many, there will be immense satisfaction in finally seeing canon proof that Han Solo did indeed do the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs. But that’s two very expensive hours of geekery.
It is never a good start when a film launches its promotion whilst beleaguered with reports of a messy production. To the credit of all involved, then, Solo remains a pretty seamless effort, albeit not quite so much so as the similarly troubled Rogue One. Ron Howard may have been a late switch-in, following the less than awesome exorcism of The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, but you’d be hard pressed to feel effects of the handover. By and large, Solo is solid fun, carried by decent performances and some pulse-quickening action.
Rather like with Chris Pine’s iteration of Kirk in 2009’s Star Trek, Howard first finds Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo as a reckless youth with abundant potential and one eye in the sky. Along partner in crime and lover Qi’ra, Han dreams of escaping from the slums of shipbuilding planet Corellia – on which orphaned children are forced to steal to survive – and flying off into the future. When the first of many, many contrivances sees the pair separated, Han embarks upon a quest to make his name, buy a ship and return to save his sweetheart.
Later developments see the introduction of a weighty MacGuffin and the hurling of twists left, right and centre. ‘Trust nobody’ growls Woody Harrelson early on and he means it. There are quadruple-crossing characters here and more cliffhangers than the most melodramatic of soaps. Some are predictable – others less so – but all carry a slight whiff of desperation; the scrambling together of a plot from an all too thin premise.
If there’s fun to be had in seeing Han meet Chewbacca (Joonas Soutamo) and win the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrission (Donald Glover), these fleeting moments can’t quite disguise the lack of necessity for this kind of origins romp. Entertaining turns by the likes of Harrelson, Clarke and Thandie Newton are marred by the irrelevance of their characters in the wider saga. It doesn’t help the ensemble have no distinctive features to set them apart.
Thankfully, Ehrenreich has charm aplenty in the role made famous by Harrison Ford and is well worth rooting for. Retaining Ford’s cool manner, sly smile, wisecracks and genuine heart, Ehrenreich brings to Solo the air of a classic cowboy, as required by the film’s purposeful space-western skew. It’s not the easiest of fits but this Star Wars entry comes complete with a runaway train escapade, saloon and gunslinger. There are beats and visual echoes of The Searchers, Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to be found here. It’s all executed at too fast a pace and too high a volume but with fine intent.
In the Lucasfilm pantheon, Solo is the entertaining outing that dreamed bigger than its boots. Potential sequels are floated but feel even less necessary.