‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Review: Too Safe to Have Real Fun
‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ plays safe; the plot swims in high speed, but the energy is very low-key.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a knower. It knows how ardent, how desperate fans are to know about Han Solo’s origins. Or not? It has not even been six months since The Last Jedi landed at the cinemas, but here we are, back at the theatres again, queuing up to know how Han began his journey.
Harrison Ford’s Han smouldering Solo is such a permanent fixture in our collective consciousness that it’s near impossible to imagine another actor playing the cocksure pilot. Alden Ehrenreich, playing the younger version of Solo has difficult shoes to fill, but the actor does it with a startling suppleness.
Ehrenreich is one of Hollywood’s bright young talents, and he refrains from mimicking Ford, in fact, the way he talks or walks has nothing to do with Ford. This young Han has rather studied the essence of his character, and he plays it like a starter at a race, propelled by a youthful earnestness, but far from the cynicism that will eventually colour his gait and persona. This crafty approach makes it easier to project Ehrenreich in an older Ford, as he takes the initial few minutes to dispel the audience’s disbelief until they’re finally ready to embrace him.
The young Han, as we meet him on the grimy planet of Corellia, is hustling to make a living. His Dickensian life has a love in Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), but also a villain in a giant caterpillar named Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt) who lives in a pond.
Han manages to flee Corellia, becomes a soldier only to meet a band of thieves comprising Beckett (Woody Harrelson being Woody Harrelson again), his girlfriend Val (tragically underused Thandie Newton) and a four-armed creature Rio (Jon Favreau).
A train heist later, he will meet Qi’ra again, and the main antagonist with scars on his face, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany with sharp objects and blunt dialogues), which will be followed by another intergalactic robbery and multiple double-crosses.
The greatest delight of Solo: A Star Wars Story is that it is marked by so many sublime absences. There are no imperial council meetings, no Jedis pretending to be like monks, no Dark Side hence no Force, no lightsabers, and no philosophical weightlifting. Of course, it does doff its hat to nostalgia as the good ol’ score of John Williams climbs to welcome the Millennium Falcon, every fanboy’s dream vehicle.
Written by the father-and-son squad of Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, this film is less from a canon of Star Wars, more from Indiana Jones (Kasdan senior scripted both The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark) with a pronounced ‘70s vibe. This is a film not trying to reach the deep-thinking grandeur of the space opera, it is rather content with being a heist film set in space, and by putting a MacGuffin in the form of coaxium (a precious hyperfuel that explodes with the obstinacy of scripted tension), we get a watered-down variety of The Wages of Fear with lots of VFX razzmatazz.
Oh, did we mention Chewie in all of this? Yes, there’s a meet-cute encounter between Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Han in a muddy crater. It begins as a sudden meal, followed by the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Han, we’re told, is a man who is always on his own, a lonesome rebel, who earns his name. But throughout the film, he seems never to be on his own, never Solo, rather he is Mr. Socialite forging bonds with creatures and humans, one after another, like the effortless charmer lost in a party. When the lead man is not given a breather to weigh on his life, what chance do other characters have?
Clarke’s Qi’ra, for example, had the potential to be the most complex character of the bunch, but the film never makes her emotional stakes solvent. In effect, Qi’ra and Han’s romance remains in the freezer.
If there’s someone who’s having a sexy time, and elevates the film with his loose-limbed efficiency, it’s Donald Glover playing the younger version of Lando Calrissian, the original owner of the Millennium Falcon. Glover who wowed and shocked the world with his political spine in the music video, This is America recently, plays the gambler with the charm of a dandy, mouthing dialogues well aware of how he makes them cool. His droid companion L3-37 (Phoebe-Waller Bridge in uproarious motion-capture) only amps up his sexual fluidity.
Hollywood veteran Ron Howard came late into the party, replacing director duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who were fired midway. Howard directs the film like an old hand, steering it into a safe lane, so safe in fact that it never dares to look around for a tinge of audacity. As a result, nothing in the film has consequence severe enough to raise your heartbeat, and the stakes never rise. The plot swims in high speed, but the energy is very low-key, further fuelled by underlit vistas.
You will keep wondering how Lord and Miller would have helmed Solo, considering their subversive tones in The Lego Movie or the comedic splits in 21 Jump Street (both relegated to executive producer credits here).
Their improvising streak for an assembly line product with the most generic name was not in line with the marching orders of the studio. For all the metaphysical grandstanding of the Force and the Dark Side, the empire of Lucasfilm preferred a docile cow of a film instead of a jumping zebra. You know who is at the Dark Side, right?
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)
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