Star Wars has been a true passion of mine since first watching Episode IV: A New Hope as a kid and as a universe and franchise it pretty much became the foundation of everything that I consider makes me a nerd. I have ridden the nostalgia train fully since Disney purchased Star Wars from George Lucas and triggered a brand new trilogy along with the stand alone spin off film Rogue One and animated series in Star Wars: Rebels and I can hand on my heart say that I enjoyed The Last Jedi despite the mixed reaction to it as I still have faith the pay off for the events that upset so many fans in Episode VIIII ill be worth it….hopefully. But I certainly had mixed feelings heading into Solo: A Star Wars story, so much that I had to watch it a second time with fellow die hard fans just to make sure I had my thoughts straight on it but still came out of the cinema with the same feelings and well, Solo exists….but it really doesn’t matter that it does.
*Beware of some spoilers ahead for Solo: A Star Wars Story*
The road to get this film on cinema screens was as tough as a Deathstar trench run starting with how the original directing pair of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller was fired due to creative difference with Lucasfilm. Ron Howard was then brought on board to pick up the pieces leading to a whole bunch of reshoots and even recasting of roles in the year that followed. The troubled production had me worried but not as much as my feelings about the origin story they were trying to tell because as a fan I never thought out or needed to know the origin story of Han Solo to be made into a film considering how it had been told in the expanded universe and honestly, Han was never one of my favourite Star Wars characters.
But let’s start off with a positive point in that Solo: A Star Wars story is fine as a film which does not damage the Star Wars universe as much as you may fear it does. But what the film fails to do is actually enhance that universe or blow your mind as a fan and is potentially the best example that the powers that be are trying to ride the nostalgia train one film too many. By now most fans will be fully aware of box office numbers which make Solo the first real big screen Star Wars flop so diving into why the film didn’t work for me might explain why it also failed to light up the box office as well and no, I do not believe it suffered because Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 released in the weeks before it.
So the film tells the origin story of Han Solo and how he first meets Chewbecca and Lando as well as how he became the owner of the Millennium Falcon and just how the ship made the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs. These are all part of the legend that is Han Solo but to finally put in on the big screen just left me feeling flat about those very things. We begin the film on the planet Corellia known as a starship building world. Here orphans are forced to work for criminal gangs everyday in return for food and shelter and this is where we meet a young Han and his girlfriend Qi’Ra who are trying to find a way to escape the planet together. To do so means doing one last secret job without being caught by the gang’s leader or the security forces on the planet. With a stolen sample of Coaxium which is powerful and expensive hyperspace fuel, they attempt to bribe their way off world on a transport however in the chaos Qi-Ra is caught just as Han crosses the boarding gate but is unable to help Qi’ra and can nothing more than stand helpless as she is taken away. Still being hunted, Han quickly jumps into an Imperial recruitment station and signs up to pilot training program and as he only had his first name of Han, is given the surname as Solo by the recruitment officer in order to complete the application. Han vows to become the galaxy’s best pilot and return to Corellia in order to rescue Qi-Ra and escape.
The opening to the film was ok if rather corny to say the very least, it had a big action sequence and some attempts at comedy to show this was going to be a light-hearted story for the most part but the arduous task for the cast of telling this story of a young Han Solo was already failing for me after 30 minutes and never improved right through to the final credits. I will say that the performance by Alden Ehrenreich was honestly fine for this role but for me at least never really made me think that this was the younger version of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo which was made even harder for him really by possibly the worst performance on the big screen yet by Emilia Clarke as Qi’Ra. Clarke just never managed to really show any change in Qi’Ra even after the film picks up the story three years after she was captured and only really hints that she had to do terrible things in order to survive. Learning that she rose the ranks of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate should have allowed her to showcase the toll that took on Qi’ra but the moment she is reunited with Han she is just smiling and laughing like nothing had changed her which only serve to make the moments where she would go full badass and kick someone’s butt feel forced and emotionally flat.
Donald Glover gave a great performance as a young Lando Calrissian and even brought some of Billy Dee Williams original performance style into his own but successfully made it his own for the most part and really set the seeds for the friendly but never fully trusting relationship between Lando and Han that we would see in Empire Strikes Back. Lando has a droid co-pilot in L3-37 in the film voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and some very peculiar dialogue more then hints that the droid and Lando have a full relationship….in ALL things which just felt very wrong and very out of place. For me the real star of the film was Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett who becomes the blueprint and father figure almost of Han’s future scoundrel persona and does a great job throughout of being the type of man that Han would become with his don’t trust anyone attitude to people but also instilling the honour among thieves code that Han would be seen to have in a New Hope.
I had hoped that even if the overall film would disappoint me that at the very least the key moments of Han meeting Chewie and then getting the Millennium Falcon stand out for me but although executed well, just didn’t get me all fanboy smiling. I did enjoy the moment Han and Chewie met which showed some of the playfulness we would see the characters have in the original trilogy and in The Force Awakens but so many of the action sequences failed for me with the big train heist looking like a higher special effects moment than the same train heist that can be seen in the TV Show Firefly. None of it really felt fresh or captured my imagination enough for me to say “oh yes, that is how I pictured that event happening” when it came to characters coming together or setpieces like the Kessel Run, which in particular felt like nothing more than a let’s have a big effects scene for the IMAX crowd.
Overall my disappointment came from the simple fact that as a fan this was not a origin story I needed to see on film compared with Rogue One which took a few lines of film dialogue and managed to tell a refreshing never told before story of the people behind the theft of the Deathstar plans and what it took to put them in the hands of Princess Leia in the moments before A New Hope starts. Now that was a story I wanted to know and rather than seeing this depiction of Han Solo’s origin I would have preferred to have seen the Obiwan Kenobi film of his time on Tattooine after Revenge of the Sith put him there watching over baby Luke Skywalker for decades. As a Star Wars I want and am perfectly happy to have a Star Wars story told every year on the big screen but they have to be more about enriching the universe with untold stories rather than trying to cash in on the nostalgia sentiment for a character like Han Solo which if reports are true, and this was supposed to be the start of a possible trilogy for the character.
Questions about Star Wars fan fatigue are floating about to explain why Solo has done so poorly for a Star Wars film but perhaps the reality is just that it was a story no fan needed or wanted to see told this way. The cameo towards the end of the film was a nice touch and anyone who has watched Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels would have seen it coming the moment Crimson Dawn was brought up and so by connecting the big screen universe once again to that of the animated expanded universe just as Rogue One had put in little nods and easter eggs to the animation shows. With the Boba Fett spin off film now officially confirmed as the next standalone Star Wars film after Episode 9, it is obvious that the anthology series is still very much a big plan for Lucasfilm and again like Rogue One could be a great opportunity to expand on a character who had too brief a presence in the Star Wars film universe as long as they dare to push the envelope as Rogue One did and not the bland by the numbers approach they took with Solo. The Han Solo we see at the end of the film is different from the young man at the start of the film but there is a big distance between that and the Han we meet in A New Hope, a smuggler who is only looking after himself and Chewie but surprises everyone when he comes in at the last minute to save the day. This Han Solo is too happy and hopeful and not yet burned by betrayal to be the cynical man we know with the Harrison Ford Han Solo.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is an ok film to sit back at home on the sofa with some popcorn and watch some Star Wars but never feels like a blockbuster or must see Star Wars film. It exists and that’s ok but I went in never feeling the need to have the story told and came out the cinema not feeling any happier now that it was told. Maybe if Ron Howard had been the director from the very start it would have been a different film with a different tone but sadly for me, it was an average story in an average film that probably will never be a go to Star Wars for me in the future to watch.