The Han Solo spin-off film is here, and there’s good news and bad news. The good is that, considering the troubled gestation of Solo: A Star Wars Story, it’s impressive how little the finished product betrays its production woes. The bad is that the end result is a generic origin story that we could have all done without. And while it’s a futile endeavour to muse on what original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller could have done had they not been given the boot over “creative differences”, one can’t help but posit that the duo behind 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie could have at the very least made the pre-A New Hope adventures of the scruffy-looking nerf herder less predictable and pedestrian.
Directed by Ron Howard, the film is a western/heist adventure that is low on stakes, thrills and purpose, with an entertainingly handled train robbery proving to be the only memorable sequence of a 135-minutes long slog. The cast aren’t to blame, as Alden Ehrenreich and standout Donald Glover both deliver the goods without resulting to one-note aping and have boyish charm for days. They are joined by an always-welcome Paul Bettany and a show-stealing vocal turn from Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who plays a sassy robot with droid uprising on the circuitry. The only weak link is Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke, who proves she doesn’t yet have the acting chops to share the screen with far more engaging performers like Thandie Newton, who is bafflingly underused here.
The issue is that the film, while not a complete disaster, is simply fan-service at its most uninspired. It reveals how Han and Chewbacca met and how our rogue got his blaster, without at any point stopping to consider whether anyone actually cares, nor ever justifying its existence beyond milking the corporate cash cow. More frustratingly, the film highlights a lack of insight on the Star Wars gatekeepers’ behalves, who have been burnt before with Episodes I-III, and yet continue to labour under the misapprehension that prequels are worth making. This is emblematic of a wider problem in corporate filmmaking, where there is no room for ambiguity or imagination. Much in the same way that discovering why Hannibal Lecter has a penchant for human flesh humanises him in a way that makes him less terrifying, or uncovering the reasons behind why Wolverine is so damn surly demystifies a beloved character, finding out how Han became the cocky space cowboy from the original films just weakens what was arguably the most charismatic character in the whole saga. The trend of obsessively undoing character mystique with pointless backstories is storytelling poison, and Solo disappointingly proves, once again, that prequels only serve to reveal that a lack of answers sometimes goes a long, long way.
Solo: A Star Wars Story | Directed by Ron Howard (US, 2018), with Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke. Starts May 24
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