Well, this was always going to be a hard sell. A Star Wars film in which Han Solo is played by someone other than Harrison Ford? Sacrilege. Why don't you just come and piss on my Star Wars DVDs, Lucasfilm? Not only that, but the film comes to cinemas only six months after The Last Jedi. A film which, if you ask certain members of the fanbase, is responsible for every ill in the world, ever. Which is an average opinion by internet standards, really.
But TLJ director Rian Johnson’s massive forehead and inferior writing skills aside, the film wasn’t that bad. If you want bad try to imagine waiting 16 years for a follow-up to Return of the Jedi, and getting The Phantom Menace. You have it easy, kids. And another film which isn’t as bad as certain people would have you believe is Solo: A Star Wars Story. Solo is the second standalone Star Wars film to be released since Disney wrestled the franchise from old man George Lucas.
You can probably count the number of people who wanted a Han Solo film on one, slightly malformed hand. In terms of desirability, it’s probably somewhere between a C-3PO and Jar Jar Binks origin story. Ford’s performance as the gruff morally grey smuggler said all that needed to be said. But the film’s here now and, you know what, it’s enjoyable enough. We follow Han (Alden Ehrenreich) from his lowly home planet of Corellia (Planet of the Orphans), dogged by criminal overlords and entwined with his lover Qi’ra (Emillia Clarke). Unlike the cocky gun-slinger of the Original Trilogy, the only time this young version of Han shoots first is probably when he fucks his missus.
Han escapes from the dirty confines of his home, but Qi’ra is left behind. He enlists with the Imperial Navy, hoping to make enough money to buy his own ship and return to Corellia. Unfortunately, the Imperial Navy isn’t like the navy from Top Gun and they actually do bust you down if you’re a cocky son of a gun. Three years later, Han finds himself fighting in a brutal war - which, as was the case in Rogue One, are closer to Starship Troopers style carnage than the Red Dawn esque battles of the Originals.
It’s here that Han meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and falls in with Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a smuggler who becomes Han’s mentor. After a heist gone wrong Beckett, Chewie, and Han find themselves indebted to crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), and they’re forced to team up with Qi’ra and fellow smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) for one big heist.
The movie is more than a little self-indulgent. And though I enjoyed the film, I came away with frostier feelings towards the character of Han Solo. Ehrenreich does a good job reimagining the character as an arrogant, yet insecure and idealist kid, but I just couldn’t picture his take ever becoming the ruthless and sardonic figure that blows away the bounty hunter Greedo in the Mos Eisley Cantina.
For example, Solo ends with Han sacrificing his dream to help allies of the Rebellion. Now, just think how much of a selfish prick he was in A New Hope. We do admittedly get a glimpse of Han's inner anti-hero when he blows away the traitorous Beckett: but it's done in such a way that it was less a renegade act, and more of a ruthless pragmatic decision. The only choice he had.
Glover doesn't have this problem with Lando. He's simply riffing off Billy Dee Williams' (the original Lando) swagger and charm. Only he turns it up to eleven. He even has more capes than fucking Elvis.
What doesn’t help Ehrenreich is that everything which is iconic about Han is now revealed to be little more than a lie. His name is created by some generic Imperial officer (in a roundabout, McGreggor the goatfucker joke kind of way). The Millennium Falcon belongs to Lando (whose outlandish rogue ways outshine Han and make him seem like a choirboy). And Han’s gunslinging and 70's hair metal style fighting poses come from Beckett himself. The character of Han is, ultimately, the result of a game of soggy pizza from the galaxy’s biggest assholes.
Where Solo shines is as a heist movie. It’s a compromised world of gangsters, rogues, and inevitably betrayals. Director Ron Howard and cinematographer Bradford Young (Howard being brought in to save this bloated $250 million mess from itself) capture the chaotic nature of the seedy underbelly of the Star Wars universe. Everything looks tired, worn-out, and antiquated – just like in the Original Trilogy – and practical effects jostle with CGI (mostly practical, with the CGI save the big stuff).
It's a visually stunning film. Particularly during the sequence in which Han makes the Kessel run. We're treated to cosmic storms, gravity wells, and a Lovecraftian abomination which may be one the biggest creature yet to feature in a Star Wars film. Even bigger than that space penis which thrusts out of the glory hole in the asteroid in The Empire Strikes Back.
If you want an image of what modern Star Wars films excel at, then simply picture a universe made up entirely of A New Hope’s cantina. Between this and Rogue One, I'm quite enjoying these side films' focus on the characters who don't use the Force. A grim reality caught between the oppressive regime of the Empire and grotty societies where you're perpetually afraid to sit down on the public toilets.
So, whilst the legacy stuff is hit-and-miss, Solo makes for an enjoyable watch. The new characters are good, though suffer from that Rogue One problem of developing characters we already know aren't returning. Though a surprise cameo does set things up for a sequel. One new character who cannot be forgiven is the new droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). L3-37 follows the traditional of scene-chewing droids with overly expressive personalities. This one, however, is a social justice warrior who fights for 'droid rights' (whatever they are), and when (in one scene) asked what she wants, replies "equal rights". Fucking hell, Jar Jar's looking pretty good right about now.