Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story
The backstory for the biggest risk-taker in the Star Wars franchise plays it perfectly safe, meaning Solo gets home in one piece — riding on decades’ worth of character collateral.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Joonas Suotamo, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau, Linda Hunt
Directed by: Ron Howard
Running time: 2hrs 15 mins
By Katherine Monk
Let’s imagine there’s something called “Character Collateral” — a value derived from our particular attachment to, feelings about, and history with a given fictional character. Rooted in a rather deep part of our brain where things are felt more than intellectually processed, this intangible emotional connection can be hard to put into words. But it has a ton of meaning.
It’s the only way to even begin talking about the pros and cons, ups and downs, nagging downers and soaring thrills of Solo: A Star Wars Story.
The highly anticipated, and somewhat troubled production has been one of the most interesting side-plots in the post-colon “A Star Wars Story” sagas. First, The LEGO Movie’s Christopher Miller and Phil Lord were supposed to bring it to camera, but after a few months into filming, producers handed the reins to established veteran Ron Howard.
Howard certainly knows how to make a pretty movie. He also knows a thing or two about making actors feel comfortable on-set in a highly technical, blue-screen environment. So the first thing you really notice about Solo is the confidence behind the camera, and the deference to the Star Wars universe.
Everything begins with the same, simple “A long time ago… “ black screen, the ritual that lets an audience erupt from their seats after the endless previews, as well as re-commune with their childhood religion. Let’s face it, Luke and Vader have probably taught more people under 50 about the nature of good and evil than the Bible. So all Star Wars narratives are imbued with a hallowed energy that we bestow upon them with our love and Almighty Dollar.
Let’s face it, Luke and Vader have probably taught more people under 50 about the nature of good and evil than the Bible. So all Star Wars narratives are imbued with a hallowed energy that we bestow upon them with our love and Almighty Dollar.
They have real meaning. Howard knows that. Everyone who gets on the giant Disney-Lucasfilm steamer knows these movies aren’t your ordinary shoot, and there are times when you get the feeling people are playing it a little safe — god forbid, they tap into the character’s wealth of collateral, and drain the bank with a bad move.
Have no fear. Solo doesn’t suffer from catastrophic character failure. But the biggest weakness in the entire film is the man in the middle: Solo. Played here by Alden Ehrenreich, a perfectly fine actor with a perfectly handsome face, you suddenly realize there was something truly special about Harrison Ford. He makes desperation sexy in a way that few actors can, because in his moments of absolute strength, he shows the most vulnerability and doubt.
Outsiders saw the cocky bravado. But we saw the gooey Solo centre, and fell into its warm sticky embrace. Ehrenreich gets some leeway for playing Han a good decade before we pick up the first yarns on Tatooine with Luke, but the core of this Han Solo feels a little shallow.
Ehrenreich never seems to linger in a moment, find the right timing, or scratch a sniff of sincerity. For the most part, he’s trapped somewhere between frat boy and fake soldier — which really isn’t all that attractive. Moreover, where most of Harrison Ford’s facial features seem to point downward with an either menacing or desperate gaze, Ehrenreich’s inflect upward — like his somewhat irritating pubescent vocal register.
Ehrenreich never seems to linger in a moment, find the right timing, or scratch a sniff of sincerity. For the most part, he’s trapped somewhere between frat boy and fake soldier — which really isn’t all that attractive.
Yet, thanks to the larger Star Wars universe’s broad context and our full leap of faith, Ehrenreich gets the job done — like a one-day soap opera replacement keeps the narrative going.
The best parts of the film come from Woody Harrelson, Joonas Suotamo, Donald Glover and Emilia Clarke. Harrelson uses all of his character collateral as a smart outlaw (Hunger Games) to play Beckett, a wily mercenary who teaches Han how to play the system, and exploit perception. Suotamo plays Chewie, easily the warm and fuzzy anchor to the whole film with an immutable vault of character collateral thanks to the costume. Glover is the perfect incarnation of the young Lando Calrissian, with his endless style and wonderfully false humility. And Emilia Clarke leverages every corpse from Game of Thrones and every cent of Daenerys Targaryen’s character collateral to play Qi’ra, Han’s first love with an ability to do bad things in order to survive. Or, at least we think she can do bad things, even with good intent, because of the dragon-skin valises of intangible emotional baggage she brings with her.
Unfortunately, the movie gets a little too loose with the references. At one point, she utters the line “A dragon taught me…” and all you can do is whisper a little groan. It’s not the only time it happens. The inside references just start to interfere with suspension of disbelief. They break the fourth wall.
Solo: A Star Wars Story — as a piece of the Star Wars universe — is a film that works as a result of the sacks of good feelings and past performances that precede it. But Solo — solo — has its downsides.
The script does everything it needed to by creating a transformative set of circumstances, and offering a truly believable back story that would shape the Han we know. Yet, it’s a very safe movie, in the hands of one of the safest directors. At one level, there’s a hint of disappointment about it. On another, it’s like falling asleep in the lap of a Wookie — comforting, in a child-like way.
THE EX-PRESS, May 25, 2018