More noise than signal

Solo

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Another one of those films bedevilled with reshoots and a change of director, in some ways it’s surprising that Solo made its release date, and in some ways, quite obvious how it did. Alden Ehrenreich steps into the Han Solo role, as we’re introduced to him already working for a local Corellian crime syndicate, but planning to escape the grimy underbelly to a better life off-world with girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke).

This soon goes awry, with Han signing up for Imperial flight school but Qi’ra left behind. He vows to make enough money to buy a ship and return for her. Years later, washed out of the pilot programme for his rebellious streak, he’s an infantryman who stumbles on Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and his crew in the middle of a heist, and after some twists, worms his way into their plans, escaping the Imperials along with former prisoner Chewbacca.

They go on to stage a daring raid to nick some valuable fuel supplies, which goes disastrously thanks to some outside interference, leaving Beckett’s former crew dead and reliant on Han and Chewie. He’s also puzzlingly now deemed to be in debt to crime syndicate Crimson Dawn, so is hauled before Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos to explain himself. Beckett and Han, after some prompting, offer up an alternative, much riskier, heist to make good, but they must take one of Vos’ employees along for the trip. This turns out to be Qi’ra. Shockeroonie.

Off they go, but of course they need a ship, hence Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), hence the Millennium Falcon, and unfortunately hence his annoying robot co-pilot L3-37, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and also hence more outside interference, along with some deal-changing and other miscellaneous double-crossing and backstabbing.

Solo appears at an odd time for the Star Wars franchise. A vocal contingent vehemently hated The Last Jedi, which is their prerogative, and claim it was a commercial failure, which is an odd way to think of $1.31 billion box office. I’m not sure quite why this translated into talk of boycotting Solo, a completely different film from two sets of completely different directors, and co-written by the dude responsible for the most beloved instalment, but no-one’s ever accused internet mobs of coherence. With Solo looking like it’ll claw its way to around $360m as it shuffles out of cinemas worldwide, I’m sure they’ll be happy to claim victory in their efforts to… try and kill a franchise they say they love? Sorry, I’m not quite sure what their aim was.

I’d argue, however, that as with most Twitter storms, the wider world did not even hear of this drama, and instead didn’t turn up as it’s sandwiched between more tentpoles than in the usual Christmas window, and, well, it has a fundamental hole in the marketing of the film because no-one really gives a good god damn about the origins of Han Solo. Solo’s lovable rogue character in the original trilogy is straight out of the big book o’ character archetypes, and is entirely self-describing.

Solo, then, is an answer to a question no-one asked. And an answer that’s not particularly satisfying, either. There’s not much difference between the fresh faced young Han we meet at the start of this film and the still fresh faced Han at the film’s end, making his a character arc with very few degrees in it. It’s not like it’s taking any risks at all in the content either, and the things it chooses to flesh out are odd. There’s a throwaway line in the originals about Han winning the ship from Lando in a game of Space Poker. Here we spend ten minutes or so in a scene about Space Poker. It is as exciting as you’d expect watching people play cards to be, assuming you hadn’t seen Casino Royale.

If, however, you can get over the inherent pointlessness of it all (and, bearing in mind this is the Laser Space Wizard franchise we’re talking about here, it’s not like it’s a stranger to inherent pointlessness), Solo feels much closer to the original trilogy than anything that’s come after it. It’s a light, breezy, space opera with broad characters, a general sense of good humour and the odd action set piece. That makes it a breath of fresh air in a series that’s growing increasingly consumed by its own mythology, or if you prefer, spending too much time sniffing its own farts.

Unfortunately the least interesting part of the film is Solo himself. It seems a lot of people blame Ehrenreich for this, which I think is a little unfair. Certainly, he’s in an unwinnable position, either going to be derided for a Harrison Ford impression, or for straying too far from Ford’s take, so he’s doing as well as anyone can here, particularly when there’s just not all that much for him to do.

Qi’ra, or perhaps Emilia Clarke, presents us with a mystery. In a universe where we’ve established there’s a Space Paisley (or was it Renfrew?), such that accents other than received pronunciation are possible, how come on Corellia the grimy underworld characters cut about like they’ve stumbled out of the set of The Crown? I suspect the answer to this is that Clarke has an acting range measured in thousandths of a millimetre. To be scrupulously fair to her, in this film, she is terrible.

Everyone else is pretty decent, though, and it’d be a much more interesting film if it was focussing on everyone that’s not the leads. Donald Glover is eminently watchable, and Woody Harrelson and his crew are, for the short time they have, much more intriguing than our supposed stars. The dialogue is, well, better than the other Star Wars films of late, and despite my repeated misgivings about the lead characters, it still turned out to be a fun little Star Wars outing that gratifyingly doesn’t take itself as seriously as the other Disney-backed outings.

It’s a shame that it’s in the service of a story that’s just not all that important to anyone – even, it turns out, Han Solo himself. It’s an easy watch, and it’s an entertaining two hour diversion, but on reflection it does feel quite pointless and that makes it hard to recommend the bother of dragging the family to see it in a cinema.