Director: Ron Howard
Rating: 5 Stars
In 2015, the announcement of a Han Solo origins film was met with a mixture of amusement and derision by Star Wars fans. Three years on, and the film has been through what can only be referred to as production hell. Its original directors, The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller exited the project 6 months into principal filming over so-called ‘creative differences’, and after a briefly rudderless period was handed over to the deft hands of academy award-winning director Ron Howard. Against all odds, the finished product feels remarkably fine-tuned; a slick sci-fi romp, it captures a spark of adventure that has been somewhat absent from recent entries in the Star Wars saga. But facing overwhelming apathy from audiences and on course to not even break even on its budget - a first for the Star Wars franchise - it has to be wondered whether the film was really necessary.
Right off the bat, one has to consider the performance of Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. Having been cast in one of the most iconic roles in pop-culture, and standing in the shadow of Harrison Ford, Ehrenreich had everything to prove in his performance. Thankfully he pulls it off - although for the first act his performance is somewhat shaky, by the halfway point he’s got you sold. It’s important to clarify that he isn’t trying to emulate Ford, but rather giving his own take on the character, a youthful vision of a character we know and love rather than a de-aged clone of the Ford portrayal we’ve seen in 4 films. Donald Glover delivers a fine performance as the uber-charismatic Lando Calrissian, but somewhat surprisingly feels a little lacklustre, opting for a sort of Billy Dee Williams impression that prevents him from making the role his own. Paul Bettany is suitably sinister as ruthless space gangster Dryden Vos - a departure from the typically soft roles Bettany stars as, he steals the scenes he appears in.
While a competent backing for the action-packed film, the John Powell’s score fails to bring much substance to the table, and the filmmakers seem to have known this - some of the most action-packed sequences are simply accompanied by some of John Williams’ greatest Star Wars hits. The visual effects on showcase here are stunning, as with every recent entry in the Star Wars franchise. It’s worth noting that for whatever reason this and 2016’s Rogue One, two of the three planned ‘anthology’ films in the franchise, have to my eye had better visual effects than the two ‘numbered’ entries (The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi). Make of that what you will - the practical effects here are also a damn sight better than in The Last Jedi, the intergalactic bars and mining stations seen populated with armies of stunningly realistic aliens.
Overall, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fun if flawed addition to the Star Wars saga, equal parts refreshing adventure film and studio product. It certainly sets a worrying precedent for Disney’s Star Wars plans; with news of a Boba Fett film entering production at the time of writing, it appears that every last Original Trilogy character is to be given their own. Nevertheless, it is a fun, enjoyable dip into the world of Star Wars, a kind of sci-fi comfort food that provides entertainment but no real nutrition.