*SPOILER WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS A FEW SPOILERS FOR SOLO – A STAR WARS STORY. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.*
Normally I have to wait a whole year for my Star Wars fix. To get a new film just five months after the previous one was something that I was very much looking forward to. However, once it came to release week, I actually found myself forgetting that the next instalment in my favourite franchise was coming out. The overwhelming feeling of ‘Ah, I’ll see it tomorrow’ happened for about a week, despite my initial excitement. I’m sorry to say that Star Wars fatigue has definitely set in a little for me. But would I ever say that I disliked this latest entry? Hell, no!
Solo is the second Anthology film in the Star Wars franchise, after 2016’s Rogue One, and follows the eponymous scoundrel as he goes on all the adventures he always mentioned in the Original Trilogy. I’m talking meeting Chewie, winning the Millennium Falcon from Lando, and making the ever-infamous Kessel Run in just fourteen parsecs (or was that twelve?). There are some other, smaller outings included, too, ones that we didn’t know about until now, along with a few gaps in the timeline (here’s looking at you, Fett) that will need to be filled in what I’m hoping becomes a Solo trilogy.
Let’s begin with the Ehrenreich in the room. It’s hard to say whether Alden truly nailed the character, and whatever I think about the matter, the argument will probably rage on until Star Wars is long dead. But I personally think he was very believable for the most part, and I have no problem with his performance. Simple as that. He even got a few of Ford’s mannerisms down pat, and those were great moments because the character really shone through. It’s a shame he wasn’t like that consistently, but I don’t think there’s a person on the planet who could perfectly follow Harrison Ford himself.
The overarching narrative of the film is okay. I really don’t think there’s anything shockingly awful about it, and overall it doesn’t deserve to be in the ‘To be Improved’ section of this review. It was a little disjointed at times, and there were definitely some moments that were better than others by a long way, but overall the chain of events flowed together without incident. I’ve always been an absolute sucker for scenes that put the ‘Wars’ in Star Wars, and the Imperial battlefront on Mimban, with AT-ST’s dropping in from aerial transports, mudtroopers dashing through trenches WWI style, with explosions going off all around and blaster bolts flying, took my breath away. And the best part? It’s never undercut by pitiful attempts at humour from characters who would not be cracking jokes in such a high-stakes life or death situation. Whenever an action scene starts in a film these days, I get so tense as I just wait for the epic music to grind to a halt so one of the heroes can say ‘Oh, turds’ or something equally as brainless. But with Solo, that never happens! Well… What I mean to say is it never happens to the point where it ruins the moment, because we can all name one character who’s very existence has split the fan-base when it comes to her humour.
Lots of people, somewhat understandably, dislike Lando’s plucky droid companion, L3-37, because of her feminist and social justice warrior parallels. However, casting these toxic Reddit troll terms aside, I thought she was one of the best aspects of the film. She’s unique, every joke she makes lands, and she is a true comedic relief sidekick because she’s not doing things so that she comes across as funny. She’s being herself, and she is inherently funny. L3, like Deadpool, has been written and created with humour in mind, so it works when they’re funny, because we expect them to be. This is a lesson Disney needs to learn and live by when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Characters who are otherwise serious making jokes purely for the audience’s benefit, not to mention when they’re in the middle of epic set pieces, ruining an otherwise powerful moment, do not work and are just cringeworthy. For me, L3 steals every scene she’s in, and I really love her.
But speaking of her master/owner/friend/potential lover/what term am I even supposed to use without upsetting her, let’s look at Lando. I can say nothing other than this: Glover positively exudes Calrissian charm. He perfectly embodies the character and transcends acting; he is Lando himself, and would outshine every other character in the film if they didn’t use him as sparingly as they did, which is another positive in and of itself. Because the directors clearly saw the risk that such a brilliant performance from a secondary protagonist posed to their hero’s credibility, they were able to give us the perfect amount of Lando. He greatly improves the film by complimenting Ehrenreich’s performance without detracting from it by being too good (nicer problems to have) and was handled very well overall.
I have lots of problems with this film’s score, but that’s not for this paragraph. On a positive note, I personally thought the very 2017 Ghost in the Shell-sounding choral theme for the Cloud Riders was brilliant, and really set them apart as unique and interesting villains, even if it did immediately evoke Spidertanks and cloaking-deviced androids. I expected it to sound out of place, but for some reason it just really clicked and worked perfectly. Whenever it played, it was sudden and startling, but in an amazing way, akin to the Cloud City doors hissing open to reveal Vader standing in all his evil glory, accompanied by his theme. It catches you off guard and really sets up the villains as a credible threat.
Another very strong aspect of the film, though one that may go overlooked by most viewers, is the various nuances between this and the Original Trilogy. Moments like ‘I hate you’/’I know’ and Lando beating an impatient Chewie at Dejarik with the same move C3PO uses in a New Hope, make me grin like an idiot. Consider them shoehorned in if you like, but I think they’re charming moments that neatly tie this, a very stylistically unique entry to the franchise, into the wider lore.
An aspect of films that I don’t really talk about because we normally just take them for granted is the costume’s and makeup. But in Solo, they just blew it completely out of the water. Every single character looks great, from the humans to the droids to the aliens. Enfys Nest and his (her) entire gang look incredible, and the various specialist stormtrooper armours are ones I’d like to see figures of lining my bedroom shelves. Phenomenal stuff. I only wish we got to see more of them.
To be Improved:
I want to start with the aspect of the film which was furthest away from my initial expectations. That is the absolutely badass-looking Cloud Rider Marauders, the members of a swoop bike gang which pursues the protagonists at most every turn. They were supposed to be awesome, but I think they were a massively wasted opportunity. On top of that, their leader, Enfys Nest’s gender being kept under wraps was completely fluffed by mentioning his (her) full name twice in one sentence very early on in the film. This signals to everyone who’s paying any sort of attention to the film that there must be a reason why the character isn’t being referred to by their assumed pronouns. Overall, though, I just hanker for interesting characters, and Enfys and the Cloud Riders all looked to be the most intriguing of the bunch, yet they were comically underused, with about four lines for Nest and one for Warwick Davis’ character. No setup equals no payoff, though they were awesome for the fight scenes they took part in and had my mouth hanging open while simultaneously curled in a massive grin. It’s hard when it comes to the coolest-looking characters in these films. Nest reminds me a lot of Fett. Looks amazing, deserves way more screen-time and lines than they get, but is left as a sort of disappointing squib in terms of the wider lore. Same number of syllables in their names, too.
There is train heist sequence about a third of the way through the film which was brilliant, if a little lacklustre at the end, but when not one but two more characters we know next to nothing about are killed off, it makes for an unfortunately underwhelming end to an otherwise very enjoyable scene. Following this, Beckett, Solo’s mentor sort of character, just makes little to no mention of the fact that his lover has just been killed for nothing. It deflates his character because it’s not played off like he is just hiding his emotions; it feels like he flat out forgets about them.
When it comes to the score, the lack of any real Star Wars music other than at opportune moments like (Chewie and Han sitting in the cockpit together) was an interesting stylistic choice but in my opinion hindered the film massively. Unlike the majority of people, I actually loved the remixed, bass drum heavy version of the classic Star Wars theme that played over the Solo trailers, so to see the entire film and have that theme NOT be in it left me feeling very flat. The lack of an opening crawl also seems to be a decision they’re sticking with for the Anthology films, but when this one began with more blue text after the classic ‘A long time ago…’ message, followed by a fairly unimpressive title sequence about ten minutes into the film, it just seems like they needed/wanted an opening crawl but were restricted by the producers’ stylistic choices.
I think Solo borrows too heavily, unintentionally or not, from some other notable works of sci-fi and fantasy, namely Abrams’ Star Trek and Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. Perhaps I’m too good at spotting similarities between films, but a scene where the Millennium Falcon is trying to escape a black hole type scenario and jumps to light-speed but is still stuck in by the gravitational pull is taken straight from the end of Star Trek, and I saw the similarities immediately. It really took me out of the scene, especially when lots of the dialogue and action shots are almost exactly the same as they are in Abrams’ work. The only reason I’m upset about the Hobbit similarity is because I initially thought the film’s villain, Dryden Vos, was pretty unique on account of his facial scarring. However, a few days after seeing Solo I found Battle of the Five Armies on TV, and was very disappointed to see that Azog the Defiler’s scars are the very same ones, almost down to the exact pattern. Lots of people tell me that homage is perfectly fine and should be taken as flattery, but I think the outright stealing of ideas cannot be overlooked.
My girlfriend and I came out of the screening of Solo with big smiles on our faces. The overall verdict was ‘Ah, man, that was so great!’, but it wasn’t spectacular by any stretch. I think it’s those gaps in the narrative I mentioned earlier that remain my biggest problem with the film. I know that there’s only a set amount of time you can tell a story in, and just because Boba Fett wasn’t in it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad movie, but when an opportunity like this presents itself and the studio just goes in a completely new direction with it, though it’s refreshing and unique, we all know how the fan-base felt the last time Disney did that (hey Last Jedi, didn’t see you there). You can’t deny that Solo leaves you with a very pleasant ‘Ooh, what happens next?’ feeling, but all I can say is thank god there’s going to be a Solo trilogy. Currently the film’s storyline is being carried greatly by the fact that it’s going to have a sequel.