Thursday, 24 May 2018

Review: Solo - A Star Wars Story (first-pass)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (first-pass / 3D / SPOILER-FREE)
Cert: 12A / 135 mins / Dir. Ron Howard / Trailer

Much like another film recently, as I sat through the ads and trailers aimed at people who come out to the cinema at midnight, it occurred to me that after the BBFC card had shown the film title and rating, I actually had no idea how Solo was going to open. As an 'anthology' film, the Star Wars rulebook is more flexible, as Rogue One demonstrated. The card came and went, the feature began. And no spoilers, but I started smiling and pretty much didn't stop for the next two and a quarter hours.

I had no solid expectations or demands for the new movie; I rarely do for any of them. As long as it 'feels' like Star Wars. Solo did not disappoint.

On a tonal-level, Ron Howard's film dovetails with the Galaxy Far, Far Away pretty seamlessly. There's a distinct 'Disney-era' feel to the production as a whole, but there's a level of Original Trilogy dirt and grime which we haven't seen… perhaps ever. Rogue One had its fair share of course but in Solo, the audience's concern for hand-washing facilities is almost constant.

Alden Ehrenreich more than holds his own in the title role, but there's still a sizeable gap between his and the young Harrison Ford's performances. In some scenes Alden has it note-perfect, a nod or a flinch taking us right back to 1977; but for the most part, the audience are going to have to meet him half way. Then again, a little resistance is only to be expected, since this is the first time anyone other than the iconic Ford has portrayed the smuggler on-screen. Donald Glover has a slightly easier ride as the galaxy's biggest smoothie, Lando Calrissian, threatening to steal each scene he's in until Ron Howard reins him back in (he's still great). Joonas Suotamo's Chewbacca is as fantastic as we've seen and Phoebe Waller-Bridge's L3-37 may be the most relatable Star Wars droid to-date.

Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton and Paul Bettany's new characters are… well, not a mixed-bag exactly - the characters themselves fit into the Star Wars universe well enough - but it's a slightly jarring feeling seeing such familiar and long-established performers in such central roles. We'll see how they bed-in with further viewings.

On a broader story-level, this is a veritable treasure trove of cross-referencing, as you'd expect. Not only are there strong character-ties to the OT-era, but also to the wider Star Wars movie timeline and the canon across other media (fans of the animated TV shows will grin widely at several points). But these nods are, for the most part, woven in subtly enough that they shouldn't clang too loudly for the audience members not picking them right up. And for those of us who've paid their dues in the 'Legends' continuity, there are also a handful of Easter eggs thrown in there, too. But again, they rarely feel like fan-service (even though they almost certainly are). Some of the traditions of Star Wars film-making are upheld, some aren't, and some can't really be. It's all good.

Given the troubled production of Solo (namely the switchover from directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller to Ron Howard), it's a surprisingly even affair. What's more, there's probably slightly less humour in there than you'd expect, given Han and Chewie's previous penchant for bickering. There are smiles to be had and a few wisecracks thrown over the top, but for the most part this is a case of 'faster, more intense'.

While I don't imagine this latest anthology-installment will be anywhere near as divisive as The Last Jedi, there will undoubtedly be those who feel a little cooler toward it. The film probably won't blow you away, but you'll feel at home in the galaxy from the very first scene. While Lucasfilm seem determined to keep mining the OT-era for content, this doesn't feel like it's been made to appease the fanboys. Yet at the same time, it's a Star Wars film which exists solely to be A Star Wars Film, and really isn't too concerned about winning over the undecided. While Solo obviously isn't as frantic as Rogue One, they share a lot of DNA in terms of 'ambiguous-expendability'.

Speaking of which, do try and see this before any spoilers come flying your way. Obviously the Corellian, the Wookiee and the gambler make it out alive, but the rest is a ride best enjoyed without knowing where the tracks lead, and where you're never sure what's going to lurch out of Hyperspace next.

My SOP since 2005 has been to walk out of a new Star Wars film half-excited, half puzzled, as my brain tries to piece everything together. The early hours of this morning were no exception. But I didn't see anything I disliked in Solo, and I know for a fact that my love-affair with this film begins here.

Well played, Mr Howard, well played.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Star Wars's.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Yes, all.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Time will tell, let's not commit to that just yet.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Disagree? Unlikely. But I will talk your ears off about it anyway.
(as anyone who's ever been in a pub with me and mentioned Star Wars will attest to)

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
I didn't hear one on first-pass, but that's not unusual. And if Matthew Wood is good to his word, there may not be (although he's got previous form for talking about retiring the effect, and he hasn't up until now).

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars.

…but if you wanted to go round the houses with it, Solo was directed by Mr Ron Howard, who starred in 1977's Grand Theft Auto alongside Clint Howard, the man who put in an appearance in Leprechaun 2 with Warwick Davis, who was in the Comic Relief British Airways Safety Video reel with Thandie Newton, who appears in the upcoming The Life And Death Of John F. Donovan, as does Jo Wheatley, who was in Now You See Me 2 which starred Woody Harrelson, who also cropped up in 1999's Edtv which was directed by... Ron Howard*1.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Yeah, the long-links are back, bitches! I've done them all in advance this time, like an actual writer would. They take a while. And be warned, I've done a dozen of them which basically means I have to watch Solo at the cinema twelve times, otherwise I'll have wasted my time. Also, this first one is my favourite for reasons which should become clear when you look at Solo's IMDB page[ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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