Tuesday, 29 May 2018

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

Solo: A Star Wars Story (third-pass / 2D / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 135 mins / Dir. Ron Howard / Trailer

Previous reviews: 1 | 2

This is your spoiler-break. It's the chunk of text at the top of the post which doesn't contain any spoilers, acting as a buffer for those of you who've clicked a spoiler-review by accident, or the various online platforms which pull through a bit of the article as a preview. I mean, there's enough bumph at the top of the post which means that shouldn't happen, but this should make sure.

This is your last chance to look away.

There are spoilers after the bump…


Still here? Smashing.

Well, this is proving to be an odd film. I absolutely love Solo, let there be no doubt about that. I went in with a ton of baggage, but an open mind, not really knowing what to expect from this second anthology movie. The only real precedence for non-Saga Star Wars features we've had so far has been Rogue One. And while that did a lot of things its own way, that's obviously not an indication that any of the visual or thematic formatting would follow verbatim into Solo.

And so it proved. After the standard-issue 'A long time ago' card, Ron Howard's movie gets its own unique style and cuts a swath into the backstories of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. And the key word here is stories. Plural. Although this movie is named after just one character, screenwriters Jon and Lawrence Kasdan have used the good captain to hold the door open, giving the audience a glimpse into other tales just itching to be told. Because as much as I love Solo, upon a second-pass it feels like Han's story itself isn't inherently interesting.

There. I said it.

Now, I'll admit that I've still got 40 years' worth of Expanded Universe material rattling around in my head. And that's fine, there's room for both (for now, at least). But while I'm certainly not making direct comparisons between those books/comics and the new movie, what remains is that the story-foundations are reliably similar to what's come before. The two loosely dangling carrots throughout Solo's marketing campaign have been a) How did Han meet Chewie? and b) How did Han win the Falcon from Lando?

So as we see, Han met Chewie when he was thrown into a duelling-pit on Mimban. They escaped and decided to stick together. That's about it, really. The whole 'wookiee life-debt' thing is (so far) a little more fuzzy in the Story Group continuity, but if there's some defining moment where Chewbacca decides to throw in his lot with Han until the very end because of some undying gratitude, I don't think we see it in Solo. In one of the film's few 'quiet' moments, where the pair are having a conversation on the gantry of Beckett's stolen AT-Hauler, Han effectively bargains for Chewie to stick around. While the wookiee undoubtedly appreciates not having a coat full of mud, he's hardly pawing at the Corellian's ankles for a place in the gang.

Similarly, how did Han win the Falcon in a game of Sabacc? Well, he just won the Falcon in a game of Sabacc*1. And if I'm being entirely honest, the segment in which the ship is finally won feels both tacked on and slightly rushed. The film's first gambling sequence, in The Lodge on Vandor, is a perfectly solid way of introducing Lando Calrissian to the proceedings and his love for the Millennium Falcon. And while it's full credit to Kasdan and Kasdan for not feeling the need to try and explain Sabacc, the screen-time allocated to game itself is short and without fanfare - certainly not enough that the audience seriously expects Han to win the ship at that early point. So although the re-match at the end of the movie is both welcome and expected, it doesn't stand to reason that it's presented as even shorter than the previous round. The pacing feels almost like one of Marvel's after-credits scenes.

The hero pair-up and the card game are, or at least should be major plot-points in Solo. These 'key' events pretty much top-and-tail the film, so they're not exactly dragged out, but don't turn out to be particularly raucous bar-stories in the telling. Neither is presented with any real emotional build-up, and while the former should be the 'heart' of the movie with the latter being the triumphant finale, there's probably more depth in Lando and L3-37's relationship. Which brings me (eventually) to my rambling point...

Structurally, Solo is not a Star Wars film which will blow you away.

It's arguable that it was never really trying to be, of course. While the external production and internal timelines are separated, let's not forget that Solo lands only six months after the film where Luke Skywalker dies at the end. How do you top that? Would you want to?

And in a not-unrelated observation, the prequel trilogy struggled against a similar narrative setback - telling a compelling life-or-death story where the audience knows who's alive a few movies later. With Han, Chewie and Lando all having cinematic history on their side, it's left to the supporting players to carve out the drama. Rogue One achieves this admirably. We all knew the Rebels would get the plans to the Tantive IV, but the heroic death toll in that movie goes against cinematic type.

The Kasdans create a great series of scrapes for the young Han Solo, but there's little in this particular movie that'll throw new light on the original trilogy. Seasoned veterans of the Expanded Universe were probably expecting the end-credits to see the Corellian's youthful exuberance crushed, no doubt with his heart broken by Qi'ra, and the cynic we know from A New Hope arriving kicking and screaming into the galaxy at large. But that's not where we are. Sure, he's learned a few lessons (hopefully), but Solo definitely feels like the opening chapter in a longer story. And while this younger hero's adventures will no doubt be continued across various media, this raises the question - do we want an anthology-sequel? Or more to the point, do Lucasfilm want to make an anthology-sequel?

Personally I'd rather they didn't, but that's only because I'm a structural traditionalist. The rumour-de-jour about a Boba Fett movie could fit the bill nicely, expanding the criminal underworld of the GFFA while keeping Han and Chewie as supporting characters, rather than in the spotlight. But since the Hollywood Reporter article at the heart of all this provides no actual citation for its claims, let's not get too carried away with wish-listery just yet.

Don't get me wrong though, with regards to the worlds, characters and organisations we meet here - and especially the film's final holographic conversation - I definitely want more of that. I'm just not convinced it's a thread which needs Han Solo attached…

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.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There's one bit where I think there might be a cut-off Wilhelm (which was the case for Rogue One, but at this point I'm still not sure…

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 stars Emilia Clarke, who performed voice-work on the Futurama episode 'Stench and Stenchability', as did Phil LaMarr, who was a vocal participant in The Emoji Movie along with Matthew Wood, who also worked on Smurfs: The Lost Village with Dee Bradley Baker, whose dulcet tones can be heard in Postman Pat: The Movie, as can those of David Tennant, who starred in the 2013 TV series Spies Of Warsaw along with Julian Glover, who has 'previous' on that Game Of Thrones, alongside... Emilia Clarke.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 And hello to The Inquisitor, Jason Isaacs. [ 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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