Saturday, 30 June 2018

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

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

Previous reviews: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

One of the (many) joys of a new Star Wars movie is the soundtrack, and Solo is no exception. For the most part, Mr. John Powell is on scoring-duties this time around, the anthology movies falling outside of John Williams' remit as composer for the saga-episodes. And as Michael Giacchino demonstrated on the Rogue One soundtrack, this gives the standalone films a sense of their own identity at a fundamental level.

So this score is probably the one I've warmed to soonest in the modern, Disney-era of the franchise, and that includes Williams' own work for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. With the numbered episodes, there's the mix of familiar themes and new pieces, which I found particularly jarring with TFA. TLJ fares a little better as a secondary level of callback then comes into play covering Episode VII, and the amount of new material subsides. But I also struggled with Giacchino's Rogue One for a while, as it was stylistically different from what had come before in the GFFA (as was the film). I'd had Rogue One down as a great film score in itself, just not Star Wars. Of course given time, replays both in- and outside of the movie, and the arrival of TLJ, it bedded itself in.

But on to Solo. John Williams does return briefly to the fold for track 1 here, The Adventures Of Han Solo, setting the main musical motif for the feature and finally giving Han Solo his own theme after all these years*1. And ironically enough, Powell's arrangement and usage of Han's theme arguably makes for a more Williams-esque soundtrack than the composer's own previous two stints. There's often a sweeping, almost operatic quality than John Snr doesn't seems to want to fully return to just yet.

Powell's use of percussion drives the whole thing forward, not just embellishing the more militaristic cues but adding style (and different styles) to the set-pieces. Elsewhere, Solo reminds me of Hans Zimmer's work on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, dynamic and almost tribal in its execution. Zimmer is also evoked in the second half of track 5, Flying With Chewie (the bit where Han and the air-drying wookiee are talking on the gantry of the Imperial lander as it flies over the surface of the snowy planet Vandor). It's a refreshing change for Star Wars to be this 'casual', and I wish the score came back to it later (maybe next time). And I could be mistaken, but I'm sure I'm getting beats from Kevin Kiner's Clone Wars soundtrack in here, too. In addition to the percussion, Powell's choral cues fit in with Solo's visual aesthetic of the old-time Western.

A few 'legacy' themes from the original trilogy are referenced in the score of course, but when they appear they're relatively fleeting and entirely fitting*2. That said, grumbles have been heard at Blackout Towers about the Imperial recruitment holovid which plays in the spaceport on Corellia, using a modified version of the famous Imperial March in its soundtrack. This effectively makes some of the Star Wars music canon within the Star Wars galaxy, which feels a bit odd. Then again, bear in mind that the same thing occurred in Star Wars: Rebels, so this isn't a first*3.

The only thing that's missing, from my point of view, is the synth- and guitar-based tracks which were used in the initial trailers. They hinted that the film could possibly sound very different from what had come before, but in the end these were for promotional use only. A damn shame.

So the short version is (in case you hadn't guessed), Solo has a great soundtrack. One of the smaller points I love is that after the new theme which makes up track 1, it plays out more-or-less in order of the film's story (which happens far less than you'd expect with this sort of thing). That's another little aid to letting a new score bed in, as your memory of the movie can flow in linear order as you work your way through the CD*4.

Much like the movie itself, John Powell's score for Solo becomes inherently Star Wars™ because it's not trying too hard to be Star Wars™, and is arguably better than it has any right to be. But the end result is what everyone was hoping for anyway, so it's all good.

Welcome to the family, Mr Powell…

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?
In some cases, it's entirely possible.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
No, but it's a film ripe for discussion.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Apparently not.

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 Paul Bettany, who was in 2005's Firewall with Harrison Ford from the movie Six Days Seven Nights that also featured Temuera Morrison, a major player in 1994's Once Were Warriors, as was Rena Owen who went on to star in Absolute Killers along with Ed Asner, who performed voice-work in the animated Our Friend Martin, as did Samuel L. Jackson, who starred in Avengers: Age Of Ultron with... Paul Bettany.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 And while that's a lovely sentiment, we can't escape the fact that Han's new theme isn't in the four movies where the character has previously appeared. Williams hasn't reverse-engineered a previously innocuous but recurring signature for this (largely because there's no such thing in the world of Star Wars soundtracks), so his work on Solo would go some way to suggesting a musical foundation for further outings with Alden Ehrenreich's Han, even if it's appearances in other movies in the GFFA around that time, rather than outright sequels to Solo. [ BACK ]

*2 Contrast this with John Williams opening The Last Jedi by ending the main theme with a slide into the 'Tatooine' flourish from A New Hope's beginning, for approximately no logical reason. The first that that's happened in eight films and no, I'm not going to let that one go. [ BACK ]

*3 Normally I'd add the caveat that the Rebels TV show garnered a substantially smaller audience exposure than one of the Star Wars cinematic movies of course, but given Solo's troublesome box office performance, I think it's best if I don't alert you to that comparison at all. Oh, hang on... [ BACK ]

*4 Yeah, CDs mate. Old school. [ 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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