As with the excellent Rogue One, the buzz around this Han Solo origins story has been terrible. The departure of original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie) suggested risk and irreverence had been sacrificed for safety and profit, especially when Ron Howard replaced them. But after die-hard fans had Phantom Menace-style meltdowns over The Last Jedi’s contentious treatment of Luke Skywalker, Howard’s hiring now seems like a canny move. He served his apprenticeship with George Lucas, after all, starring in American Graffiti (alongside a very young Harrison Ford) and directing the Lucas-penned fantasy adventure film Willow (not a great movie, but still...). Given the way that these spin-off sagas seem intent on embracing the past rather than overturning it, a talented caretaker is maybe all that’s required to provide the requisite fan service demanded so vociferously online.
Solo: A Star Wars Story ***
Solo: A Star Wars Story certainly does that. Want to know the origin of that surname? Check. Want to find out how he meets Chewbacca? Check. Want to see how he wins the Millennium Falcon? Check. Want a plot built around a throw-away line of dialogue in the original film? Double check. Want to find out why Jabba the Hutt puts a price on his head? Okay, maybe it holds something back for the next instalment. But the point is, in a film that also shows why Han always, always shoots first, there’s really not much to complain about here.
Even the casting is fine. Alden Ehrenreich does a fair job of capturing the spirit of Solo without doing a slavish impression of Ford, embracing the cocky attitude and the wry sense of humour to play the self-styled scoundrel whose reluctance to admit he’s the good guy doesn’t stop his heroism shining through. He’s complimented by man of the moment Donald Glover, who delivers the film’s real star turn as the roguish, licentious Lando Calrissian.
Story-wise, it’s essentially an action-packed heist film, with set-pieces that echo sequences from the original trilogy (especially The Empire Strikes Back) mixed in with daring escapades anew, all designed, like the aforementioned Rogue One, to join the dots between hitherto unexplored story points in the saga’s over-arching mythology.
If if offers nothing new, it does what it does with craft and skill. It’s the cinematic equivalent — to paraphrase one character — of a comforting hug from a Wookiee.