Solo: A Star Wars Story

As I might have mentioned before, although I’m a big Star Wars fan, Han Solo isn’t a character that’s really close to my heart, so with that in mind coupled with a very damning (but thankfully spoiler-free) review of sorts from Biggles, I didn’t go and see Solo: A Star Wars Story when it came out at the cinema. I’d also read a few reports during the film’s development which were along the same lines as those critiquing the production of the previous Star Wars Story Rogue One, but more so – saying that both the lead actor and the original director were hopeless.

However, after seeing Biggles’s damning report, I spoke to a couple of other devoted Star Wars fans and they really enjoyed the film. I subsequently came very close to seeing Solo at the cinema, planning a visit with two friends who also hadn’t seen it, but when it came to booking tickets and we saw that it was only on at the smallest screen at our local CineWorld we lost interest. Admittedly, it was few weeks after the release of the film but we took it as a very bad sign. If it was a good film why wasn’t being shown on a larger screen? By the way, this post has a whole heap of spoilers in it. You have been warned.

So fast-forward to this week. I noticed that Sky Box Office were advertising an early release of the film and being at somewhat of a loose end I thought ‘why the heck not, it can’t be that bad’ – I got a digital version instantly and they promised to send me the Blu-ray as soon as it was released. I must say that I was in the middle of a really bad case of man-flu when I watched the film for the first time and it may have hampered my appreciation somewhat. I found it pretty good on the whole, rather disjointed in places and lacking much in the way of character development, but fun all the same. I wasn’t as emotionally invested as I was when I watched Rogue One, but there were some fun moments.

Over-Egged
For me the film started off poorly with some mostly unnecessary introductory text, a mediocre car chase and before that a meeting with an animatronic centipedal creature, Lady Proxima, who looked like a leftover from an abandoned live version of James and the Giant Peach. Lady Proxima is the boss of the den of thieves where Han (the much maligned Alden Ehrenreich) and his plucky girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) start out. All these opening scenes were seriously gloomy (actually mostly a wholly artificial looking post-produced blue) and I understand that this creates atmosphere, but I just wanted to see some more detail of what was going on.

Also the thermal detonator scene felt like an unnecessary and unsubtle reference to Return of the Jedi – surely we can survive without having a saga reference shoe-horned in every five minutes?

The later ‘I have a good feeling about this’ line from Han, I can forgive because it actually shows that the character was less cynical when he was younger and indeed it precedes one of the best bits of the film – namely the famously quick/short Kessel Run. I’m not going to bother listing all the other references or Easter eggs because I’m kind of getting bored of doing so (and frankly after Ready Player One I’m feeling rather over-egged). Here’s a nice post pointing out a few juicy ones: https://www.tor.com/2018/05/28/our-17-favorite-easter-eggs-in-solo-a-star-wars-story/

Casting
Another problem I think the film had was in the casting. Emelia Clarke is instantly recognisable as Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones and Paul Bettany from playing Vision in the Marvel films – I also found the vertical scratches on his face a bit lame. Their well-established roles come along with baggage for a viewer which is hard to put to one side.

For me Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of gang leader Tobias Beckett, Han’s mentor figure for most of the film, was less problematic because he’s very much an ‘everyman’ kind of actor like Tom Hanks and played his part well without me thinking oh look it’s Woody! I had the least problems with Ehrenreich as Solo and the much-hyped Donald Glover as Lando (although I can’t see what all the fuss was about) because they weren’t familiar faces to me, and I thought Ehrenreich’s acting was just as good as Glover’s.

L3
I also didn’t really connect with the new droid in this film, Lando’s first mate L3 voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (no me neither), just came across as annoying. Is it just my dirty mind or is her early rebuttal to Ron Howard’s brother’s line, ’I’m going to flip your switch!’,  ‘Good luck finding it!’ less than child-friendly? Do droids have those kind of switches? The later girly chat with Qi’ra, that doesn’t help the film pass the Bechdel test and inferring the potential to redefine L3’s role as first mate, says maybe they do. It doesn’t bear much thinking about.

Basically, L3’s attitude and mannerisms came across as too human. I got the whole equal rights for droids thing, but I was expecting more humour from the character and because of that I didn’t connect with her. It’s an expectation based on pretty much all the previous driods in the Star Wars films and animated series.

When L3 was destroyed and Lando was all sad I couldn’t have given two hoots, in fact I was kind of glad. It was so different from when K-2SO gets killed in Rogue One. Maybe part of the problem was the design – the body and head shape were too inhuman and didn’t seem to match the actor’s performance. Hats off to the production team for not just sticking a female looking silver protocol droid in there and coming up with a novel design, but it just didn’t work for me.

Red coats
One of the best features of this film for me were the outlaw speeder bike gang who turn out to be a rag tag bunch of fledgling rebels – the design was very much in keeping with what we’ve seen in the animated shows. When Enfys Nest, the leader of the Beckett gang’s competition, was first mentioned I thought they were saying Infant’s Nest – as it turns out that wasn’t such a bad thing because it is later revealed that the excellently masked marauder is a freckle-faced teenage girl played by Erin Kellyman (Star Wars is a Disney franchise now remember). When the masks are removed we also see Warwick Davis get his obligatory cameo and a few other familiar creature faces. Davis even gets some lines in this one.

Four-armed character Rio Durant, voiced by Disney best-boy Jon Favreau, reminded me a little of Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy and doesn’t last long enough imo. The it’s-been-nice-working-with-you suicide of Val (Thandie Newton) also adds to the feeling that the writers were just killing off disposable characters to clumsily manipulate Solo into the place he needed to be to progress the story. Rio and Val are almost like red coats in Star Trek. I don’t like those kind of cheap deaths.

The Wild West
On second viewing I realise that the first 40 minutes or so look like a ‘one last heist’ storyline from a classic Western movie. Plucky hero gets separated from his gal, joins the US army, meets some rogues, joins their gang to pull off a great train robbery. The ‘what are you going to do with your share?’ conversation around the campfire, the long leather jackets, the gun twirling and the on-top-of-a-speeding-train-and-almost-falling-off scenes are straight out of classic outlaw films. That’s not to sat they aren’t enjoyable don’t get me wrong, but once you realise that it’s just a skim job over established Western tropes it feels a little lazy.

There’s some more unnecessary exposition when it comes to introducing Lando. Qi’ra tells us all about his character before we actually get to meet him. Whatever happened to screenwriting rule number 1: ’show don’t tell’? It really jar jarred (sorry I couldn’t resist. Who me sir?..) The Western theme continues with the gambling scene being much like cowboys playing poker in a canteen. Surprised no-one got thrown through a window or had a chair broken over their backs. Maybe that’s one of the deleted scenes – I’ll have to wait for the Blu-ray to arrive.

Smart moves
I got most excited, and laughed at least once through the mucus that had pretty much enveloped my head, during the Kessel Run. The Falcon being chased by TIE fighters is as close to a Star Wars space battle as this film gets. The bit I laughed at was actually just a simple sound effect like a frying pan hitting someone on the head which accompanied a bit where Solo uses the Falcon to bat away a TIE fighter. I also liked the Cthulhu style monster, the teamwork to get clear of the maelstrom, and the line ‘that really hurt my thumbs’ which sounds like it was put in there for the gamers. It was a high point in the film.

Graphics are great, as you’d expect these days, the sound effects are generally very good and the music is in keeping with the other films although I didn’t hear any great new anthems apart from the choral voices for Enfys Nest’s gang. Re-use of familiar tunes was nice, for instance there’s a cute fanfare when everyone’s favourite fuzzball Chewie finally gets to sit alongside Han in the Falcon’s cockpit for the first time, after about an hour twenty, the full themes kick in when they finish the Kessel run in spectacular fashion and a snippet of the march in a Starship Troopers style advert for the Empire forces features early on in the film.

Han’s shoot first tactic is revealed as a ‘smart move’ at the end of the film but again Beckett’s death seems like a cheap way of tying up loose ends. Han could’ve just shot him in the arm or something. Poor old Woody. He might have helped out on the job for Jabba. Yes I know it explains the whole Greedo thing, but I was never really bothered about that anyway.

Maul
Also I probably would’ve enjoyed the Maul spot at the end of the film more if it hadn’t been spoilt for me by seeing a video title on YouTube a few days ago along the lines of ‘Why does Maul look different in the Solo film?’. Gee thanks YouTube! There needs to be an option where you can feed in the titles of top films you haven’t seen yet to screen out spoilers. Any app developers out there – feel free to have that idea, just let me know when it’s available.

It’s great that they had Maul in it, that they used the animated shows’ voice actor Sam Witwer and original actor Ray Park (I accept the aging and obviously the robot legs are a given, but I’m not sure why the face pattern has changed unless it’s not a pigmentation thing and more a kind of war paint), and that they are willing to commit to parts of the canon only previously covered in the animated series in the live action films.

I hope this inclusive ethos continues in the Obi Wan / Clone Wars films if/when they are produced. To paraphrase Obi Wan he should’ve cut Maul in half vertically, but I’m glad he didn’t because it gave us some great story in the Clone Wars and Rebels shows. What we’re really missing on the big screen though is Ashoka Tano…

[Image adapted from a free image on pixabay.com]

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