Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story
Dir: Ron Howard; Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Cert tbc, 135 mins.
After the Götterdämmerung-like pomp and sweep of The Last Jedi, Solo, the latest entry in the Lucas film franchise, brings Star Wars back to earth with a Millennium Falcon-rattling bump.
Much as the first “Star Wars Story” spin-off, Rogue One, modelled itself after classic men-on-a-mission war films, Solo digs out two more old genres from cinema’s dressing-up box: the American western and the Weimar-era cloak-and-dagger thriller.
These have not been picked at random: the film is set during the rise of the Empire, before the original trilogy, with much of the galaxy still an unconquered and lawless expanse, riddled with warring crime syndicates.
But naturally everything comes fully custom-tailored in that unmistakeable and addictive Star Wars livery, with its grunting and wobbling creatures, wide-open landscapes that ring with the promise of adventure, and lots of those chunky buttons and levers you find yourself itching to press.
Solo became much gossiped about last summer after an emergency change of directors resulted in it being reshot almost from scratch, to ensure a more authentically Star Wars-like tone – and the lead performance by Alden Ehrenreich as the proto-scoundrel Han Solo himself is probably best described as very careful.
Despite the title, Solo is an ensemble gig. Fighting by Han’s side is his childhood sweetheart Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who materialises in a cabaret bar one day like Ilsa Lund in Casablanca.
Far from the Corellian slum girl Han swore to rescue, she is a fatale-ish femme in the pay of Paul Bettany’s dastardly racketeer Dryden Vos, to whom Han owes a seemingly unsettleable debt. This is the result of a botched train robbery on the mountain planet Vandor, organised by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a grizzled outlaw and young Han’s mentor.
Along the way more familiar names join the crew, including suave card-sharp Lando Calrissian – an excellent Donald Glover taking on the role originated by Billy Dee Williams – and a certain Wookiee (Joonas Suotamo), whose first meeting with Han is wittily modelled on a classic Star Wars moment.
The robot sidekick is L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), an outspoken champion of droids’ rights, which plays a key part in the plot, but never quite comes together as a joke.
But it also expands and enriches the Star Wars galaxy with thrilling new texture and detail – Solo might be a fun adventure, but it’s a dream come true for cosplayers, and features an even-more-extraordinary-than-usual new range of costumes and knick-knacks to goggle at. (Lando’s capes alone could see a dedicated fan through around 30 conventions.)
Emilia Clarke and Alden Ehrenreich in Solo: A Star Wars Story
The director of photography is Bradford Young, whose smoky, muted palette recalls his work in Arrival, and is an ideal match for the film’s grainy frontier spirit.
And though director Ron Howard may have been enlisted by Lucasfilm as a safe pair of hands, he does contrive a few quiet flourishes, including a touching homage to Lucas’s last pre-Star Wars film.
As Han and Qi’ra cruise down Corellia’s backstreets in a hot-wired land speeder, they could be Bob Falfa and Laurie Henderson behind the wheel of a 1955 Chevrolet in American Graffiti – Bob Falfa being the role in which Lucas cast a young, pre-stardom Harrison Ford.