Arts & Media

Origin story overload: Solo: A Star Wars Story review

Solo: A Star Wars Story wasn't awful, but it was hampered by boring action sequences, a lack of stakes, and overbearing worldbuilding.

I HAVE a hunch that if you were to ask a hundred Star Wars fans – and I mean the proper ones who collect action figures and defiantly reread Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy – whether they prefer Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Solo: A Star Wars Story, ninety per cent would choose the latter.

It’s a curious choice, as Solo is by far the worse film. Unlike The Last Jedi, it plays it too safe, with familiar characters, busy action sequences and the kind of tedious, overbearing worldbuilding that Star Wars fans seem to enjoy; fortunately, that’s just what they wanted after the big, scary themes and character-driven storylines of The Last Jedi. That it’s a rather boring film will simply pass them by.

Solo is boring partly because it’s so unnecessary. In the original trilogy, Han Solo has a precisely-defined character arc – a beginning, middle and end – that sees him go from cynical smuggler in Star Wars to noble war hero in Return of the Jedi. This is partly why he’s such a compelling, memorable character. The original trilogy tells us all we need to know about his backstory. With nothing new to offer, Solo simply retreads those same threads as the classic films, which only serves to undermine his character.

And in an attempt to add substance to what can only be a nothing-y plot, the writers have shoehorned in a slew of totally unwanted origin stories, from Han Solo’s name – it’s because he’s alone, geddit? – to the dishevelled appearance of the Millennium Falcon. Everything gets a backstory, because in the Star Wars universe nothing can ever just happen, and instead has to be undermined by convoluted explanations disguised as ‘worldbuilding’. This is one of the most irritating things about Solo, and about Star Wars in general; for instance, Han’s throwaway boast in A New Hope about completing the Kessell Run in twelve parsecs has to be explained in excrutiating detail by Solo, instead of being the lie designed to fool a credulous old man it so obviously is.

None of this would be so bad if the rest of the film wasn’t so flimsy. An unnecessary Han Solo origin story wouldn’t feel so unnecessary with a robust supporting cast, an involving plot and compelling relationships, but as it is, Solo offers none of these.

An unnecessary Han Solo origin story wouldn’t feel so unnecessary with an involving plot and compelling relationships, but Solo offers none of these.

For instance, Val, played by the totally wasted Thandie Newton, and Rio, a four-armed, wisecracking alien, are killed off early and then barely mentioned again, having had no emotional impact on any of the other characters. Even Woody Harrelson’s Beckett, ostensibly a mentor figure to Han, is relegated to a comic-relief sidekick for half the film before pointlessly double crossing everyone at the climax. Even at the end he seems to be nothing more than a vehicle for Han to ‘shoot first’, so we can pretend he was the morally-grey rogue the film has spent two hours undermining.

You really get a sense that the film we’re watching is not the film Solo was meant to be. It clearly started out as a comedy film, before ‘creative differences’ saw directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (whose credits include comedies like The Lego Movie21 Jump Street and How I Met Your Mother), replaced by Ron Howard – a steady pair of hands, but evidently one directed to turn Solo into a pretty standard action film. A lot of the comedy therefore feels out of place, with comic relief characters like L3-37, the social justice robot (who has the best joke in the film, an undisguised clitoris gag), lacking any consistent characterisation as a result.

This new action-orientated direction falls somewhat flat. We’ve already seen plenty of (superior) action sequences in every other Star Wars film, and a film like Solo, which should have been cast as a sort of space western, isn’t served particularly well by seeing our heroes clamber over a monorail shooting at people.

The relative weakness of these scenes highlights the film’s lack of stakes. Because we never see Paul Bettany’s villain do anything remotely threatening, the chaos of the rest of the film just seems like a waste of energy. And after Bettany is killed following several increasingly tiresome betrayals, it’s revealed that he wasn’t the ‘big bad’ after all, a role played instead by Darth Maul, a character we haven’t seen (viewers of the Star Wars Rebels cartoon excepted) on screen for nearly two decades.

So by the end of the film Han Solo has won the Millennium Falcon and is flying off on his way to meet Jabba the Hutt – another unnecessary piece of exposition – with the cynicism of the original trilogy totally undermined. But at least they’ve set up a sequel, with Darth Maul and Emilia Clarke, so that’s great. I’m sure Lucasfilm will forgive me for not being especially excited about that.

Donald Glover was good, though. More of him please lads.

Letterhole rating: 5/10

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