‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Review: A Prequel That Fails To Justify Its Existence

THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

Following the mixed reception to Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, there was a lot riding on Solo succeeding, not only at the box office but with the fans as well. The Last Jedi was considered by many to be not only the worst Star Wars film of the Disney era but the worst film in the entire franchise. I personally liked it. It was by no means a perfect film. It had many flaws, most notably the over-reliance on, what some have coined: “Marvel humour”. The film did succeed in enhancing my excitement for the future of Star Wars, although it did nothing to improve my excitement for the next entry in the blockbuster franchise. Solo is a film that no-one was asking for, that no-one wanted and a film that appeared to be nothing more than a quick cash grab. It didn’t help that the film went through a hellish production, with original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie), being fired from the project with weeks left of the original filming schedule. This announcement shocked the world and fueled countless rumours regarding their firing. The most persistent rumour was that the duo was taking far too many risks with the film for Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy’s liking. Anticipation for the film was seriously damaged by the duo’s firing, as many, including myself, were mainly intrigued by Solo due to the prospect of Lord & Miller directing. Ultimately, Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Rush) was swiftly brought on to the project, reshooting almost the entire film in the process. Howard’s hiring was rather uninspired, and it emphasised that Lucasfilm were unwilling to take any risks with Solo.

The film seemed to have everything going against it right from the start, with the minimal fan excitement to its initial announcement, to Lord & Miller’s firing, to the worrying rumour that Disney was so disappointed by star Alden Ehrenreich’s performance, that they hired an acting coach. The marketing did little to inspire confidence in the man initially deemed worthy to play everyone’s favourite scruffy-looking nerf herder. Thankfully, Alden Ehrenreich proves himself to be more than capable of taking on the role made famous by Harrison Ford 41 years ago. He oozes both arrogance and charm, whilst also bringing a sense of naivety to the character which is something we have never seen before. Yes, he is no Harrison Ford, however, he is a perfectly capable replacement and has managed to further prove that the fans are not always right. Solo also showcased the first-ever meeting between the iconic duo of Han and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Their initial interaction is both clever and entertaining, and the development of their bond was handled well.

Although the marketing failed to inspire confidence with Alden Ehrenreich, it certainly succeeded with Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. The general consensus was that Glover was perfectly cast. He doesn’t steal the show as many predicted but he does steal almost every scene he is in. The film does a great job of further exploring the character, and Donald Glover has fantastic chemistry with Ehrenreich, which makes the developing friendship of Han and Lando all the more believable. Prior to the film’s release, rumours began swirling that Lucasfilm was already considering giving Lando his own spin-off film, and if the positive responses to Glover’s portrayal of the cape-wearing smuggler continue, it’s hard to see Lucasfilm passing on the idea.

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Traditionally, the droids were always my least favourite part of Star Wars. Granted, I did love R2 (who doesn’t?!) but they always felt a little shoehorned in, and some (C-3PO) are just downright annoying. However, with the new era of Star Wars, that has all changed. The Force Awakens introduced the world to BB-8 and he stole everyone’s hearts. Rogue One introduced K2-SO (Alan Tudyk) and he was the standout character of the entire film. Solo introduces L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Lando’s droid companion (and object of his affection!). Sarcastic and, quite frankly, hilarious, L3-37 is the franchises first major female droid and despite the fact that she is made up of wires and metal, she is arguably the character that brings the most emotion and humanity to the film. The character won’t be as well-remembered as the loveable BB-8 or the rude K2-SO, but she should be.

As you’d expect from a Star Wars film, there are plenty of stunning action set pieces to enjoy. Ron Howard crafts thoroughly entertaining action scenes that despite being smaller in scale than the other films, are no less impressive. The highlight is easily the long-awaited Kessel run which shows why Han Solo is considered to be one of the best pilots in the galaxy. Naturally, as the Kessel run is set entirely in space, it should come as no surprise that the set-piece was heavily reliant on visual effects, something which Star Wars is famous for excelling at and it does so with Solo.

The Star Wars franchise is considered to be one of the most expansive fictional universes ever created with 41 years of history. So it continues to amaze me, how well the franchise continues to grow. Some of the planets, such as Han’s homeworld of Corellia, have been a part of the Star Wars universe for decades, although none have ever been seen on the screen before, big or small. Solo does an excellent job of introducing audiences to new worlds that feel perfectly at home in the Star Wars franchise. It is incredibly interesting to explore the influence that the Galactic Empire has in the farther reaches of space. I also appreciated that although the film is set during the period of the Empire, it doesn’t focus on them. This is a heist film and the Empire are merely background extras in the narrative.

Star Wars has a history of iconic musical scores, predominantly from the living legend, John Williams. However, with the standalone films, Lucasfilm is giving other talented composers a chance to craft their own scores that will forever be associated with the galaxy far, far away. Michael Giacchino scored Rogue One in just two weeks, and it is astonishing that it’s as good as it is. For Solo, however, John Powell was given much more time and it shows, as he has created what is easily the best Star Wars score within the Disney era. Bringing a real sense of epic grandeur to a rather small-scale film. His score continues the franchises’ legacy of brilliant music that will be remembered forever.

A final positive is that the film does have some genuinely magnificent surprises. There were several moments where something happened that I had not expected and yet totally loved. However, the biggest surprise is something that fans of the prequel trilogy will surely love and had my jaw on the floor, and I’m not going to lie, I got a little teary-eyed.

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That being said, this film has a LOT of problems. Firstly, the lighting is absolutely terrible. The film is so dark that it is often a real challenge to watch. The opening ten minutes of the film really suffers from poor lighting as it was almost impossible to actually see what was happening. I found myself questioning whether the cinema’s projector wasn’t working, however, as the film went on, it became clear that there was nothing wrong with the projector, but the film. I was not the only one to think this, others came out, complaining that they struggled to see the events of the film unfold.

Although The Last Jedi has come under serious criticism from fans, the one thing that most people agree on is that the film was unpredictable. That is not the case with Solo. Apart from the MASSIVE surprise that features in the film, the primary narrative is one that audiences have seen time and time again. It is so blatantly obvious that Lucasfilm wanted to play it safe with Solo as the film repeatedly shies away from taking any risks whatsoever with its script. The predictable nature of the film is epitomised by the characters of  Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) who follow the typical mentor and love interest clichés that Hollywood has been using for decades and as a result of this, their arcs are obvious as soon as they appear on the screen.

The film is seriously held back by its opening act. It simply takes far too long to get going and spends far too much time establishing character arcs that are never going to be concluded, at least on the screen that is. It’s irritating that a film with a 135-minute runtime can feel so incomplete. Solo has a real pacing issue as the opening act is far too slow, whilst the final act is far too quick. It’s as if writers Lawrence Kasdan (who also wrote, The Empire Strikes Back) and his son Johnathan Kasdan, realised that they had spent too much time with the opening act and so they just ended the film abruptly. The film rushes towards its conclusion, leaving the audience largely unsatisfied.

One of the most frustrating aspects of Solo is that it frequently underutilises its most interesting characters. One of the standout characters was Rio (Jon Favreau), an entirely CG created character, who was actually the funniest character in the entire film. From the moment he appeared on-screen, I was intrigued. Therefore, I was frustrated with his character’s minimal screentime. Another interesting character that was completely sidelined for the majority of the film was Val (Thandie Newton). Her character was a bit of an enigma in the marketing, with a mere three shots of the character from two full trailers. This, of course, led to prevalent rumours circulating around her character’s role in the film, with some believing that she may be the main villain of the film. As it turns out, the reason she barely appeared in the marketing, is because she is barely in the film. Another frustrating example of Disney hiring great actors for tiny roles. Then there’s the villain, Enfys Nest, who was the other main enigma from the marketing. The character is barely worth mentioning as they bring nothing to the film. Nothing whatsoever.

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Solo is a film that is guilty of relying on nostalgia. It tries so hard to evoke the emotions of the audiences that grew up with the original trilogy through its aesthetic look and tone. One of the major surprises that I mentioned is a prime example of Solo relying too much on nostalgia, with the only difference being that it is an attempt to evoke nostalgia for the prequel trilogy. Granted it worked wonders for me but it will almost definitely do nothing but frustrate the older generations who have nothing but contentment for the prequels.

I was feeling let down right from the start of the film. Traditionally Star Wars films have an opening title crawl, supported by John Williams’ spectacular fanfare. However, Kathleen Kennedy has repeatedly stated that the standalone films would not have these, as supported by Rogue One‘s lack of fanfare and opening crawl. This has left many fans disappointed but not me. I actually appreciated that Lucasfilm was trying to make the standalone films unique. So I was annoyed when Solo begins with what is essentially a title crawl. Instead of STAR WARS being plastered across the stars followed by three paragraphs, the events of the film are explained in three paragraphs, in the same font format as “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. It feels like a cheap tactic to have an opening crawl. I wanted the film to show me the story not tell it, but considering how poorly the film is lit, it’s probably a good thing they explained the film to me as I would have seriously struggled to follow what was happening.

Arguably the greatest crime that Solo commits is that it does absolutely nothing for the Star Wars franchise. It doesn’t push the franchise forward in exciting new directions like The Last Jedi did. It doesn’t significantly deepen the characters of Han Solo or Lando Calrissian. It simply has them take part in exciting action scenes, firing blasters and flying the Millennium Falcon. It truly is an unnecessary addition to the Star Wars franchise that fails to justify its existence.

Lastly, this is more of a nitpick but the film actually chooses to show why Han Solo is called Han Solo! If there was an interesting reason for it, that developed the character further then it wouldn’t feel so out of place. However, it does. It is thrown into the script as casually as a Stan Lee cameo in a Marvel film.

In the end, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a forgettable entry into the Star Wars franchise. The film not only fails to add anything significant to the character of Han Solo, but it fails to justify its existence as anything more than a cash grab. Not as bad as The Phantom Menace and definitely not as bad as Attack of the Clones, however, the film is of a lower quality than all of the other entries in the franchise, and marks a real low point for the Disney era of Star Wars.

Rating: 6.2/10

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