Solo: A Star Wars Story Review – A studied affair

Bradford Young's work is divine

I’m telling you, I knew that Alden Ehrenreich would be a great Han Solo from the start. Maybe I was more confident on the performance that he would turn out under the originally slated directorial duo; but I was certain that there could be no level of charm that the man who brought us Hobie Doyle wouldn’t be able to achieve. I’ll just take a moment here to luxuriate in the feel of a shot well called, even if it weren’t my shot to call in the first place. The dude is bloody amazing in this joint.

Most of the cast is. Donald Glover is one of the most prodigious contemporary American performers; Thandie Newton is riding that Westworld ticket to the top; same with Emilia Clarke and her work on Game of Thrones, and I totally slept on Fleabag when it came out but am so eternally thankful that the casting director here didn’t because Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s mo-cap performance as droid L3-37 surpasses even the experienced hand that Alan Tudyk brought to Rogue One. Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany are the consummate professionals that one always expects them to be, putting in detailed and surprising work throughout the running time.

It’s a murderers row that they got filling out the gaps in this joint and I suppose the greatest crime all in this sprawling space crime adventure, is that the film gives them just about nothing compelling to do. There’s all manner of action that goes on, the script delights in ping-ponging them around the galaxy, skipping and haltering through the skeletal structure of this madcap adventure. Never allowing for a moment the world to settle, for the flesh to grown on it, to make it soft and human feeling.

We open on Han’s self-propelled emancipation from his Dickensian upbringing in the child-slaving slums of an enormous factory planet, inadvertently leaving the young woman who he promised to take with him, vowing to return to save her. After a few years of living the disappointments of the galactic empire’s straight society he falls in with a band of petty smugglers and rolls in their plan to jack a shipment of starship fuel for a local crime lord. Of course, not everything goes to plan and soon our heroes find themselves flying by the skin of their teeth as they outrun everybody coming after them in an attempt to put things right.

The greatest problem that we have here is that the film is constantly ill at ease, unable to wrestle the relentless posturing into a defined shape. These characters are grifters, small folks trying to carve out their own place in an expansive world. Yet we are continually expected to buy into the hype, almost everything that goes on here is some facile attempt at self-mythologisation. The film runs over and over again into signposts, giant flashing neon ones that point towards some elusive whole. The Han Solo that will be.

Yet it can never amount to anything, because it allows the characters to stand in awe of the inevitable wake of the future history. We are occupying the out tide of events. Sure, we know that the future holds greater things for some of these characters, but what of those for whom this is their most interesting moment. They are sidelined and forgotten, allowed to exist in the outskirts of a story that really should be about them.

The women get the harshest treatment here. It’s wild how lowkey misogynistic a statement this film builds is. All about how the insolence and insouciance of women impacts and drives the men that surround them. In one key moment a mysterious character’s identity is revealed and the film stops for (it’s probably not but sure feels like) a whole ten seconds as we are invited to take in the reality. ‘Gasp! This person is actually a woman, aren’t you amazed?’ it asks in the tone of that insufferable boor who thinks they’re being insightful in telling the riddle about the female surgeon.

It’s telling, and its tells are so obvious. It feels absent-minded, only half in the present. The lack of focus is keenly felt in its mechanics, a good caper should run finely tuned, able to interweave purpose and character in order to make the inevitable, surprising and the unexpected, unavoidable. Here we are moving through murk. Everything unfolding at this languid pace, that regularly leaves most of the cast inert, occupying their space until the focus takes its confused eye back to them.

It is an isolating story, one that traps everyone in a separate frame of understanding. Completely at odds with the sense of unification and collaboration that the concept is supposed to engender. As we stumble into the overlong and fairly disastrous climax: replete with all the twists of fate and unexpected betrayals we have come to expect, literally none of them land. We just haven’t had a chance to see these characters, understand them, comprehend their love for each other. Nothing at that point registers.

Until they end it with a garbage twist. One that probably makes sense if you’re into these things, maybe it promises something hype for the future but for now it signifies the rot that holds on in the centre here. A slavish devotion to the iconography of a franchise whose increasing ubiquity in rendering it meaningless. Early on in the flick we find out why Han’s name is Solo. I don’t think anyone were looking for an explanation of that, it seemed to do a pretty good job on its own.

I just wanted to see a fun space movie. I didn’t appreciate the homework. Cut loose, a Han Solo movie should basically be the definition of doodling in the margins.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is currently screening in UK cinemas.

My boy got some small hipsImage courtesy of Disney

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