Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (USA, 2018) is the epitome of fun fan servicing

Once again we return to a galaxy far, far away for another installment in the “A Star Wars Story” films. This time we explore the back story of one of our favourite rogues Han Solo, the people and aliens he meets up with, and their misadventures aboard the iconic Millenium Falcon.

We first meet Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) with his partner-in-crime girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) on the mining planet of Corellia, their dreams of running away, buying a spaceship and going on adventures are dashed though. Han manages to hastily escape and somehow not so fortuitously ends up recruiting for the Imperial Navy and finds himself up to his knees in mud in the middle of a war zone. Double edged luck seems to dog him because it’s here he meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), his partner-in-crime love interest Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau), schemers and thieves who are out to pull a heist, and could do with some extra Wookie muscle and since Han can translate he gets pulled in on the job. The job though sees them having to owe Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), a criminal war-lord, a pretty penny which means now they need an even bigger seemingly impossible score.

With the production of Solo plagued by the original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller having left due to creative differences, stepping in to helm the ship came Ron Howard. A director who has kept the film steering into safe territory. This film is nowhere near as incisive, divisive as Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. Or as mercilessly bold as Gareth EdwardsRogue One, and that’s probably a good thing. For a film that some (myself included) didn’t want or even feel was necessary, it turns in a comfortable, familiar, fun ride and is the epitome of fan servicing.

Father-son writing team of Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan have no doubt mined the original “Western but set in Space” feeling, but also thrown in shades of Charles Dickens (Han growing up in Corellia), World War I (infantry battle on muddy Mimban) and fans of Firefly will get a kick out of the train heist sequence in particular.
But the real challenge for Howard and the Kasdan’s lies in getting to see those moments we’ve often imagined get brought to the screen. The “how” of Han and Chewbacca meeting, the “how” of Han meeting Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), the “how” of the Millenium Falcon’s 12 parsec Kessel Run. We get to see all of them, and some of those moments are more exciting than others.

Performance wise Ehrenreich manages to be charming, swaggering and wisecracking enough for us to not keep wishing we could have an IRL younger Harrison Ford. Also getting to step out and shine is Suotamo’s Chewbacca. Here we see a more realised character that has his own motivations and desires, as well as the seeds planted for one of the longest and deepest running friendships of the saga. But really all I wanted in this movie was more of the effortlessly cool Calrissian and his sassy, equal rights for machines droid L3-37 (voiced and mocapped by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the latter being the film’s true comedic MVP (she gives Alan Tudyk’s K2-SO a run for his money). And getting to see the prickly beginnings of Solo and Calrissian’s relationship here somehow speaks volumes for the eventual betrayal we see in Cloud City year’s later.

Harrelson’s Beckett is the gun-twirling & shoot-em-up mentor that we’ve seen him spin before (think his stints in Hunger Games or Zombieland), and Newton’s Val doesn’t have nearly enough screen time. Bettany’s Dryden Vos is amusingly campy and vicious and looks to be having fun with it. Whilst Clarke’s Qi’ra is the weakest as her motivations are far too confusing, and her chemistry with Ehenreich musters barely a spark.

Where Solo: A Star Wars Story finds its stride is in its romp down nostalgia lane, as it plays tenderly with some of our touchstone characters and fleshes them out a little more than what we already know them to be. It gives them origins and even though their eventual future trajectories lead us to places we hold much dearer, this is a nice even if somewhat unnecessary touch. It’s a fun ride, but unlike the Millenium Falcon, doesn’t quite get us into hyperdrive.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 135 Minutes

Solo: A Star Wars Story is out in Australian cinemas from 24 May 2018 through Disney Pictures Australia & New Zealand