I never felt the need to watch a film that told me Han Solo’s back story because the character was such a cliché that I felt that I already knew it. For me, Star Wars didn’t exactly have depth. As an example of what scholar Fredrick Jameson called “the nostalgia mode”, the original movie relied on audiences’ collective memory of other movies to provide its characters with more than one dimension.
The additional dimension was time. If you needed help to recall cinema’s long time ago, publicity materials were there to remind you that C3PO was a bit like The Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man, Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker was a swashbuckling hero in the style of Errol Flynn – and Han Solo was like a Wild West gunslinger.
So, it is not hugely surprising that Solo reminds me of a bunch of films that I saw in my teens. For some reason, Where Eagles Dare kept springing to mind but most were so generic that I have forgotten their names.
This is a film entirely pieced together from scenes and dialogue that many of you will have seen and heard over the decades, except reconstituted in the tones and iconography of the Star Wars Universe. As a result, you will feel like you know what is going to happen next. When it doesn’t, you will just feel that you knew it was going to happen anyway.
Like Rogue One (a previous Star Wars story, Solo fits comfortably into the pre-prequel Star Wars Universe (does that even make sense?) . In terms of diegetic chronology it is set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. The film plays like a series of flashbacks that could have been in Star Wars (IV) but weren’t.
I am still in awe at the way the franchise has brought to life 1970’s and 80’s Sci-Fi paperback book covers, the designs of space ships, planetscapes and bits of tech are just brilliant – although I found myself struggling to pick them out from the overall colour scheme which is whitey grey or sulphurous ochre. CGI artists often adopt oil painting as a way of rendering the world and this can lead to a few genuinely eye boggling moments such as Superman et al’s confrontation with Doomsday in Batman Vs Superman and here, during a struggle with a worm hole and an Octopus-like creature. I just smiled. The scene was ridiculous and brilliant all at once.
This particular Star Wars Story sees Han Solo and a group of back stabbing reprobates on a quest to find some raw energy stuff that is being mined of the planet Kessel. Yep, that’s right; this is a movie whose main purpose is to explain that infamous line. “You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon?…It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs,” parsecs being a measure of distance rather tan time as science fiction bores like to point out. Well, actually, that is exactly what the Millennium Falcon does – so there.
The rest of the film consists of some genuinely well constructed action scenes. There is a retro-istic heist sequence involving a sci-fi freight train that is so much fun to watch that you forget that other parts of your consciousness are being numbed by recollects of the same set up from Westerns to James Bond.
Can our heroes uncouple a carriage before the train plunges off a bridge? Maybe, maybe not but all possible outcomes have been well covered elsewhere.
Alden Ehrenreich is entirely believable as a young Han (pronounced ‘Hahn’, as if you didn’t know). Woody Harrelson is the rather over familiar face of Beckett, part mentor, part utter bastard and Emilia Clarke, is romantic interest Qi’ra challenging the place of women in the Star Wars universe by being a slave and a prostitute, but with a secret so that’s alright then. The character is looks like her costume has come from the far away galaxy of Primark, but then most of the characters seem to be wearing furs from hand-me-down charity shops.
I am not giving anything away by telling you that Lando Calrissian is back, this time played by Donald Glover. The role has a much dodgier past than the character. At the time of The Empire Strikes Back, Calrissian was seen as a tokenistic black character in Star Wars’ white bread universe. Glover carries of the part of card-sharp and all round scoundrel with aplomb. But I really did not want my last memory of the character to be him sitting in what appeared to be a jungle grove. Star Wars has never got too far away from Cowboys and Indians and Tarzan movies in terms of its representation of people of colour. Substituting androids for African-Americans to reference slavery treads the same wobbly tightrope as the film Chappie.
Reservations and over familiarity aside, Solo – A Star Wars Story is a tightly written romp that is something of a relief from The Last Jedi – but while it was fun while it lasted, it is already fading into memory.
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide. His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip. He reviewed comics and films in posts and podcasts for the Mindless Ones until he became a net diva and forgot to name check the rest of the team at a San Diego Comic Con. panel. The Mindless Ones gave him the nickname ‘Tymbus’.
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