Solo: A Star Wars Story
There was plenty of barely-contained delirium at the Cannes Film Festival last night, signifying a major cinematic event. Here was the one they’d all been frenziedly waiting for – except for those of us who hadn’t, especially.
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out in 2015, it was the first visit for a decade to a galaxy far, far away. The hype was understandably thunderous; the merchandising sales alone could have put small debt-laden nations back on their feet.
But this is now the fourth Star Wars-related movie in less than three years. I duly took my seat last night with my own personal lightsaber of breathless anticipation having developed something of a droop.
On the other hand, no franchise rakes in more than $42 billion without being able to keep a good thing going. But that’s all that Solo: A Star Wars Story is: good
Emilia Clarke, Chewbacca and Alden Ehrenheich are pictured at Cannes, where people awaited the screening in a frenzy
Not even the prospect of a Han Solo origin story stiffened it up. Besides, who wants to see anyone but old wonky-lips himself, Harrison Ford, at the controls of the Millennium Falcon as Solo?
On the other hand, no franchise rakes in more than $42 billion, as Star Wars is estimated to have done since 1977, without being able to keep a good thing going. But that’s all that Solo: A Star Wars Story is: good.
It’s nowhere near as much of a blast as the last stand-alone film, 2016’s wildly enjoyable Rogue One. And it is mystifyingly dark, in colour rather than content, almost as if the film stock has been washed in ditchwater.
The production’s widely-publicised troubles, with director Ron Howard (pictured) coming in after his two predecessors were reportedly fired, have perhaps taken their toll
The production’s widely-publicised troubles, with director Ron Howard coming in after his two predecessors were reportedly fired, have perhaps taken their toll.
Howard is a fine film-maker, whose directorial career has been strong enough to stop us thinking of him primarily as wholesome Richie Cunningham from the TV sitcom Happy Days, but in truth this movie could do with a Fonz, someone to bestride and own it.
Nobody does, quite. The American actor Alden Ehrenreich apparently pipped Britain’s Taron Egerton and Ireland’s Jack Reynor to the title role, and does a decent job, but he lacks Ford’s screen presence, that enigmatic charisma he had even as a young man.
The film begins in Solo’s lawless home planet of Corellia. He is a graduate of the school of hard knocks, an orphan and petty thief, a sci-fi Artful Dodger. But he has grand ambitions.
He tells his girlfriend Qi’ra (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) that he wants to be a pilot, the best in the galaxy. If he’s to achieve the life he wants for both of them, they need to get off Corellia.
This is the best phase of the movie, with some lovely sequences explaining how Han got his surname, and, especially, how he came to meet his furry friend Chewbacca (once again inhabited by gigantic Finnish basketball player Joonas Suotamo).
By the time he and Chewie hook up, Solo has been thrown out of pilot school for insubordination and somehow ended up as a humble foot soldier. In the trenches he meets rascally Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his partner Val (Thandie Newton), who re-introduce him to a life of crime.
There follows a genuinely thrilling train heist, which goes awry, earning the gang the worrying disapproval of Beckett’s villainous paymaster, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, excellent as ever).
The aim of the heist was to steal Coaxium, the coveted starship fuel. To placate Vos, they must get it from somewhere else.
Who wants to see anyone but old wonky-lips himself, Harrison Ford (pictured), at the controls of the Millennium Falcon as Solo?
But where, and how? Firstly, they need a reliable starship. Fans of the original trilogy will relish the introduction at this point of Lando Calrissian, the first owner of the Millennium Falcon, here played by Donald Glover. Lando has a sidekick too, a droid called L3, voiced by a scene-stealing Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Together, this unlikely band plunge into a series of misadventures, which, without wishing to give anything away, leads them into at least one close encounter with a monstrous octopus thingy the size of a planet.
The action zips along, with the help of some predictably terrific special effects, but as a whole it feels more functional than exhilarating. To mix franchises, it’s Star Wars, Han, but not quite as we know it.