Solo: A Star Wars Story
Directed by Ron Howard. Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan. Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, Thandie Newton. Length 135 minutes.
In a galaxy far, far away… Han, an orphan raised on the seedy planet Corellia, manages to get away and tries to make a life for himself, following his dream of becoming a pilot. He crosses paths with Tobias Beckett, an adventurer for hire from the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate, with whom he gets involved in a daring commissioned heist. But things get complicated for the gang and Han will have to prove himself to get out of it…
Technically, in Disney branded world (now owning both the vast Marvel universe and the Star Wars mythology) movies like this are called origin stories, because they reveal how an already famous character became the person we know. Basically, it’s a Portrait of the Hero as a Young Man.
In this instance, Solo is part of a commercial strategy of expanding the stories gravitating around wars between the Jedi and the Dark Side of the Force, launched in 2016 with Rogue One.
Apart from a few cameos, the protagonists of Rogue One were unknowns only tangentially involved in the canonical stories. In Solo we have Han Solo, one of the three protagonists of the original trilogy. To the first generation of audiences Solo is inextricably bound to Harrison Ford’s youthful and rascally face.
The daunting task of assuming his charming and roguish character rests on the shoulders of Alden Ehernreich (the lovable cowboy who in the Coen Brothers’s Hail Caesar! repeatedly mangled the lines of a sophisticated comedy). All in all he does a respectable job without Ford’s sarcastic grins. Instead he steers his version of the character towards romantic naiveté, a youthful adventurer too inexperienced to be cynical.
The strong points of the story are those where Han’s path finally crosses his future comrades: the Wookiee Chewbacca and the cheating gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover on fire), the original owner of the Millennium Falcon. Seeing Han flying his ship for the first time between gravitational pits and asteroid fields is a rush equal to seeing Bruce Wayne wearing his Bat mask for the first time.
It’s a shame that the storyline written by the father-and-son Kasdan team and other characters, including Han’s “girlfriend” Qi’ra, can’t overcome the stereotypes of the adventure genre. Once the wonder of action sequences and a bit of visual inventiveness has washed away, the film is weighed down by verbosity. The people at Disney love to repeat things to distracted audiences and when a surprise finally pops up, it is hard to feel surprised. Even more heavy-handed are the film’s commercial aspirations. It’s quite obvious that it is merely paving the road for further lucrative instalments.
The story also attempts to make a solemn political statement about the valour of a few brave souls fighting the combined might of the Empire and some dastardly crime syndicates — but the social criticism comes off as a little forced.
Not a soulless nor invention-less movie, then, but less inspired and surprising than Rogue One (which had the courage to include a tragic and heroic ending). Taking stock of the four new Star Wars films (The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in the canonical storyline and Rogue One and Solo as the spin-offs), you have the feeling that the new management at Disney is doing a much less interesting job with Star Wars than with Marvel. It is acting like Exxon siphoning black gold out of an oil well rather than treating a mythology sacred to millions of viewers with respect. It’s commercial ruthlessness worthy of the Dark Side.
Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster. A television writer and a creative producer, she is also a regular contributor to the website Sentieri del cinema and Scegliere un film, an annual collection of film reviews.