Appearing to be a fun caper film, Solo, directed by Ron Howard, dives deep into a world of crime and cruelty just slightly too real for the Star Wars universe. The film’s villain, Dryden Voss (Paul Bettany) is a very human-like sadist whose presence hangs heavy over the movie and keeps it feeling threatening and unpredictable. In these respects, the movie succeeds utterly but it does not feel like the film heist in space we were sold. Nor does it really feel like a Star Wars film.
The creation of the new Star Wars Anthology series was to be able to tell new stories in this galaxy far, far away. Rogue One, the first in the series, established this could be done and done well, albeit, with a strong reliance on the established elements of the Skywalker saga with the supporting role afforded to Vader and the strong focus on the Death Star. Solo proves there is great danger in straying too far from this success.
Despite its successful fan service in dropping names like ‘Aurra Sing’ and ‘Bossk’ that mean little to the casual viewer but reward the more committed fans, the film feels very unlike Star Wars. This creeps in small things like the brutality of the war scenes, the allusions to the nature of Lando Calrissian’s relationship with his droid, the Lovecraftian space beast, the near-swearing, and the frequent off-colour jokes. Where the film feels least like a Star Wars film is in the presence of Dryden Voss, a character whose connection with and behaviour towards the main female character is often alluded to in a way that leaves an unsettling feeling.
The film’s handling of Emilia Clarke’s, Qi’ra feels a little off. Her story is only ever alluded to and the brief glimpses we get make it seem clear we could not see any more in a film using the Star Wars brand which makes one wonder why they chose to use such dark themes. This is territory well outside the expected for Star Wars and it seems unable to do it justice.
As the film continues, it becomes clear that it was an unnecessary endeavour. It fleshes out elements of the series that were better left as vague comments and world-building never elucidated upon. The character of Han Solo feels slightly diminished by being explored in such a thorough manner. He shot (literally) his way onto the screen in 1977 and was best left that way. Alden Ehrenreich does a thoroughly serviceable job as Han but it’s now obvious that Han Solo is not a role that can be so easily handed from one actor to another as works with James Bond. Whether he likes it or not, Harrison Ford was Han Solo.
Donald Glover’s, Lando Calrissian is perfect which is particularly remarkable for such an iconic character and proves the highlight of the film but his role is not enough to overcome the film’s issues.
Like Anakin Skywalker, Han Solo does not benefit from an origin story – the mystery was far better than anything a film could show.
It looks as though this Anthology film was supposed to launch another series but it is likely best it doesn’t. The unexpected arrival of a fan favourite character sent a ripple of excitement throughout the cinema but ultimately adds little.
It’s hard to see what this film was supposed to be – fun caper, brutal gangster film, or special effects extravaganza. Whichever one Howard finally decided upon, he couldn’t quite get it right. This underworld is too real, too brutal, and populated by too vile a group of characters for the audience to escape without feeling faintly dirty for being immersed in that environment. This film could be a tremendous success as a separate entity but not so for the Star Wars franchise where the more unsettling elements are usually clothed in the alien as in Jabba the Hutt and his ilk. Here we have the very nearly human face of Dryden to associate with evil and corruption. A trip to the galaxy far, far away should feel like a more enjoyable experience than this. The suffering and cruelty is on an individual level here as the series jarringly tries to be both space opera and portrait of humanity existing in extremes.
Solo is not a bad film but it certainly is a disappointing and an unnecessary one. There’s a crueller edge to this film than any before and a more sordid world to see. Complete with off-colour jokes and hints of very real evils, it’s hard to see quite who this film was made to please. Whatever the plan, the result is a decent attempt but ultimately the most unsatisfying entry in the series.
Words by Liam McNally.