Solo: A Star Wars Story ★★

Modern TV writers will tell you their medium is superior to cinema because it allows more time for character development. That's utter hogwash of course, as a good storyteller can create a memorable character in minutes, and most of the development happens before a character arrives onscreen. After the first Columbo TV movie we felt like we had a real grasp of whom the titular detective was, but three decades later we didn't really know a whole lot more about the LAPD lieutenant. We didn't need to. Do TV disciples look at the work of Shakespeare and think "If only he had six seasons, he could have really made something of that Othello dude?"

Few filmmakers understood the importance of instant character development quite like George Lucas in his prime. By the end of A New Hope (or as my generation call it, Star Wars), we feel like we've known these goodies and baddies forever. Few scenes can rival Han Solo gunning down Greedo in cold blood in terms of letting the audience know just what type of character we're dealing with. Throughout the original trilogy we get enough hints at Solo's past to make us feel like we've been on a journey with the character for far longer than three movies. We don't need to see how Han Solo became Han Solo (especially when it's not Lucas's version of the character's backstory), but there's gold in them thar origin story hills, and so we have Solo: A Star Wars Story, a (not quite) standalone tale of the space smuggler's exploits as a young man.

Solo never quite pins down the age of its eponymous hero, but the actor playing him, Alden Ehrenreich, was 27 at time of shooting, a mere seven years younger than Harrison Ford was when he created the icon. When a Han Solo origin story was first announced, I feared we may get a Bugsy Malone take on the story, with Han and Chewie played by 12-year-olds. That version would probably have been unbearable, but Solo suffers heavily from the lack of years between Ehrenreich and Donald Glover (a young Lando) and Ford and Billy Dee Williams. It's impossible not to draw comparisons, and while Ehrenreich and Glover imitate the physical swagger and shit-eating grins of their forebears, they possess none of the smouldering seductiveness of Ford and Williams. The Solo and Lando of the original trilogy were the sort of guys women knew were dangerous, but couldn't help falling for; the baby-faced stand-ins here resemble the sort of nice guys whose girlfriends would be stolen by Ford and Williams.

This is most problematic in the unconvincing relationship between Solo and his love interest, Emilia Clarke's Qi'ra. The film attempts to evoke Bogie and Bacall, but neither Ehrenreich nor Clarke can sell the passion between the duo. What should be an emotional reunion between the pair plays out like two old college roommates bumping into each other down the pub. When you consider the script is co-written by Lawrence Kasdan, who gave us two of the screen's hottest romantic pairings in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Body Heat, the lack of chemistry between these leads is staggering.

Continue reading Eric Hillis's review at The Movie Waffler