Solo: A Star Wars Story
Growing up as a Star Wars fanatic, my favourite character was Han, the reluctant Star Wars hero who grounded the original trilogy with a cynical humanity. Luke and Leia were just too perpetually honourable to have arcs: only Han, you felt, might genuinely have contemplated a descent into the Dark Side.
Such darkness is largely absent from his arc in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Han is introduced to us with his girlfriend Qi'ra (pronounced Kira, played by Emilia Clarke) on a shit-hole planet of murky weather and old industry, and are separated as they try to escape together for a life among the stars. Later in the story, fate brings them back together, Han working for Woody Harrelson's Tobias Beckett and his crew of space bandits, Qi'ra more ambiguous, a kind of sultry PA/concubine to Paul Bettany's evil, twitchy gangster Dryden Vos.
It sounds promising, not least with so many great actors involved, though Alden Ehrenreich's Han is more Dennis Quaid than Harrison Ford, a perpetual cocky grin and demeanour that's just the wrong side of characteristic, anchoring Han in superficial rogue nicery. Disappointing in a similar way is the character of Lando Calrissian, played by the usually quirkily brilliant Donald Glover. The script keeps Glover's character on a leash, as gambler and peripheral temporary accomplice. Perhaps the film-makers wanted to focus on Han's growing relationship with Chewbacca, but for his endearing presence, Chewbacca's impenetrable growls make this too limiting an arc to rest the film upon.
What emerges, then, is a vaguely engaging bromance between Han and Chewbacca, with plot lines of heists and piloting, with Han getting to drive the Millennium Falcon on the iconic Kessel Run in Twelve Parsecs, as referred to in the original Star Wars film A New Hope. In truth, I loved seeing the Millennium Falcon, Han's famous vessel, won from Lando in a game of cards. All these prequelly elements that you expect to see, you get, but this is also part of the problem for me, in the way it limits the film.
For if there's one thing that lifts this movie it's the twist at the end involving Qi'ra (SPOILER ALERT). Having killed her apparent boss, Bettany's Vos, she then protects Han by abandoning him, before turning to address the hologram of Darth Maul, the character who lit up the prequels as its most charismatic presence. This revelation, of how Qi'ra must have embraced the Dark Side of the Force, and become a Sith Apprentice to Darth Maul, I badly wanted to know more about. Of course, Han Solo knows nothing about the Force, he says as much in Star Wars: A New Hope. But how brilliant could this film have been, had Darth Maul been involved, with Qi'ra as his conflicted, pragmatic apprentice? How much more identifiable, and adult, it would have been, to explore how Qi'ra had to go this way to find any kind of escape from her circumstances.
This brings me to a final regret about Solo: A Star Wars Story. Given the unresolved mystique of the ending involving Qi'ra, what we're given is an underwhelming episode, rather than a self-contained masterpiece of sci-fi fantasy, in the tradition of Empire Strikes Back. Some may argue I'm missing the point, that Solo: A Star Wars Story is meant to be, like Avengers: Infinity War, a part of something greater. Yet as a cinematic experience, I don't want TV episodes of tenuously convincing arcs spread over several hours. In the darkness of the cinema, I want to be captured and captivated, hook, line, and sinker, I want to be moved. I don't want to be vaguely moved, in a oh-well-I'm-sure-that-will-make-sense-in-the-next-installment-next-year.So I enjoyed Solo: A Star Wars Story for its fantastic, cosmic imagery: like a Big Mac and fries, this film delivers to its core following. But equally, the span of emotions never goes beyond 'meh,' except for those final moments with Qi'ra confronting Darth Maul. This in itself was a glimpse of what this film could have been, but the famously fractured nature of its production attests to what a film looks like without the guiding vision of a single auteur: a Star Wars film as late-Pink Floyd album that's lost its integrity and is trying to do it by the numbers, partly for the money, and partly for the fans, with the suggestion of more signature moments and caricatured riffs in further installments to come.