|Starring||lden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo|
|Release||25 MAY (US) 24 MAY (UK) Certificate 12A|
The argument for making a Han Solo film in the first place, of course, is that he has always had hints of an interesting and wide-open back story with plenty of potential. And while the aim here is to explore that, the film is sadly more focused on putting together the specific pieces that make up the complete package we meet in A New Hope. Between this and the fact that references like mynocks, Bossk and even Teräs Käsi are dropped at light speed, it’s hard to argue that this film doesn’t contribute to the most common argument against this kind of 'hindsight' movie: that this film is effectively diminishing the seemingly limitless universe of the original trilogy.
If the film gets away with this at all, it’s because it is very carefully written, from plot to scene to dialogue, as a film that feels in keeping with Han Solo’s character. After an opening sequence that eventually sees Han separate from his loved one Qi’ra (Emily Clarke), we jump forward three years to him working as a soldier for the Empire, clearly unsure of his place in the universe, but trying to find the money to go back for her. From here though, he hitches a ride with Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and his smuggler gang, which takes him on a bungled heist, then to meet Paul Bettany’s standout villain Dryden Vos for the repercussions, only to argue himself into another job, which takes him to Lando... and so on. As Han talks himself out of every situation and into another one, the film itself feels like it is built around the same resourcefulness, every plot point coming as a consequence of the previous one, always on the move as Han himself struggles to stay just one step ahead of the dangerous situations he encounters.
Which brings us to the film’s greatest strength, and the reason why most of the flaws here can be comfortably forgiven: this film absolutely nails its characterisation. Alden Ehrenreich perfectly plays the part of the swagger-ific fly-boy, naive but cocky, never doing a direct impression of Harrison Ford’s portrayal but employing enough of his mannerisms in the role - the finger point, the iconic blaster pose - to connect the two performances. Meanwhile, Emilia Clarke plays a perfectly complex love interest, hiding secrets and shades of grey as someone who has been forced to mature beyond Han’s simplistic worldview, and Donald Glover lives up to all expectations as the seductive playboy Lando, as self-assured as he is vain.
The Phoebe Waller-Bridge-voiced L3 fares less well as the outraged droid fighting for equal rights, aiming for comedy but seeming out of step with the rest of the film. Elsewhere, Paul Bettany makes up for it as a scarily unpredictable and violent gent gangster that lends the story stakes when it often feels lacking in any.
And, really, the bags of love and charm present in these performances, along with the wonderful spirit of adventure that imbues proceedings, are all that matters. There are many other faults that may be picked upon, such as the unnecessarily ugly washed-out colour palate, or one talking point that will prove hugely divisive, with even die hard fans forced to Google the extended universe and canonical chronology, but overall, it has succeeded in getting all the important things right.
In other words, it may not look like much, but it’s got it where it counts, kid.